Aside from being a centenarian and the narrator of the 1930 Newbery Award-winning book, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, Hitty is noteworthy for another reason: it’s the first winner written by a woman, for girls, primary about girls. For a book about a doll and its ever evolving wardrobe, Hitty is not as “girly” as I had anticipated, as her various owners do things like scamper about ship decks, sneak into high-profile concerts, and even steal from exhibitions. So while there isn’t much plot or character development, Rachel Field’s writing is as charming as Americana. And for someone with no agency (she’s a doll, after all), Hitty does manage to lead a pretty exciting life, which I will break down and summarize in a moment. Plus, she’s droll for a doll.
“All-American” life: Being a doll, Hitty’s primary purpose was to be doted upon by little girls, and seven-year-old Phoebe Preble of Maine is the first to get that honor. She’s the one who sews Hitty (originally named Mehitabel, but deemed too long to cross-stitch) a sturdy shift with her name on it, thus ensuring that Hitty will always be correctly referred to by subsequent owners. After surviving a shipwreck and being idolized by pagan savages (here the PC-o-meter takes a dip), Phoebe loses Hitty in exotic India, but other notable owners include Little Thankful, who does not live up her name (do you blame her?), Clarissa, a serious Quaker girl, and Isabella, the sassy scion of a NY socialite.
Slice o’ life: Hitty describes this part of her personal history as having “dropped a peg or two” in life. She lives in a haystack for a while, becomes an artist’s model, gets fussed over by two elderly women who like to garb dolls in intricate miniature dresses, gets stolen and then thrown into the river. Once fished out, she gets doted on by a Car’line, a little black girl who is, unfortunately, described in a way that plunges the PC-o-meter down even further.
Life among the antique hunters: I was more sad than Hitty, though perhaps not as sad as Car’line, when they were separated because that marked the beginning of Hitty’s most boring period. While she ends up back in Maine, she is now considered more relic than toy, and spends most of her time sitting on various shelves. There is a flitter of hope Hitty will be a toy again when a young girl shows up; unfortunately, she doesn’t grasp the concept of an auction and opens the bid for Hitty with all the money she has. And that’s how Hitty ends up at an antiques shop.
While there are elements of Toy Story and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane in Hitty (both are vain about their wardrobe and both get shipwrecked), unlike Edward, who goes on an internal journey, Hitty remains very much unchanged even as time marches on all around her. No wonder Hitty, Her Next Hundred Years won’t be happening anytime soon.