E. M. Almedingen Ethna Sheehan - Essay

Ethna Sheehan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

E. M. Almedingen has adapted "The Treasure of Siegfried" from the German verse epic "The Nibelungenlied." To make the narrative suitable for children, some episodes have been softened and others omitted. While the story makes swift and entertaining reading, the language is flat, peppered with clichés and often with inept phrasing. The dialogue is at times quaintly Victorian, at others jarringly modern and the metamorphosis of Kremhild from a gentle, lovable, generous young woman to a vengeful fury is too drastic for credibility. (p. 66)

Ethna Sheehan, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1965.

Turgenev and Chekhov are writers for the mature reader, [and] even the most precocious adolescent is hardly likely to make anything of them…. E. M. Almedingen's Little Katia [published in the United States as Katia], therefore, plunges into strange territory, a land where servants kneel to take off the shoes and stockings of the children of the house, where a journey to your grandmother's house may take three weeks and you run the risk of your throat being slit on the way, where a serf who displeases his master can be sent for twenty-five years' servitude in the army and well-born girls finish their schooldays in institutes for the nobility where there are no holidays, no release until their education is complete. These details are authentic, for the author has adapted her great-aunt's memoirs for modern readers.

Catherine Almedingen was born in 1829 and died in 1893. She was editor of a successful children's magazine, but it was The Story of a Little Girl which brought her her greatest fame…. The earlier version was far too long for modern taste, but on the other hand must have contained allusions which required lengthy explanation. All this has been done with great skill, it is impossible to detect which is the great-aunt, which the niece, and the whole forms the most readable and delightful portrait, both of a little girl growing up, and of a vanished regime. It can be compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiographical accounts for children of pioneering days in America. It has the same simplicity of style, vigorous dialogue, acute observation of child and adult characters, and the same fundamental goodness.

"A Russian Childhood," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), May 19, 1966, p. 433.