Molly Make-Believe

May 10, 2008

So, I just read another Eleanor Hallowell Abbott story: Molly Make-Believe. And it’s a full-fludged romance novel this time — although a very small one — which is sort of not in its favor.

Molly Make-Believe tells the story of a winter in the life of Carl Stanton, a young businessman who is confined to his bed by his horrible rheumatism. He has recently become engaged to a girl named Cornelia, although it hasn’t been announced yet. Carl’s doctor is astonished to discover that Cornelia is going South for the winter in spite of the fact that Carl is ill, but, as Carl puts it, “Every girl like Cornelia had to go South sometime between November and March.”

As if her absence wasn’t a strong enough hint, her goodbye letter tells him that she won’t have time to write to him more than once a week, if that, and that he’s silly and sentimental to want letters from her at all. She encloses the following “ridiculous” circular, “apropos of [his] sentimental passion for letters.”


Comfort and entertainment Furnished for Invalids, Travelers, and all Lonely People.

Real Letters from Imaginary Persons.

Reliable as your Daily Paper. Fanciful as your Favorite Story Magazine. Personal as a Message from your Best Friend. Offering all the Satisfaction of receiving Letters with no Possible Obligation or even Opportunity of Answering Them.

Letters from a Japanese Fairy. Bi-weekly.
(Especially acceptable to a Sick Child. Fragrant with Incense and Sandal Wood. Vivid with purple and orange and scarlet. Lavishly interspersed with the most adorable Japanese toys that you ever saw in your life.)

Letters from a little Son. Weekly.
(Very sturdy. Very spunky. Slightly profane.)

Letters from a Little Daughter. Weekly.
(Quaint. Old-Fashioned. Daintily Dreamy. Mostly about Dolls.)

Letters from a Banda-Sea Pirate. Monthly.
(Luxuriantly tropical. Salter than the Sea. Sharper than Coral. Unmitigatedly murderous. Altogether blood-curdling.)

Letters from a Gray-Plush Squirrel. Irregular.
(Sure to please Nature Lovers of Either Sex. Pungent with wood-lore. Prowly. Scampery. Deliciously wild. Apt to be just a little bit messy perhaps with roots and leaves and nuts.)

Letters from Your Favorite Historical Character. Fortnightly.
(Biographically consistent. Historically reasonable. Most vivaciously human. Really unique.)

Love Letters. Daily.
(Three grades: Shy. Medium. Very Intense.)

In ordering letters kindly state approximate age, prevalent tastes,—and in case of invalidism, the presumable severity of illness. For price list, etc., refer to opposite page. Address all communications to Serial Letter Co. Box, etc., etc.

Carl subscribes to the love letters, of course, (“To the Serial-Letter Co.” he addressed himself brazenly. “For the enclosed check—which you will notice doubles the amount of your advertised price—kindly enter my name for a six weeks’ special ‘edition de luxe’ subscription to one of your love-letter serials. (Any old ardor that comes most convenient) Approximate age of victim: 32. Business status: rubber broker. Prevalent tastes: To be able to sit up and eat and drink and smoke and go to the office the way other fellows do. Nature of illness: The meanest kind of rheumatism. Kindly deliver said letters as early and often as possible!”) and they start arriving almost immediately. Not just letters, either — there’s a wool blanket, books, flowers, a dog that spends one evening with him while he tries to guess its name, etc. Meanwhile, Cornelia’s letters are cold and far-between, and Carl — of course — finds himself falling in love with “Molly,” who may not exist.

The rest is pretty predictable. Molly does exist — how could she not? — and she’s in love with him, too, and it’s all a little silly. But there is one bit that really surprised me, and in a good way. Eventually Carl decides to break off his engagement to Cornelia, and she’s confused as to why. When she returns from Florida, he tries to explain to her what’s happened, and instead of being haughty and shallow and everything else you normally see in this kind of character, she makes an effort to understand. Not only that, but eventually she does understand, and she doesn’t seem to harbor a grudge against Carl or anything. In her letters to Carl, she is the Wrong Girl as she usually appears in this kind of book, but when we actually come face to face with her, she becomes as much of a real person as Carl — maybe more of one.

Best line of the book, perhaps: “Oh, you mean,” she asked with unmistakable relief; “oh, you mean that really after all it wasn’t your letter that jilted me, but my temperament that jilted you?”

I’ve added the illustrations to the flickr account — some are better than others, but Cornelia’s mother is undoubtedly the best.


  1. I recently found this book at a used-book sale at the library and grabbed it. I collect mid- to late-19th century and early 20th century girls’ fiction and the title intrigued me. I loved the story, and thought it was neat that the main character was a man. Did you know it was made into a movie in 1916?


  2. I agree that it’s cool that the main character is a man, and since Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s male characters tend to be more fun than the female ones, it’s definitely for the best. I did know about the movie, and I’ve noticed that a lot of other novels from this era were made into movies. Frustratingly, they’re not available anywhere one can watch them.

  3. Coincidence, or what, I am reading Tender is the Night (a book on Radcliffe Publishing Courses 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century list) that I am working on , and in the book “Daddy-Long-Legs and Molly-Make-Believe are mentioned. So, my curiosity is peaked and I want to find out more, and low and behold I come upon this site, 10 days after two postings.

    PS. Daddy-Long-Legs, was a 1912 novel and made into a movie in 1916 ,staring Canada’s own Mary Pickford.

  4. I know and love Daddy-Long-Legs, although I prefer Dear Enemy, the sequel. It’s a lot more than a 1912 novel that was made into a movie; it was hugely popular, and the movie(1919, I think) was adapted from the Broadway play that introduced Ruth Chatterton.

    Anyway, F. Scott Fitzgerald can sneer at sprightly epistolary novels all he wants, but they’re a lot less depressing than his books. If you’re thinking about trying one of them out, go for Daddy-Long-Legs. Molly-Make-Believe is, comparatively, not so good.

    Good for you, though, trying to work your way through that list. Lists of best books scare the hell out of me.

  5. I also prefer Dear Enemy to Daddy-Long-Legs, although I still read it when I’m in the mood for a “girls at college” story. But no amount of money can ever induce me to watch the 1955 movie version of DLL with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. I saw it once when I was young and couldn’t believe what they did to my beloved book.

  6. I actually saw the movie before I ever read the book, but I remember enough of it that I know not to watch it again. I probably wouldn’t have anyway, since I love Fred Astaire and the movie does as little justice to him as to Jean Webster.

  7. I love Tender Is The Night….but every time I read Fitzgerald I have to read Wodehouse or one of these books as an anti-depressant.

    • Yeah, I sort of do the same thing.

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