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eBook available: Little Nobody (our 50th release!)

"Little Nobody"

“Little Nobody”

Today marks the release of the 50th Project Gutenberg eBook drawn from our digital collections. The previous 49 titles are listed here.

The title which brings us to this milestone is Little Nobody, another story paper melodrama from the pen of Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller. This novel follows the adventures of Eliot Van Zandt, a Boston newspaper reporter visiting New Orleans. This being a Mrs. Miller novel, those adventures include a fair amount of romance and mayhem.

While many Mrs. Miller novels have held up surprisingly well for the modern reader, this one features a crucial plot twist built around a fundamentally racist premise, a fact which rather diminishes the pleasure of reading it. Still, there is some value in documenting the bad along with the good — seeing the way certain ideas of race were ingrained into popular culture at a time when the Civil War was still within living memory provides an interesting historical perspective and sheds light on what were likely common social attitudes of the time.

To see the story for yourself, you can read it online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in the some of the most popular electronic formats.


Now in proofreading: Sybil Chase

Sybil ChaseOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is another early Beadle’s Dime Novel written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, who also happens to be the author of the very first book in the series, Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. This title, Sybil Chase; or, The Valley Ranche, is a self-described “tale of California life,” first published in 1861.

If you are interested in helping create a modern electronic edition of this vintage book, first read our earlier post about the proofreading system, then proceed to the project page.


Now in proofreading: The Fiction Factory

The Fiction FactoryWe’ve previously written a little about prolific dime novel author William Wallace Cook in posts related to his Motor Stories series. Our latest Distributed Proofreaders project is Cook’s quirky, pseudonymously-written memoir, The Fiction Factory. There aren’t many insider books about the dime novel industry, so this is an important title for the study of the form.

If you are interested in helping create a modern electronic edition of this vintage book, first read our earlier post about the proofreading system, then proceed to the project page.


eBook available: The Spruce Street Tragedy

Spruce Street TragedyOur latest completed Project Gutenberg eBook is The Spruce Street Tragedy; or, Old Spicer Handles a Double Mystery, part of the Old Cap. Collier Library of detective-themed dime novels, and one of several titles featuring tall, thin, aging Mark Spicer as the hero.

Dime novel detective stories tended to focus less on mystery than on action. This was likely a practical matter, given the speed at which dime novels were usually written; it is far easier to write a series of chase scenes and fights than to devise a puzzle for the reader to unravel.

The Spruce Street Tragedy doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the crowd; while the story begins with a detailed description of a crime scene, it soon turns into a simple pursuit narrative punctuated by violent confrontations. The actual story doesn’t hold up very well to close scrutiny, and some of the writing is astonishingly lazy, as in this sequence, where Old Spicer obtains the key to a hotel room in order to spy on a criminal:

“What’s the number of the room over twenty-four?”

The landlord considered the question for a moment and then said:


“Good! give me the key to thirty-six.”

“What do you want of it, sir?”

Old Spicer gave him a hurried but plausible explanation.

The key was at once handed to him.

The reader is never filled in on the details of this “plausible explanation,” likely because the author didn’t have time to come up with them.

If the book has any redeeming feature, it may be the publisher’s catalog at the back, which advertises an astonishing range of bizarre-sounding detective adventures. While it is very likely that none of them are much better than this tale, it’s still hard to resist learning more about such heroes as Old Humpey, the Dwarf Detective or Zeb Taylor, the Puritan Detective!

The entire book (including the catalog) can now be found at Project Gutenberg, where it can be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: The Cruise of the “Lively Bee”

The Cruise of the "Lively Bee"In our work with Distributed Proofreaders, we have released electronic editions of quite a few melodramas from the story papers of the late 19th century, as produced by authors like Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller and Mrs. E. Burke Collins. These belonged to just one of several popular genres of the period — another was the historical adventure for boys, as typified by today’s new release, The Cruise of the “Lively Bee.”

First published in the Golden Hours story paper from November 19, 1892 to January 28, 1893 and later reprinted in book form as part of a series called The Boys of Liberty Library, this tale details the adventures of a privateer called the “Lively Bee” as she fights for the American side during the War of 1812. The use of a privateer allows the story to use many of the trappings of a pirate adventure while simultaneously expressing patriotic sentiments and offering history lessons to its readers. While the “Lively Bee” and its crew are fictional creations, they encounter several historical ships (such as the USS Congress and HMS Belvidera) and meet a variety of well-known figures, including David Farragut and Dolly Madison.

This being a story paper serial, it’s definitely not all about dry historical facts. It also includes romance, at least one astounding coincidence, a bit of comic relief, and high levels of violence. Given its target audience, it also goes out of its way to point out the role of very young boys in much of the fighting. This will likely raise the eyebrows of contemporary readers, as will the book’s extremely sexist portrayal of women, but neither is particularly surprising for the period. In any case, it’s not hard to see how the story held the attention of its readers and kept them coming back for more installments.

You can read the entire adventure online at Project Gutenberg, where it is also available for download in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Her Dark Inheritance

Dark InheritanceThe latest eBook project we have completed with the help of Distributed Proofreaders is the 19th century melodrama Her Dark Inheritance by Mrs. E. Burke Collins. The story revolves around Beatrix Dane, a young girl whose past contains a secret so horrifying that its revelation eventually kills her adoptive father. While not as well-constructed as the generally similar works by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller, and containing several of the expected offensive stereotypes of the period, this is still a fun read, both for the shocking secret (which is nearly impossible to guess, and doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense) and for some of the over-the-top dialog. Our heroine’s tortured (and constantly soliloquizing) Uncle Bernard offers some particular gems, such as this one:

Thought! Never think, Simons. Don’t let me ever hear again that you indulge in the pernicious habit of thinking! Great Heaven! what would I not give to drown thought—to bury it out of sight—deep, deep—so deep that nothing on earth would ever have the power to resurrect it! Thought—memory! Bah!”

For the rest of this speech, and a great deal more, you can find the full text of the novel online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Motor Matt’s Daring; or, True to His Friends

Motor Matt's DaringLess than a month after the release of Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel, the second volume of the Motor Stories dime novel series has also been made available as an eBook. Motor Matt’s Daring; or, True to His Friends offers more of the same fast-paced, technology-driven action as the previous volume, this time featuring a story about a disputed gold claim. As before, the main adventure is supplemented by a short, unrelated (and unpleasantly racist) adventure story, this time centering on a dangerous night-time journey through an alligator-infested swamp to intercept a murderer.

Stay tuned for more Motor Matt adventures in the months to come. For now, you can find the full text of this issue online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Malaeska

MalaeskaShortly before the Civil War broke out, the publisher Beadle and Company (later Beadle and Adams) tried a publishing experiment: sell short novels for ten cents, providing inexpensive entertainment for the masses. This experiment proved to be incredibly successful, and thus the “dime novel” was popularized.

The very first story released as a Beadle’s Dime Novel was Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter, written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, an author who would continue to contribute to the series in years to come. This debut title is now available in electronic format through Project Gutenberg thanks to our work with the Distributed Proofreaders project.

Malaeska is definitely not what one might expect from the first dime novel — it does not set the template for what would follow. While there are some action sequences here and there, the overall tone of the book is nostalgic and mournful, filled with long descriptions of natural scenes and authorial asides on the “good old days” before the tiresome modernity of 1860.

It is also surprising that the subject of this initial experiment in popular literature is not frontier adventure, lost treasure, high romance or another crowd-pleasing standard but rather interracial marriage, a subject that was definitely not considered to be a positive thing in the 19th century. Needless to say, many of the attitudes and some of the language presented by the book have not aged well, though it is perhaps to the book’s credit that it is written ambiguously enough that the reader can choose to interpret it either as a cautionary tale against violating societal norms (perhaps, though not necessarily, the original intent) or as a condemnation of the senselessness of prejudice (a more satisfying modern reading).

To experience the story for yourself and make up your own mind about its significance, you can read the full text online or download it for your e-reader at Project Gutenberg.

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Now in proofreading: Little Nobody

"Little Nobody"

“Little Nobody”

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted a Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller proofreading project, so it’s time to revisit her body of work. The latest title is Little Nobody, a novel first serialized from July 31, 1886 to October 23, 1886 in the Fireside Companion story paper and later reprinted in the Hart Series (among others).

If you want to experience some of the crazy twists and turns of a Mrs. Miller novel while helping to create a modern electronic edition of a long-forgotten text, read about our proofreading efforts in this earlier blog post and then head over to the project page.


eBook available: Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel

Motor Stories #1Last year, we reintroduced the heroic Motor Matt to the world by digitizing the complete series of Motor Stories dime novels. Today, the first of those adventures has been formatted into a convenient-to-read eBook with the help of the Distributed Proofreaders project.

Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel is an interesting beginning to the series. Published in 1909, at a time when dime novels were nearing the end of their reign, the story shows a very conscious effort to present itself as something new and modern within a tired and aging genre.

The story is almost certainly modeled on the incredibly popular adventures of Frank Merriwell first published in Tip-Top Weekly, with a focus on the athletic and social adventures of high school boys. However, a strong emphasis on technology sets it apart. Not only is the adventure largely centered on Motor Matt’s efforts to obtain his first motorcycle, but it also features wireless communication as an integral part of the plot.

In addition to emphasizing then-cutting-edge technology, the book also seems to look disparagingly on some past dime novel tropes. Comic relief is presented in the form of Welcome Perkins, an elderly, one-legged man with a broken gun who may or may not be a reformed outlaw. He frequently offers outbursts like this one:

“It’s plumb good for a ole outlaw like me to grip a honest pa’m. It helps to make me fergit what I was and to brace up an’ be what I ort. I’m a horrible example o’ what happens to a man when he cuts loose in his youth an’ bloom an’ terrorizes all outdoors—but I can’t begin to tell ye how pacifyin’ to my reckless natur’ is the grip of a honest hand.”

The outlaw who tries to reform his wild nature is a common theme in dime novels, typified by the adventures of Deadwood Dick, but here it is rendered intentionally ridiculous.

Also quite interesting is the Native American character portrayed here. Needless to say, “Indians” are frequently used as villains or insultingly-portrayed sidekicks in the dime novel universe, but here we are given Tom Clipperton, a character who initially poses a threat to Matt not because of his race but rather because of bitterness over the racism shown him by others, including one of Matt’s friends.

Before anyone gets too excited about how progressive this book is, it should be noted that the tale still has its moments of political incorrectness, and the filler story at the end about an African tiger hunt is downright cringe-inducing. Nonetheless, Motor Matt’s debut is a fun and readable adventure that serves as a document of changing times early in the 20th century, and as such, it’s worth a look.

The entire book can be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular eBook formats at Project Gutenberg.

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Last Modified: June 23, 2014