Good Little Girls

Good Little Girls

Mark Twain’s short story ‘Advice To Good Little Girls’ was written in 1865 and offers suggestions on how to get what you want from life. This includes how to steal toys from other children, avoid doing what your parents and teachers tell you, harm others and go un-noticed etc.

Written in an unpatronising, ironic way, Mark Twain’s work stands out against the commonly didactic children’s literature of his time by recommending manipulation to a young reader. His wife was a known reformist and liberal, their first son died very young, and they went on to have three daughters, which could explain this short story’s particular preoccupation with the problems of educating little girls. In this book he acknowledges that they are far from passive, learning almost machiavellian methods to creatively rationalise wrongdoings. His humorous tone does not condone or condemn such antics but makes fun of ‘good advice,’ therefore undermining the piety of society, school and family.

The painting imagines the problems that his female reader, having lived out his advice, might face in the future. It is a portrait of a woman who has abused her feminine wiles for material gain and is imprisoned by her own greed. The toys that surround her are relics of the childhood behaviour she cannot abandon and surround her in an almost nightmarish last judgement. Despite being circled with worldly goods she clutches her rabbit and appears lonely. The connotations in her positioning and bare legs suggest how she might also use her sexuality to get what she wants and the emptiness that comes from exploiting others and herself.


Oil on canvas
Width 122cm
Height 152cm

Based on Mark Twain's 'Advice To Good Little Girls' see below image for text.