Betsy-Tacy and Leslie Knope, the Love Story of the A Student

Thank you DilDeewana for giving me permission to write about the Betsy-Tacy series! And thank you My Own Mind for putting together how Betsy and Leslie Knope have the same romance.

The Betsy-Tacy series is really unique for how it grows with the characters. The three volume novel structure that takes our heroine from a young girl to a married woman is normal. Or Harry Potter that goes from 11 to 18, less common but not unheard of. The Betsy-Tacy series goes from 5 to 25, a really REALLY long period. And the content of the books does as well, the first books are very simple straightforward stories of little girls going to the circus. And the last book is a complicated consideration of marriage, war, infertility, everything.

BETSY'S WEDDING: Lovelace, Maud Hart, Vera Neville: Books
In real life, Lovelace didn’t have a child until she was 39, 14 years after she married. There’s a tinge of sadness in this book as she and her new husband talk and dream about their baby who just isn’t coming somehow. But in my mind, I’ve decided that the fictional Betsy gets pregnant right after this book ends, she doesn’t have 14 years of heartbreak like the real life Lovelace.

What’s really special with this is that we get to see our heroine and her two best friends grow and change as the world pressures them. They are bright brave smart fun little girls. And then they get older and start to worry about how they look, and about boys, and about other things. The pressure of social expectation and adult worldly problems molds them and changes them, but the original personalities remain.

Betsy is our heroine, from a nice stable family with a big sister she idolizes, and a younger sister she babies. She likes to read, she likes to write, she likes to learn things and challenge herself and just be smart. Her best friend is Tacy, from a very large family, quiet and steady and unnoticed by most people. And their shared best friend is Tib, pretty blonde and perky and a little spoiled, only girl in a family of boys. We see all three of them as little girls when life is easy, Betsy can read books all the time and love school, Tacy can spend most of her time at home or with a few close friends, and Tib can laugh and talk to strangers. And then they grow up, and suddenly that behavior isn’t okay any more. Tacy has to pretend to like parties and dances, Tib has to tone herself down, and Betsy can’t be “smart” any more.

Almost Betsy-Tacy and Tib Dolls — BooksTogether
Tib with fluffy blonde hair, Tacy with old-fashioned long curls, and Betsy with straight plain braids jumping around and having fun. And then they hit high school and Betsy has to curl her hair and Tacy is pressured to cut her long braids, and everyone judges Tib for flying around with blonde hair.

This is growing up for women, going from the freedom of childhood to the restrictions of expectations as an adult. The high school years are growing pains as you figure out what the world is going to make you give up and what you will be allowed to keep. In this series, the radical ending is that the three little girls grow up, lose their way, and then firmly come back to themselves. Tib graduates and goes to work. A working woman in the 1910s is remarkable, and a working woman who dates widely, dresses pretty, and flirts outrageously is revolutionary. But she was a fearless little girl so she is a fearless young woman. Tacy graduates and almost immediately marries an older man and becomes a wife and mother. She didn’t have to change for him, she didn’t have to cut her hair or dress and act modern, she found someone who loved her just as she was and she got married at 18 and had the life she wanted. And then there’s Betsy. After pretending to be dumb and pretty off and on through high school, she set that aside and went to college and planned a career as a writer, even though it wasn’t the “girly” thing to do.

Was life always like that? she wondered. A game of hide and seek in which  you

Tacy gets her husband as kind of a “reward”, she never managed to be the flirty datey girl everyone said she should be, but she ended up with someone who loved her just as she was, kind of proof that she didn’t have to change to get a man. Tib doesn’t get a man at all, makes her life as she wants it. But for Betsy, for the A Student girl who is suddenly ashamed to be smart, it is the boy who appreciates her who helps her learn to appreciate herself again.

Maud Hart Lovelace Quote: “When there are boys you have to worry about how  you look, and whether they like you, and why they like another girl  bett...” (7 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

Okay, now I’m gonna talk about Leslie Knope!!! Leslie Knope is the lead character in the TV show Parks and Recreation. She was original supposed to be the butt of all the jokes, the overly serious small town bureaucrat who had no idea how she appeared to others. But the show shifted pretty quickly to realizing this character isn’t actually funny, she is admirable. The smart hardworking A Student kind of woman is someone you make fun of because she makes you feel bad about yourself, makes you feel lazy and inferior and dumb, but that’s just mean and not funny. So Parks and Recreation switched from making fun of her to sort of making fun of the people who make fun of her, who think it isn’t “cool” to care. The show builds a world in which we see how difficult it is for Leslie to love herself because no one else seems to love her like she is, because they are FOOLS. Her relationships don’t work out, she keeps blaming herself. And then it all comes together with the introduction of the character Ben Wyatt. This is someone who is as smart as her, as ambitious as her, and who loves all the things about her that other people have told her she has to hide. He likes that she is hardworking, a perfectionist, ambitious, will always speak out and speak her mind. They fall in love partly because they really challenge each other and they both enjoy being challenged.

15 Reasons Why Leslie Knope And Ben Wyatt Should Be Your Couple Goals  Forever

This is the story that the Betsy-Tacy books tell very very slowly over the 4 high school books. In high school, Betsy meets Joe. He is smart, really smart. At the same time she is tempted to start letting school slide because smart girls are threatening, this guy shows up who challenges her in class, gives her openings she can’t resist to fight it out with him. He is what keeps drawing her back to that part of herself, always in the background as that challenge to keep her working and planning and ambitious. If Joe is going to enter the writing contest and get published while still in high school and impress all the teachers, by golly Betsy is going to also. Without Joe, Betsy could have let herself slide, could have lost that part of herself.

Say, you told me you thought Les... - Maud Hart Lovelace - Quotes.Pub

In the 4th year of high school, after being friends and going to dances together but always keeping a distance, suddenly Joe and Betsy give in and are completely and totally in love. At which point we learn that for Joe, Betsy was that thing that kept him going too. He knew she was the only other person in school anywhere close to as smart as him. So he decided to use her, he picked her out as the measure he would balance himself against. For 4 years, he needed her to stay working and ambitious and tough because it would be what kept him tough. And at the same time he had to resist falling in love with her, because of course he would fall in love with the smartest girl in school. What could be better than that?

While many books are the fantasy of the perfect life you never had, the Betsy-Tacy books are the story of the love story that the author had for real. And the proof of that is in the existence of the books themselves, written over many years with the encouragement of her husband. She didn’t meet her husband until she was an adult, but he definitely challenged her. They were both hardworking successful writers their whole marriage, neither of them working more or less than the other. So when she writes about her fictional self in high school trying to figure out how to be smart and ambitious but also “girly”, she moved her husband back to that time, wished that she had met him even younger and learned to love herself through his love at an even earlier age.

Collected Stories of Maud Hart Lovelace and Delos Lovelace: Maud Hart  Lovelace, Delos Lovelace, Julie A. Schrader: 9780985093716:  Books

At least, that’s how I see it 🙂

How do you see the Betsy-Tacy books? Or Leslie Knope? Or just in general the challenge of being the A Student girl who has to find the guy who loves her for that?

6 thoughts on “Betsy-Tacy and Leslie Knope, the Love Story of the A Student

  1. Awww I wasn’t expecting the comparison between Leslie Knope and the Betsy-Tacy books, but I loved it!!
    Hmm again I haven’t re-read these books in forever, so I’m not sure I can deliver anything super insightful, but something that strikes me as being similar in this series to AoGG is that there’s such a solid friendship between women at the beginning of both series. Betsy/Tacy/Tib and Anne/Diana that I think sort of sets the template for what both Betsy and Anne pursue romantically later on. Yes, it’s sad that female friendships can fade a little as lives diverge, but both Betsy and Anne find romantic partners in which friendship is at the core of their love that I think helps lessen the sting. Someone to walk beside you in life, but who also challenges you to be the best person you can be, which includes writing aspirations for both Anne and Betsy.
    Also, Leslie Knope would have def loved the Betsy-Tacy books as a child 🙂


    • Oh! And Leslie Knope also finds her best friend first and her true love second! Maybe it’s about needing that first relationship with someone who really likes you and teaches you to like yourself? And that sets you up for a true love relationship. It’s certainly true for Leslie, the whole show starts and her life begins to change when she makes her first real true female best friend.

      And all three stories also show that the friendship never fully goes away. Anne makes new friends, but continues her bond with Diana straight through to Rilla. Betsy Tacy and Tib stay friends through adulthood. And of course, Leslie and Anne survive even Anne moing away.


      • Yes, Leslie and Anne, as well! All of those friendships teach you to love and value yourself and also how to have a healthy relationship, meaning that the best relationships naturally have a give and take component to them.

        Also, I was just thinking that perhaps we have Children’s Lit and particularly L.M. Montgomery and Lovelace for giving us the friends to lovers trope? I was trying to think of authors before them who had done it and couldn’t really think of anyone except Austen in Sense and Sensibility with Marianne and Colonel Brandon, but it doesn’t hit quite the same way because they don’t have years and years of knowing each other and things don’t quite work out with this trope in Wuthering Heights and Little Women.


        • I’m thinking there must have been a friends and lovers before Alcott only because people get so mad about Jo and Laurie!!! So somehow they must have expected that best friends would become lovers.

          But yes, starting with a close female friendship that teaches you what a healthy relationship is like, and then you can use your best judgement when you pick a romantic partner.


  2. Oh my gosh – you are a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox! You have taken two of my favorite fictional females and tied them together in such a lovely way. Thank you so much for this awesome post!


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