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Literature / Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

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And she? Her own future was close-folded still; folded and hidden in beautiful mists; but she leaned her head against the sun-warmed door, and closing her eyes, whispered, just as if she had been a child saying her prayers: "God bless aunt Miranda; God bless the brick house that was; God bless the brick house that is to be!"

Before the rather Follow the Leader classic Anne of Green Gables, there was Rebecca.

Rebecca Rowena Randall, named for the two heroines of Ivanhoe, is the second-oldest child from a large, poverty-ridden family. Her great-aunts, Miranda and Jane Sawyer, write to Sunnybrook Farm, where Rebecca lives with her six siblings and widowed mother. They request one of the children to come live with them in Riverboro, Maine, to get an education and help ease Mrs. Randall of the burden of providing for seven children.

The aunts are expecting Hannah, the oldest Randall child, who is bland, sensible, and good with household skills. Hannah, though, is needed to help her mother, who sends Rebecca instead. Miranda and Jane are greeted with the imaginative, spirited Rebecca, who takes the household—and then their village—by storm.

Rebecca's unrelenting optimism and infectious joy of life breathes color into the everyday lives surrounding her, causing her to touch and befriend many—from old Jeremiah Cobb and his wife Sarah; to Emma Jane Perkins, who becomes her best friend; and to Adam Ladd ("Mr. Aladdin"), who not only takes an interest in Rebecca's education, but grows increasingly fond of Rebecca as the years go by.

Though Rebecca's life is filled with all the ups and downs of adolescence and all the pain and troubles of growing up, she not only gains understanding and wisdom from her experiences but learns how to curb her blissful nature into helping her bear life's hardships with a sunny disposition.

A sequel, New Chronicles of Rebecca followed, as well as several other Rebecca books written by Eric Wiggin, a great-nephew of Kate Douglas Wiggin. It was adapted to stage and three movies were made, including one starring Shirley Temple in the title role. In 2020, a short Japanese anime film titled The Chronicles of Rebecca, was intended to be screened in March as part of the Young Animators Training Project, but the premiere was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, so it was relegated to streaming as a result. This marks the first time the story has ever been adapted into animation.

Penned by American author Kate Douglas Wiggin in 1903 to massive success, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm continues to touch readers just as it did over a hundred years ago. Mark Twain famously called Rebecca "beautiful, warm and satisfying"—and it is easy to see why.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm features the following Tropes:

  • And Your Reward Is Interior Decorating: The Simpson children, looking for some inexpensive form of excitement, decide to sell soap. The Excelsior Soap Company awards the seller a choice of three premiums: a bookcase, a plush reclining chair, or a banquet lamp. The lamp's shade is included if you sell an additional three hundred cakes of soap. With the help of Rebecca, Emma Jane, and Adam, the Simpsons get the lamp, shade and all.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Adam had a very difficult, very poor childhood—though as an adult, he's very wealthy. Rebecca however, is more a case of Perpetual Poverty until the end of the book; but considering that she's one of seven children with no father to support the family in the early 1900s, that isn't surprising at all.
  • Bookworm: Aurelia, who is Rebecca's mother, and Rebecca herself.
  • Brainy Brunette:
    • Rebecca, who has dark hair, is described by one of her teachers, Miss Emily Maxwell, as being this. Even when Rebecca has forgotten the facts that would let her conclusively back up her answer to a question, she usually has an original theory to expand upon—not always a correct one, but one that's generally unique and sometimes amusing.
      Miss Maxwell: She can be perfectly ignorant of a subject, but entirely intelligent the moment she has a clue. Most of the other girls are full of information and as stupid as sheep.
    • Adam too, considering he went from nothing to a wealthy man.
  • Childhood Friends: Rebecca and Emma Jane quickly become best friends almost from the moment of Rebecca's arrival in Riverboro. However, Emma Jane mostly remains a Satellite Character and is not-so-subtly-described as being rather dull, somewhat bland, a bit boring and anything but as charming as Rebecca.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Kind of. While Adam Ladd and Rebecca were not the same age or didn't see each other everyday, they were still friends, with Adam knowing Rebecca since she was a child and falling in love with her when she's in high school.
  • Coming of Age Story: We follow Rebecca along for 7 years, from the ages of 10 or 11 to 17 or 18 and all her tribulations and triumphs—and a bit of romance as well.
  • Country Mouse: Innocent farm girl Rebecca goes not to the city exactly, but to a much bigger village. It is quite a difference from the ramshackle, bustling Sunnybrook farmhouse of her birth and early childhood!
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Adam grew up in a dirt poor family with no father and a sickly mother and had to struggle his way up to where he is when he first meets Rebecca.
  • Determinator: Rebecca, especially concerning the mortgage that will be paid!
  • Disappeared Dad: Rebecca's handsome, artistic and rather weak father is dead.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Rebecca is conscious of a "storm in her heart" when her pretty friend Huldah flirts with a visiting Mr. Adam Ladd—though Adam is not impressed with Huldah's blatant charm and has eyes only for the simple Rebecca.
    • Later on, in a pretty cute example, Adam gets a taste of the sting of jealously when he sees Rebecca innocently walking home with a boy from high school one day. This causes Adam to humorously mourn on the fact that Rebecca's school is co-ed.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Not quite—Rebecca has a mother and many siblings. It just comes across this way as they are hardly ever mentioned.
  • In Name Only: The 1938 Shirley Temple film, which has a Setting Update to the '30s, replaces all the characters apart from Rebecca and Aunt Miranda with new characters, and had an entirely different plot about Rebecca becoming a singing star on the radio.
  • In-Series Nickname: Rebecca, not quite catching Adam Ladd's name, dubs him "Mr. Aladdin." As the years go by, this also becomes an Affectionate Nickname and a pun.
  • Invisible Parents: Rebecca's mother, as she is not the one to care for and bring up Rebecca—her aunts do.
  • Lemony Narrator: Much of the book's humour comes from the wonderfully dry narration. For example, the description of Mr. Simpson's thefts:
    Mr. Simpson spent little time with his family, owing to certain awkward methods of horse-trading, or the "swapping" of farm implements and vehicles of various kinds,—operations in which his customers were never long suited. After every successful trade he generally passed a longer or shorter term in jail; for when a poor man without goods or chattels has the inveterate habit of swapping, it follows naturally that he must have something to swap; and having nothing of his own, it follows still more naturally that he must swap something belonging to his neighbors.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Being poverty ridden, Rebecca's parents never had extra money for pretty clothes, so Rebecca wears simple, rather plain clothing. As noted by Adam Ladd however, Rebecca's beauty and spirit shine through her unattractive clothing.
  • The Lost Lenore: Jane Sawyer's beau, Tom Carter, died in combat during the Civil War. Years later, she still loves him.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Rebecca is the second-oldest of seven.
  • May–December Romance: Strongly implied to develop between Adam Ladd and Rebecca. They have a seventeen-year age difference between them, yet get along wonderfully and are shipped very much by readers.
  • Nice Girl: As one of the most likable characters in literature, Rebecca wins the hearts of everyone around her, eventually succeeding in warming her cold Aunt Miranda's heart as well.
  • Nice Guy: Though he had a poverty-ridden, difficult childhood, Adam Ladd has grown to be a kind gentleman prone to befriending children and, in time, falling for one of them when they're in high school.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mr. and Mrs. Cobb had only one child, a daughter who died when she was seventeen months.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Rebecca is very fond of her battered old pink parasol and her old pink dress when she's a child. In a sweet scene, Adam gives her a new parasol for Christmas. Emma Jane gets a blue one, but Adam is very pleased that Rebecca's so pleased with hers.
  • Plucky Girl: The hardworking, determined Rebecca.
  • The Pollyanna: The harsh realities of life and the difficulties of poverty never get the forever optimistic and cheerful Rebecca down!
  • Rags to Riches: Dirt poor as a child, Adam has grown up to become a successful and wealthy businessman.
  • Riches to Rags: The "Sawyer Girls" as they were called, weren't incredibly wealthy, but they were still the wealthiest of their little village where they grew up. When Aurelia married Lorenzo, she lost what money she had when her husband squandered it all with bad investments and poor handling of the money in general.
  • Self-Made Man: Adam, one of the nicest examples.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Later on in the book, it is stated that Rebecca has grown from a somewhat plain child to a beautiful, tall young woman with thick, shining black hair, an olive-skinned complexion and expressive dark eyes.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: The youngest Randall child, Miranda (Mira) is born the day her father dies. However, Mira herself dies as a very small child.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Aunt Miranda caustically says and thinks that Rebecca will turn out to be like her somewhat useless father. She could not be more wrong about the hardworking, determined child.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Pretty much the main reason Miranda and Jane did not want Rebecca's mother, Aurelia, to marry her husband—as a sensitive artist, Lorenzo was not responsible or ready to have so many children and was unable to hold down a proper job, which resulted in the farm being mortgaged. (Also the fact that he was Italian-American played a part in their opposition to some degree.) Also a case of Lazy Husband, though Lorenzo was implied to be a loving man.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Time and time again, Rebecca's dark eyes are described as beautiful.
    "Rebecca's eyes were like faith—the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."