January 15, 2013

Teen Life Way Back When: Bad Boys and Ghosts

What would a teen hunker down and read for pure enjoyment in the mid to late nineteenth century?  Besides the obvious authors that we're all familiar with such as James Fenimore Cooper or Louisa May Alcott, who else was popular back then?

Turning to my newest resource from this time period, The Common School Question Book and Review by Isaac Hinton Brown, I found this question:  "#35.  Name principal writers of recent fiction".  The answer contained a list of authors I'd never heard of but were apparently universally well known at the time:  Charles Dudley Warner, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, George Washington Cable, Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Julian Hawthorne, Harriet P. Spofford and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.  I decided to investigate two of them Thomas Bailey Aldrich and Harriet P. Spofford.

  Cover of current edition
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, prolific novelist and poet, lived from 1836-1907.  One of his best known works, said to have inspired Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, was The Story of a Bad Boy published in 1870.  Described as a semiautobiographical memoir and realistic portrayal of an all-American boyhood, this novel featured the juvenile character "Tom Bailey".  Astonishingly, a search of Amazon.com revealed that this book is still in print, the most recent version published on April 27, 2011 (see photo).  Other books by Thomas Bailey Aldrich include Baby Bell, Marjorie Daw, Queen of Sheba and Still Water Tragedy.

Harriet Spofford from Wiki Commons
Harriet P. Spofford, 1835-1921, wrote poetry and novels.  Described as a "sentimentalist" by The Common School Book, she wrote gothic romances with, according to Wikipedia, "luxuriant descriptions and an unconventional handling of female stereotypes".  One of her more famous books was Sir Rolan's Ghost.  This book, too, is still in print.  The most recent edition by Nabu Press in Turkish was published on May 12, 2010 and is available through Amazon.com (that is, if you can read Turkish!).  Other books by this author include The Amber Gods, The Thief in the Night and The Servant Girl Question.

For references and additional reading see the Extras section.

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