“Tillie: A Mennonite Maid, A Story of the Pennsylvania Dutch” is a book recently added to the Belleyre bookshelves. “Tillie” was written in 1904 by Helen Reimensnyder Martin, a Pennsylvania author who was known for her stories of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Belleyre Books carries the 1908 printing.
In researching the title, I found that the book was very popular. It was made into a play and then a movie (1922). Most striking is that in the more than 100 years since it was first published, it has been republished again and again. The original edition appears to have stayed in print for at least 15 years. New editions came out in the 60s and again in the 90s. This year alone, paperback, hardcover, and eBook editions have been released. Another paperback edition is slated for 2011. Wow! What gives this book it’s staying power? I can understand “Tillie’s” current popularity considering the “Amish novels” (until the late 1600s, the Amish and Mennonites were part of the same movement) that have taken over the top 100 list on Amazon, but how did “Tillie” make it so far, I wanted to know.
To answer this, I started reading bit parts here and there throughout the book. The title by itself provokes all sorts of peaceful, old-fashioned images. Words such as plain, simple, and quaint come to mind when deciding what sort of protagonist this text must portray. But, whoa! What a harsh view of the Mennonites! Repression of women seems to be the theme. Upon further reasearch, I found that “Tillie” is generally accepted as a book depicting Mennonites and other Pennsylvania Dutch groups in a harsh light. However, in some ways the book offers a window to a society that many find fascinating. And for better or worse, the protagonist, Tillie, is someone who the reader wants to follow to the very end. All in all, what I think has given “Tillie” its staying power is the fascination people have for a small group that maintains its own set of rules and lifestyle within a much larger, less restrictive society.
Have a great week!