In 1865, Mark Twain wrote a picture book entitled “Advice To Little Girls.” The book is delightfully illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, who whimsically juxtaposes doodles that you might expect in a child’s diary with rich watercolor-esque renderings of the human form. Infused with this sketchbook-inspired world, are powerful and progressive life lessons for girls.
Twain’s text suggests that although children should’t “make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense,” young girls are well within their rights to argue back with authority figures if they are being unfairly treated. It asks that girls obey based not on rules but around “[their] best judgement.” Twain ends with a succinct and powerful, “Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.”
Of course one should not, as Twain suggests at one point, scald one’s brother with hot water as a means of punishment. But I think that’s just a symptom of the century he was writing in, and the authority given to sisters over righteous behavior is refreshing. Without painting girls as pure moral exemplars like so many of his prejudiced contemporaries did, Twain asks, as Maria Popova puts it, that we “[explore] all the deft ways in which we creatively rationalize our wrongdoing and reconcile the good and evil we each embody.”
After she first found the book in 2011, Popova has succeeded in bringing the book to the states, so check it out at your nearest library!
Thanks to Brain Pickings
Images via Brain Pickings