Posts Tagged ‘1880s’

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The Miz Maze : or, the Winkworth puzzle ; a story in letters

November 24, 2013

So, I think The Miz Maze might be the best collaborative novel I’ve read. It was published in 1883, but seems to take place circa 1859, and the authors are as follows:

Frances Awdry
Mary Bramston
Christabel Rose Coleridge
Mary Susanna Lee
A.E. Mary Anderson Morshead
Frances Mary Peard
Eleanor C. Price
Florence Wilford
Charlotte Mary Yonge

Nine authors is a lot, and I want to know more about them and about the dynamic between them. But all I’ve got is the obvious textual evidence that they weren’t as acrimonious as The Whole Family‘s lot. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing but a page of signatures, a few Wikipedia pages, and a random selection of facts about Charlotte Yonge. And that’s okay. It’s a pretty self-sufficient book, I think, and the authors seem to agree.

The information they do and don’t choose to give is so interesting. First, the authors’ names appear only as facsimile signatures, and they don’t specify who wrote what. Second, they provide a list of characters, and it’s crazy. See, for example, “Sir Walter Winkworth, Baronet of the Miz Maze, Stokeworthy, Wilts, age about 64, residing, when the book opens, at High Scale, a small property in Westmoreland, which was his in right of his second wife, Sophia Ratclyffe, recently deceased.”

I mean, all else aside, that’s a hell of a lot of commas. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Mystery of a Turkish Bath

September 4, 2013

So, has anyone read anything by Rita, AKA E.M. Gollan, AKA Eliza Humphreys, etc.? Because I read The Mystery of a Turkish Bath over the weekend, and it’s super weird. It’s not actually a mystery story, really — the subject of the title is a woman — so much as a tangle of spa society and occultism. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Wired Love

July 30, 2013

A friend linked me yesterday to a blog post about Wired Love, an 1880 novel by Ella Cheever Thayer that seems to have been making the rounds of the tech blogs lately. And yes, its telegraph romance evokes internet romances of today, and yeah, if I had a tech blog I’d probably write about it too. But I have a blog on public domain popular fiction, and I’m writing about it for an entirely different reason: it’s delightful. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Short Story Series #1: The super obvious

June 14, 2012

Of all the English classes I ever had, my 7th grade one was the best. And part of it was that my teacher was great, and part of it was that I realized that grammar is equal parts fun and fascinating — although I realize I may be alone on that one — but probably the single biggest factor was that we had to write an essay on a short story each week. And I could talk a lot about how helpful it was to have to churn out essays and learn to construct an argument and stuff, but what I’m here to talk about today is how much I hated the short stories.

Middle School and High School English classes do a lot to instill in kids the idea that serious literature is super depressing, and short stories, which tend to be sort of single-minded in pursuit of an idea, make it worse — at least with novels, there’s usually time and space to put in a few scenes that will make you laugh, or, you know, offer sidelights on a character that give you hope that they have inner resources to draw on and won’t spend the rest of their lives completely miserable. If they live to the end of the story, that is.

I mean, there were bright spots: “The Speckled Band.” Dorothy Parker. Vocabulary lessons. But I came out of Middle School English with the conviction that all short stories were terrible and that I would hate them forever, with a grudging exception for detective stories.

Anyway, the point of this is that for a long time I really believed I hated short stories — until a couple of years ago when I realized that I was reading short stories all the time, and loving them. It was just that they were short story series, character-driven and funny instead of literary and depressing. These days I get really excited when an author I’ve been enjoying turns out to have a series of short stories or two. So this is the first in what I expect to be a extremely rambling series of posts about those, and how much fun they are — starting with the super obvious. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: Christmas Stories

December 14, 2011

It’s not as if I needed another reason to like Mary Jane Holmes, but I’m grateful to her for creating the need for this subject line, which may be my favorite ever.

I wish she had a better grasp of her subject matter, though.  I’m not talking about stories like “Adam Floyd,” a straightforward but tense religious romance, or “John Logan,” a fairly cute story of a young couple renovating their house that could do with some more hijinks. I don’t know that I’m even talking about “Red-Bird,” the story of a Floridian bird who, after being captured and caged for a year, returns home to find that her family and friends have moved on with their lives. There was a bit of Christmas in that one, but I don’t know if it’s meant to  be a Christmas story — and that’s kind of the problem with the ones that are meant to be Christmas stories. It seems a little bit as if Holmes, when she said “Christmas stories,” meant “stories with Christmas in them,” which isn’t the same thing at all. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: The Birds’ Christmas Carol

December 9, 2010

It’s Christmas story time again! I started, as has become my tradition, with The Romance of a Christmas Card, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It continues to be wonderful.

I thought I’d continue on with Wiggin for a bit, so the next thing I read was an earlier Christmas story of hers, The Birds’ Christmas Carol, which is a delightful combination of making fun of poor people and glorifying childhood illness. And by “delightful”, I mean “unpleasant and a little bit disturbing.” Read the rest of this entry ?

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He Fell in Love with His Wife

April 26, 2010

For some reason I’ve always had a thing for stories where people get married for practical reasons and end up falling in love with each other. So when I came across Edward Payson Roe’s He Fell in Love with His Wife, I had to read it. It’s a pretty silly title, though, and I expected the book to be just like that: melodramatic and silly. But it wasn’t. Actually, I think it might be pretty good. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Belles and Ringers

April 23, 2010

A funny thing happened to me early this year: I read about twenty Nero Wolfe mysteries in a row, and then was completely unable to finish a book for more than two months. There were other contributing factors–a very busy time at work, the fact that I’ve been muddling through Montcalm and Wolfe on and off for most of that time, etc., but it was kind of terrifying.

Hawley Smart’s Belles and Ringers was, honestly, not a great book to come back with. It’s not a great book at all. It’s so pleased with itself, for one thing. And it’s got very little to be pleased about, for another. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

October 6, 2009

Fergus Hume’s Mystery of a Hansom Cab was hugely popular in, like, 1887, but I’m not quite sure why. I mean, I didn’t figure out who the murderer was, sure, but I felt like Hume’s attempts at misdirection were more important to him than the integrity of the plot. Trying to figure out the solution isn’t a huge part of reading mystery novels, for me, but I like to at least have the option, and I think lying to the reader is the ultimate sin a mystery writer can commit.

Also, the crime wasn’t that exciting. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Telegraph Boy

July 14, 2009

So, I have this New York Book Company edition of Horatio Alger’s The Telegraph Boy. I think I got it at The Book Barn more than a year ago. Anyway, it’s been sitting on a shelf on my family’s house upstate for kind of a while, because I compulsively buy Alger books and forget to read them. This past weekend, though, I forgot my Kindle at a 4th of July party and ended up being without it for, um…twenty hours? Which resulted in me reading a couple of actual physical books that I wouldn’t have read otherwise, one of which was The Telegraph Boy.

(I recognize that I am overly attached to my Kindle. I may actually be as attached to it as my brother once was to his Gameboy Color, which is saying a lot. I feel bad about this, because I really do love actual paper books, especially when they’re old and the pages are turning brown and they smell kind of weird.)

Anyway, the point of this post is that I rarely finish an Alger book and think to myself, that was really good. In fact, I’m not sure that’s ever happened before, and I love Alger more than the vast majority of people, I think. I don’t know what made The Telegraph Boy work so well for me, but here are some guesses: Read the rest of this entry ?

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A World of Girls, by L.T. Meade

April 5, 2009

I suspect that A World of Girls was one of L.T. Meade’s most popular books, because it’s the one that shows up most frequently on the title pages of her other books — you know: “by Mrs. L.T. Meade, author of A World of Girls, A Sweet Girl Graduate, etc.” — and that’s kind of why I hadn’t read it until now.

But if it was one of her most popular, there’s a reason: it’s pretty good. I kind of love L.T. Meade’s school stories. They’re from a generation or so before the classic English school stories by people like Angela Brazil or, later, Enid Blyton, so the school environment is completely different, with fewer students, a less formal atmosphere, and different kinds of activities. In A World of Girls, the big school playroom is lined with little partitions diivided from the rest of the room by railings and curtains, and older girls who are very good get their own partitions to furnish as they like and invite other girls to drink tea in. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences

January 7, 2009

Everyone loves well-written reviews of bad movies, right? Few things are funnier. And a review of practically anything will do, so long as someone is being witty at its expense. The best one I’d read recently was actually about a phone — David Pogue’s review of the Blackberry Storm in the New York Times (he finished by calling it dark, sodden, and unpredictable) — but yesterday it was displaced by this Mark Twain essay on the literary defects of James Fenimore Cooper. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Diamond Coterie, by Lawrence Lynch

November 26, 2008

"Constance Wardour, you love Clifford Heath."

So, The Diamond Coterie was kind of awesome, and shall henceforth be enshrined in my heart, but it’s hard to know what to say about it, because there was a lot going on. There were a lot of characters, any of whom might turn out to be a detective in disguise, and a number of intertwined plots, although it was hard to say how many because the reader is never given the full confidence of any character.

We arrive in the small city of W—- on a day when two events have upset the richest and most aristocratic families in town. Miss Constance Wardour, an heiress who lives with her aunt Mrs. Aliston, has been robbed of her famous collection of diamonds. Sybil Lamotte, her best friend and the daughter of prominent businessman Jasper Lamotte, has eloped with John Burrill, a local ne’er-do-well with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The Lamotte family also includes the haughty Mrs. Lamotte, Evan — age about 20 — the alcoholic, and Frank, who is handsome and respectable and in love with Constance Wardour, but is somehow not quite to our liking. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Queen Hildegarde

October 14, 2008

There are a few kinds of children’s stories you see over and over. One that I happen to particularly like is the one where a kid from a city goes to live in the country, or in a small town, and communes with nature and gets their priorities straight. Queen Hildegarde is one of those.

Hildegarde Graham is the spoiled fifteen-year-old daughter of rich parents. She lives in New York City, is very pretty, has beautiful clothes, and is the envy of all her friends. Her parents, though, are sensible people, so they get worried about her, and when they have to go off to California for a few months, they send Hilda to stay with her mother’s old nurse.

Hildegarde is completely horrified by the prospect. She’s basically like, “farmers, ew!” and she uses the word “intolerable” a lot. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Two Elsies and Elsie’s Kith and Kin

April 8, 2008

I haven’t been keeping up with writing about the Elsie books as I read them, but let’s forget about that and skip to book #11, The Two Elsies. The two Elsies in question are probably the original Elsie and her eldest daughter, but neither of them is particularly central to the story and several people have babies named Elsie at this point.

Anyway, a little background: in book #8, Elsie’s second daughter and third child, Violet, married Captain Raymond, a naval man and a widower with three children. Captain Raymond is away at sea much of the time, so Elsie and her father — he and his wife kind of moved in with Elsie after Mr. Travilla died in book #7 — say that the kids can come live with them (Violet is continuing to live at home, too). Max, the eldest, is kind of hasty and impulsive, but basically a good kid. Lulu has a bad temper that she has trouble controlling (in other words, she has a backbone, which means that she’s kind of alone in this series) but she is also scrupulously honest. Grace is a sickly but gentle little girl who soon becomes nearly as religious as Elsie was at her age. At this point, the books start to focus in on Lulu and her father, reworking the father daughter relationship that was so creepy in the earliest Elsie books, except that in this version, Lulu is pretty much always in the wrong, and also there’s a fair amount of corporal punishment, described in more detail than I wanted to read. Read the rest of this entry ?

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