Adrift in New York, or Tom and Florence Braving the World

March 11, 2007

Ah, Horatio Alger, Jr. If I have an area of expertise, he’s it. A few of his books were the beginning of what is now a pretty large collection of old children’s novels, and I bought my tenth Alger yesterday. It’s called Adrift in New York, and it’s exactly as ridiculous as I’ve come to expect Alger’s books to be.

You’ve probably heard of Alger in connection with the “Alger Myth”: the idea that anyone can make money and move up the social scale as long as they’re willing to work hard. I don’t like the Alger Myth. Or, at least, I know that it doesn’t really hold true in his books. My friend Sam expresses it much better in his description of Mark the Matchboy: through hard work and good luck, you can become the grandson of a rich man.

Adrift in New York
is something like that.

Florence Linden (age 17) and Curtis Waring (age 35) live with their uncle, who is an invalid. He would be a lot healthier if someone hadn’t abducted his four year old son fourteen years ago. He also thinks he would be happier if Curtis and Florence got married. Curtis thinks so too. Florence doesn’t. And since Curtis would also be a lot happier if his uncle was dead, it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to take her side.

Mr. Linden is so attached to the idea of his niece and nephew getting married that he threatens to turn Florence out of the house if she doesn’t agree to marry Curtis. While brooding about this, she falls asleep in her uncle’s library. Meanwhile, Curtis encounters a man named Tim Bolton, and over the course of their conversation, we discover that Curtis paid Tim to abduct Linden’s son and take him to Australia, and that Curtis isn’t so happy to hear that they’re back. On the other hand, it’s pretty convenient for him to have his own personal criminal back in New York, and he immediately hires Tim to break into the Linden house and steal Linden’s will. Tim sends his adoptive son Tom to do it instead, and as the will is kept in the library, and Florence is still asleep there, the two naturally meet and become friends. Tom promises that when her uncle kicks her out of the house, he will take care of Florence. And since her uncle has been awakened by the noise and finds her with Tom, she’s going to be kicked out a little sooner than expected, so it’s a good thing she’s got something to fall back on.

Florence works as a governess for a while until her employer discovers that she lives in a tenement and fires her. Tom sells papers for a while until Curtis kidnaps him and puts him on a boat to San Francisco. Curtis evidently does not know what kind of book he’s in. Chance meetings are inevitable in Alger, so it’s always a bad idea to send your enemy to the city where the secret wife and child you abandoned a few years back live.

I think it’s pretty obvious where things go from there. Incidentally, Alger also made this novel into a play. Or possibly he wrote the play first. Anyway, I read the play at some point, and it is truly terrible.

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