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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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Now in proofreading: On an Irish Jaunting-car

On an Irish Jaunting-carOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is a change of pace from the usual variety of popular fiction titles. On an Irish Jaunting-car through Donegal and Connemara is a travel narrative describing (and illustrating with photos) a variety of Irish scenes. This is one of several books written by Samuel G. Bayne, an author who appears to have made quite a lot of money in various business ventures when not traveling or writing about his adventures.

If you would like to help transform this vintage book into a new electronic edition, please read this earlier post to learn more about the process, then visit the project page.

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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: Stories of Robin Hood

Robin HoodIn the early twentieth century, a series of small, inexpensive pamphlets known as the Instructor Literature Series provided readings aimed at students in grades one through eight.

Our latest completed Distributed Proofreaders project is one of these publications, a collection of Robin Hood stories aimed at fifth graders. The slim volume, whose title is either The Story of Robin Hood or Stories of Robin Hood depending on which page you believe, contains six tales and one long poem covering Robin Hood legends ranging from the very familiar to the slightly more obscure. This is rounded out with a catalog showing the considerable breadth of the Instructor Literature Series.

You can read the book online in its entirety 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.

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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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eBook available: Pretty Geraldine

Pretty GeraldineOur efforts to create eBook editions of the works of Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller, which began well over a year ago with The Bride of the Tomb; and Queenie’s Terrible Secret, continue today with the release of Pretty Geraldine, the New York Sales Girl.

Pretty Geraldine, a tale of romance between an aspiring actress and a New York fireman, is actually rather tame by Mrs. Miller’s standards, with fewer murders and outrageous coincidences than readers might have come to expect. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a couple of wild moments, or that it is completely lacking in interest. This title finds Mrs. Miller in a particularly self-referential mood; not only does she quote her own poetry extensively, but she also has her heroine starring in a play adapted from one of her earlier novels, Laurel Vane. Not content to cite herself alone, she also includes poetry by other story paper serialists like Francis S. Smith and May Agnes Fleming.

You can read the whole book online (or download it in several popular eBook formats) at Project Gutenberg. We’ll keep the Mrs. Miller coming as time permits!

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eBook available: The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept Seas

The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept SeasHot on the heels of The Boy Aviators with the Air Raiders comes the release of another “Captain Wilbur Lawton” children’s adventure novel, The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept Seas. Like the Boy Aviators adventure that preceded this, War Swept Seas takes the heroes of an established line of books and faces them with the dangers of a brewing global conflict.

With this type of series book, it is often difficult to identify authors, since most titles were published pseudonymously, and some pseudonyms were shared. There was no real Captain Wilbur Lawton. It is known that at least some of the Lawton titles were actually the work of journalist John Henry Goldfrap, but it is possible that other authors contributed as well. If both Air Raiders and War Swept Seas are truly the product of the same pen, it shows significant growth between the two books, as War Swept Seas is a significantly more readable and interesting tale than its predecessor (and, for that matter, the previous Ocean Wireless Boys adventure, The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Pacific). You won’t find a whole lot of complex plot here, but the author throws in such a steady stream of action that it’s hardly missed.

War Swept Seas has much in common with Air Raiders: it is set at the very dawn of the war, and its American protagonists take a neutral posture in the conflict (in spite of having primarily German antagonists). Unlike the Boy Aviators, who sought to profit from the war, the Ocean Wireless Boys are simply innocent bystanders, first threatened by British war ships while passengers on a German vessel, and later endangered by all sides (and particularly a vengeful German professor) while on a peaceful mission in Europe. This allows the author to present a different perspective on war than is often found in similar but more hawkish series. Indeed, the book even goes so far as to give its protagonist, who is portrayed as faultlessly brave and heroic, an extended anti-war speech:

“Tell you what, Bill,” said Jack, as they returned to the hotel to breakfast, and found that the fire had been extinguished and the panic quieted down, “war is a pretty thing on paper, and uniforms, and bands, and fluttering flags, and all that to make a fellow feel martial and war-like, but it’s little realities like these that make you feel the world would be a heap better off without soldiers or sailors whose places could be taken by a few wise diplomats in black tail coats. It wouldn’t be so pretty but it would be a lot more like horse sense.”

A marked contrast to the more common message that war is hard but necessary, or even that war holds an unavoidable attraction to all boys. It would have been interesting to have seen if the message evolved in subsequent volumes after deeper U.S. involvement in the war, but sadly, Goldfrap died in 1917, and no further Captain Lawton adventures were published.

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

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Last Modified: May 31, 2014