Sydney Taylor’s Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978)
Illus. Meryl Rosner

This (and the third) volumes of Sydney Taylor’s series are stories that I’ve come to for the first time as an adult reader.

Which was fine with the third volume: I think I enjoyed it as much as I would have done then.

But, when it comes to the final volume, I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d read it first as a girl.

It’s a fitting conclusion for the series, which is, admittedly, old-fashioned and traditional at heart.

As a girl reader, I’d’ve been satisfied with the resolution: as an adult reader, I found parts of it niggling.

Nonetheless, Ella’s experiences in this volume, taken in context, are somewhat shocking.

In earlier volumes, we saw her sing and act, so her theatrical aspirations were not surprising. But, indeed, it would have been unusual for her to have pursued them as she does, and even more so for her to have eventually landed a vaudeville role.

And even if it wasn’t unusual for her to have landed the role, it would’ve been unusual for her to have — after much consideration — accepted it. Particularly because her beau does not quite approve. And because she hears cautionary tales from several people, even from women who have adopted that life for themselves. Like this one:

“I’ve seen lots of those marriages. Mothers parking their babies in dresser drawers in hotels and in baskets in the dressing rooms. The poor babies constantly being dragged around from town to town. Then when they’re ready for school, stickin’ ‘em away somewhere with relatives while you have to go traipsin’ around the country. Never getting’ a chance to be with them.” She spread out her arms. “Now I ask you, what kinda life is that for a family?”

Living in the later ’40s, it’s not surprising that her beau is not wholly supportive.

He tells Ella that if she really loved him, she wouldn’t think of the contract and would, instead, encourage him in his endeavours. (Sigh: of course he says that.)

But Sydney Taylor is writing in the later ’70s.

“That’s the male for you, Ella found herself thinking, resenting a woman’s wanting a career outside of housewife and mother. It was selfish, as [he] himself had said.”

It’s a surprisingly modern thought (though it suits the writer’s time quite well), but of course in the later ’40s, women had just been pushed out of the workforce and back into the home, now that the boys had returned from the front, so it’ s not entirely incredible.

Still, the pull between tradition and transformation is a bit unsettling.

It’s one of those cases in which it looks as though there are choices but, really, it’s all greasepaint and make-believe.

Perhaps I’m simply disappointed in the way things were and the way things are, which isn’t Sydney Taylor’s doing at all of course.