Felicity Learns a Lesson

Published in 1991; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Dan Andreasen, Luann Roberts, and Keith Skeen


Now that Felicity is getting closer to her tenth birthday, her parents agree that she should learn proper manners. She starts lessons with Miss Manderly, a gentlewoman in town. Felicity is reticent at first, imaging the lessons will be mind-numbingly boring, but goes along with it to please her parents. She's pleasantly surprised to find that the lessons are interesting and enjoyable. A pair of sisters who recently moved from England take the lessons with Felicity. The older sister, Annabelle, is stuck-up and looks down on Felicity for being a colonist and shopkeeper's daughter, despite the fact that Felicity's father is one of the most important people in Williamsburg (and the fact that she's never met Felicity). The younger sister, Elizabeth, is Felicity's age and much more agreeable. She's quieter and shyer than her sister, too. Felicity and Elizabeth become fast friends.

While this is going on, Felicity overhears bits and pieces of gossip about colonial anger over the rising taxes on tea and other aspect of English rule. She's confused about what's really happening. After Annabelle expresses her horror at the perceived uncouthness and ungratefulness of the Boston Tea Party, Felicity asks her father to explain the politics of the events to her. He lays out the facts about the colonists feeling taken advantage of, but won't tell Felicity what to think. She has to decide for herself whether the king is mistreating the colonists or if the colonists are wrong. Even after he signs a pledge to stop selling tea in his shop, he insists that Felicity must make up her own mind.

Before she has a chance, it's time for another lesson with Miss Manderly, and it's Annabelle's turn to serve tea. Felicity is nervous: should she accept or refuse the tea? Annabelle makes the decision for, explaining to Miss Manderly with dripping sarcasm that she purposely neglected to fill Felicity's teacup because Felicity, being a colonist, would simply dump the tea on the carpet. As Annabelle scolds Felicity, it's clear that Elizabeth told Annabelle about the pledge Felicity's father made. Furious, Felicity storms out of the lesson and back home. Her mother calms her down, and encourages Felicity to not give up on Elizabeth: surely Elizabeth doesn't think so poorly of her as Annabelle, even if Elizabeth didn't stand up to her sister. It's harder for Elizabeth to stand up to Annabelle than it is for Felicity. Heeding her mother's words, Felicity returns for the next lesson, and finds that Elizabeth does indeed still want to be friends, and even stands up to her sister when Annabelle chides her for complimenting Felicity's stitching on her sampler. That day, it's Elizabeth's turn to serve tea. Felicity turns her cup upside down and politely refuses the tea, with Miss Manderly complimenting her manners.

Looking Back

An American girl growing up in Felicity's time couldn't expect the sort of education one does today. Their lessons were mostly guided toward the proper running of a household, entertaining, and manners. While there is use for many of the skills Felicity would learn (cooking's a nice thing to know how to do), things like reading and math wouldn't be featured so much. Some people even considered reading to be a waste of time for a lady. Boys, on the other hand, might be apprenticed to a trade or even attend colleges as they grew older. That is, of course, if families could afford to educate their children. Children of poorer families had to focus on helping with subsistence farming and whatever else their families needed to do to survive.


This book is dedicated to Elizabeth and Sasha. I wonder if the character Elizabeth was named for the one in the dedication (Sasha doesn't seem like a colonial name).

Felicity describes Annabelle as a snob, a word which seemed too modern for the 1700s. So I looked it up, and snob dates from the 1820s, and was first used in England.

One of the lessons Felicity has involves "homework" of inscribing an invitation. She practices the lettering over and over. Given the expense of paper in 1774, her family is clearly well-off (that, and they have at least two slaves; one in the store and a cook, Rose).

So...next lesson it would be Felicity's turn to serve tea, right? I wonder how she'd handle that. Serve coffee, maybe...that's what the colonists started drinking instead of tea!

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