One Year of Redeeming Qualities

March 10, 2008

Last week was the one-year anniversary of this blog. I still enjoy writing about weird old books. I’m a little bit impressed that I’ve managed to keep it going for so long. I don’t know that there’s much else to say about it, but I thought I should do something to celebrate, so here’s a list of my favorite finds since I began writing Redeeming Qualities, in order of discovery.

  1. Calling A Woman Named Smith, by Marie Conway Oemler, a book I’ve discovered through this blog might be cheating, since it’s actually the book that caused me to start the blog. I found it while browsing on Project Gutenberg, loved it, and realized that no one I knew was half as interested in hearing about it as I was in talking about it. I’ve reread it twice. It is still completely awesome. It still has stolen jewels, mysterious Oriental servants, and a mummy, and the Author is still my favorite fictional famous person ever. Also see: Slippy McGee.
  2. The Coquette’s Victim and Coralie, both by Charotte M. Braeme, are among the worst books I have ever read, but that just makes them funnier. They are Victorian stories for shop girls and the like, short romances that waste no time on character development, plot, or anything but flowery language about doom. Someday I’m going to go back and read the rest of the series.
  3. It’s been a while, and mostly Zona Gale’s Romance Island kind of sucked, but I can’t get over the guys with the prehensile feet.
  4. Every time I talk to someone about my interest in early girls’ series books, they bring up Nancy Drew. And, just as invariably, I make disparaging remarks about the Nancy Drew series and start telling them about how Ruth Fielding was a far more interesting character and grew up to write and direct silent movies. And they are always impressed. Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures starts her on that path, and it’s better written than any Nancy Drew book, although I freely admit that’s not saying much.
  5. Totally not a book I discovered through writing this blog. But: everyone should go read my ridiculously long summary of Mary Jane Holmes’ Tracy Park, because I still have trouble justifying to myself the amount of time I spent writing it. Also: because it is a really fun book.
  6. Pollyanna’s Door to Happiness was perhaps my biggest and best surprise. I mean, it’s Pollyanna. And she becomes a psychiatrist’s assistant. And, for a series book from the 30s, it’s astonishingly thoughtful and smart. Also, there’s a lady whose mental troubles result in her stealing children’s clothing from department stores and later kidnapping a baby. Fun stuff.
  7. So, Charlotte Braeme was not actually the author responsible for the most flowery language ever to appear in this blog. That would be the person who wrote High Noon, an anonymous sequel to Elinor Glyn’s Three Weeks that features this passage:

    “Oh! God,” he cried, out of the anguish of his soul, “what a hideous world! Beneath all this painted surface, this bedizened face of earth, lies naught but the yawning maw of the insatiable universe. This very lake, with its countenance covered with rippling smiles, is only a cruel monster waiting to devour. Everything, even the most beautiful, typifies the inexorable laws of Fate and the futility of man’s struggle with the forces he knows not.”

  8. I will never forgive Eleanor H. Porter for marrying the eponymous heroine of Miss Billy to Bertram instead of Cyril. But if I’m still that angry about it, I guess I was pretty invested in the book up until that point.
  9. The Grace Harlowe books will always be more interesting and sophisticated than I expect them to be, no matter how many times I go back to them. There can be no higher praise for cheap, formulaic girls’ books.
  10. I didn’t do justice to the Little Colonel series, by Annie Fellows Johnston, when I wrote about it here in December. It had been a while since I’d finished reading the books, and I think it will always be difficult to convey their charm. They’re so materialistic, and yet so unworldly, just like the morally significant jewelry their characters are constantly acquiring.
  11. The Wide, Wide World, by Susan Warner, was a huge bestseller in the 1850s, and although it’s been mostly forgotten today, it’s enormously important to the history of books for girls. So why was I so surprised to find out that it was really good?


  1. What a fascinating blog! I grew up on some of these stories, (fed to me by my mother who was from a family with old-Southern-blue-blood pretensions) and as a kid, I loved them. Some of it was pretty ridiculous, and some of it definitely had an effect on the way my character formed (some of it good, some not so good.)

    Anyhow, I plan to read the whole blog and to follow what you have to write in future. Congratulations on an interesting blog!

  2. When I was a kid, my parents were always trying to get me to read classic, important literature, so I have rebelled by reading lots of mediocre novels and children’s books, I guess.

    I’m glad you like the blog. It’s always nice to know that people enjoy what I’m doing.

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