Tag Archives: orphans

Orphans in literature

I’m noticing another theme in literature, some of which I alluded to in the previous blog about pandemics: orphans in literature.

Recent books play this out, such as “The orphan collector,” “Orphan train,” and “This tender land.”

In “The orphan collector” by Ellen Marie Wiseman, which takes place in Philadelphia during the 1918 flu epidemic, the title character doesn’t technically “collect” only orphans, but finds children whom she can lure with a promise of a good meal. From there the are adopted into homes which the collector deems more fit for parenting (i.e., non-immigrant). Many of the true orphans end up in St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, and some of those do go out west on an “orphan train,” where they end up adopted in families, for better or for worse.

Orphan train,” by Christine Baker Klein, tells the story of one of these orphans, Vivian Daly, a young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City who is put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

This tender land” by William Kent Krueger follows the adventures of a group of (mostly) orphans who have escaped from the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota to find their own idea of what home means.

Then there are some classic 19th century tales of orphans. Charles Dickens seems to specialize in orphan tales with characters such as Pip in Great expectations, David Copperfield, Sydney Carton in A tale of two cities, Martin Chuzzlewit, Nell Trent in The Old Curiosity Shop, Esther Summerson in Bleak House, and Oliver Twist.  More to my liking are some wonderful female orphans in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tales. In “A little princess,” Sara Crew finds herself orphaned and relegated to an attic in Miss Minchin’s boarding school for girls in London, and from there finds a magical world in an adjoining attic. In “The secret garden” Mary Lennox finds not a magical attic, but a “secret garden,” and like Sara, also finds a new family.  

One of my favorite classic books about orphans is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, where Jane spends her girlhood at Gateshead Hall with despicable relatives, and then Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls, before going off to find her true love and family (although with a few dramatic bumps along the way).

There must be something about orphans that makes for great literature – maybe as a way to create happy endings for sympathetic and loveable characters.

For more information on orphans in literature see:



Common themes in books, or, 6 degrees of separation

Do you ever read a book that reminds you of another book, by a common theme running throughout it? This happens to me from time to time. For example, the orphan theme. “The language of flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a lyrical story about an young girl who is in and out of foster care and group homes until she finds her home as an adult in the language of flowers and the community she finds there. Likewise, “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline, is about an orphan who makes her way from the tenements of New York City to the Midwest, where she is eventually adopted, and then back to the coast of Maine, where she has a teenage girl, also in and out of the foster care system, helping her clean out her house. This links to another book I just read, “The unexpected forest : a novel” by Eleanor Lincoln Morse, a Peaks Island author, which includes a young woman who helps an older woman clean out her house on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. There is a white dog which appears in this book, as well as in a more recent book by Morse, entitled “White Dog fell from the sky,” which takes place in Botswana. Which reminds me of a book I read earlier this year: Carolyn Slaughter’s “Dreams of the Kalahari,” a novel which also takes place in Botswana.house tour 2013 #147

I usually have a fiction and non-fiction book going at the same time, and often there are common themes within these two books. I don’t plan it that way – it just appears. Nancy J., in a blog written a year ago, wrote about a common theme of death that appeared coincidentally in some of the books she was reading.

Anyone out there have any other examples of finding themes in books, unexpectedly?