The story behind a chapter in “Heaven to Betsy”

by | Nov 13, 2022 | Books, Reading | 9 comments

Among the most memorable scenes in Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy novel Heaven to Betsy is when Betsy Ray is given an assignment in her freshman year of high school: she has to write an essay for Rhetoricals about Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest.

But being the flamboyant young writer she is, Betsy takes some creative liberties with her paper—and it turns into more fiction than fact as the essay blossoms into a story in which she and her classmates take a trip on the steamer Princess Victoria to Puget Sound.

I’ve been able to study some of the papers from the Maud Hart Lovelace and family papers collection that is housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, and I discovered something fascinating: the “Adventure on Puget Sound” chapter was actually inspired by a real story that Lovelace wrote, evidently in her teen years for a similar school event. It was written during the time when she signed her name as ‘Maude’ rather than Maud.

The original story that Maud wrote doesn’t differ greatly from the tale that Betsy recounts in the pages of Heaven to Betsy. A notable difference is that the real-life counterpart of Bonnie does not appear in Maud’s version. It is actually Frances (Tacy) who quotes “from the guidebook, trying to make the trip educational.”[1] Familiar sentences abound in the original version, from a mention of the girls in their “stiffly starched suits”[2] to Kathleen’s (Julia’s) dreamy line: “How Caruso must be enjoying this!”[3] The factual sections of the essay are devoted to descriptions of the opulent steamer, majestic Mt. Rainier (“the scenery grew indescribable”[4]) and plenty of elegant food available for supper, including a marvelous peach short cake that Maud (Betsy) cannot eat due to her unfortunate seasickness. (Tessie [Katie] informs Maud “with her usual lack of tact”[5] that the cake was absolutely wonderful; “an Irishman must have invented it.”[6]

All in all, the story is essentially what one would expect from reading HTB. The conclusion where they finally realize that the man onboard the steamer is Enrico Caruso—which has been Tessie’s joking prediction the entire time—is just as amusing in Maud’s original story as in Betsy’s.

There is a peculiar mystery, however, with the entire ending of the tale. About halfway down the second-to-last page, the handwriting changes from Maud’s penmanship with its upright lettering to a delicate cursive. The ending of the essay in HTB concludes with the line “‘And he ate four spring chickens,’ breathed Julia.” [7] In the original paper, it is Marion (Carney) who delivers this line, adding her customary “‘Oh, di immortalis!’” afterward [sic].[8]

It’s interesting that Marion gets the last word in the story, when the grand climax belongs to Kathleen. It is also intriguing that the mysterious cursive looks like Marion Willard’s own handwriting, which appears in the original Oktw Delta constitution (also housed in the MHL collection).

Is there a possibility that Marion helped Maud with this story and added her own ideas into the finale? Or did she take over handwriting the essay when the Maud got tired after ten and a half pages? Either way, it seems that this story was at least something of a collaborative effort!

[1] Heaven to Betsy (1945) by Maud Hart Lovelace, pg. 278

[2] “An Adventure on Puget Sound” by Maud Hart Lovelace, from the Maud Hart Lovelace and family papers collection at the Minnesota Historical Society

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Heaven to Betsy, pg. 280

[8] “An Adventure on Puget Sound” by Maud Hart Lovelace, from the Maud Hart Lovelace and family papers collection at the Minnesota Historical Society


  1. Lyn McEnaney

    How marvelous! Thank you!

  2. JenniferDK

    Very cool detective work, Anna Nancy Rose Drew! We know from Carney’s letters that she was an engaging writer as well – I love the idea that the friends might have collaborated on this masterpiece!

  3. Isabella

    This is so cool! Love the fact that they collaborated!

    • Anna Rose Johnson

      I never would have thought of it, but it’s so cool!

  4. Marion

    This is amazing and a regular Nancy Drew mystery. Thank you for bringing it to light.

  5. Marilyn

    A true mystery to be solved.

  6. Joan

    I love a mystery.


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