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Literature / The Orphanage Girls

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The Orphanage Girls (Russian: Приютки) is a 1907 young adult novel by Lidia Charskaya, chronicling the life of village girl Dunya Prokhorova in an all-girl city orphanage.

Tropes featured in the novel:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Yelena Dmitriyevna isn't called anything but Aunt Lyolya.
  • Animal Lover: Masha Ryzhova, a dull and apathetic girl who at first doesn't seem to care about anything beyond sleep and food, is revealed to be very fond of animals, and in the end happily goes to work at a farm.
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  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Baroness Sofia has a wonderful relationship with the orphanage girls whom she adores and a strained relationship with her own daughter.
  • Cool Teacher: Aunt Lyolya and Antonina Nikolaevna are good teachers and care for their students a lot.
  • Country Mouse: Having spent her early years in a village, Dunya is scared by life in the town, never really adjusts to it, and plans to become a teacher and work in a village school.
  • Enthusiastic Newbie Teacher: In the beginning of the story, Antonina Nikolaevna is barely out of college and, as she is assigned as a tutor to the eldest grade, she treats them like friends of her age rather than like students. It gets downplayed later on as the story spans nine years.
  • Evil Orphanage Lady: Downplayed with Pavla Artemyevna, who doesn't lead the orphanage but looks like she wishes she did; she is a Sadist Teacher who delights in scaring her pupils senseless and tries to assign punishment even to the girls not under her jurisdiction (she is only the tutor of the middle grade, but she also has a great deal of authority as a sewing teacher).
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  • Glamorous Single Mother: Widowed Baroness Sofia can afford to lead a life of luxury herself, provide for her daughter, and sponsor an orphanage.
  • Gruesome Grandparent: Dunya's grandmother was stern and quick to get angry, so Dunya doesn't miss her half as much as she misses her father.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Dunya is a lovable, friendly, hard-working girl.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: Walter is very handsome and Nan exceedingly ugly (when Dunya first sees them next to each other, she is startled by the contrast). Nevertheless, they are genuinely in love.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Nan is overwhelmed with happiness after learning that Walter loves her, because she is an ugly, aloof grump and he is kind, handsome and already a rising-star composer.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Yelena Dmitriyevna is an angelic, self-sacrificing All-Loving Heroine who sees the best in everybody and treats people with unending kindness.
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  • Kissing Cousins: Nan and her cousin Walter fall in love and get engaged.
  • Like Mother, Unlike Daughter: Sweet, friendly, beautiful Baroness Sofia and her daugher Nan, an ugly Ice Queen, couldn't be less similar.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: For a long time, Nan, despite being born into riches, is lonelier than any of the orphanage girls, feeling nobody loves her at all.
  • Mom Looks Like a Sister: Baroness Sofia is so youthful, both in looks and in personality, that she is said to look like her own daughter's sister.
  • Orphanage of Love: Apart from Pavla Artemyevna, the purser and the music teacher, the orphanage staff are extremely kind to the girls and help them as much as they can, and the main trustee Baroness Sofia cares for the girls a lot, sponsors the orphanage and helps the girls to find work afterwards. Eventually, Pavla Artemyevna and the purser also undergo Took a Level in Kindness.
  • Parental Substitute: As she has lost her mother when she was a baby, Dunya considers kind, selfless Aunt Lyolya her mother.
  • Parents as People: Baroness Sofia has the best of intentions and really is a very nice woman, but she hasn't the slightest idea of how to deal with someone like her own daughter.
  • Rags to Riches: Natasha Rumyantseva undergoes it twice – first, when she, a coachman’s daughter, is taken in by a wealthy aristocratic couple, second, when she is at the orphanage and her previous guardians’ equally rich friend finds and adopts her.
  • Rule of Three: The orphanage is divided into three large "grades" (eldest, middle, youngest), each of whom is headed by a tutor.
  • Sickeningly Sweet: In-Universe. Dunya is wary of Baroness Sofia due to the latter's overly saccharine manner.
  • Taking the Veil: Sonya Kuzmenko ends up running away from the orphanage to enter a convent, because she is a model student and the administration and teachers won’t let her leave.
  • Wealthy Philanthropist: Baroness Sofia and her relatives are rolling in money and generously sponsor the orphanage.
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