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Lesser Known Works By Well Known Authors in the Villanova Digital Library

The Villanova Digital Library provides access to numerous serialized and standalone short stories through its Dime Novels And Popular Literature collection. Most authors whose works appear in these publications are now considered obscure, while many of them remain unidentified. However, the digitized collections also include stories by nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers whose works are still widely read today. Here are some lesser known stories by well-known authors that are preserved in the Villanova Digital Library:


“What It Cost” by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is primarily remembered as a novelist. Her most widely read novel, Little Women (1868-1869), was adapted into an award-winning film as recently as 2019. A lesser known work by Alcott is “What It Cost,” which appeared as a cover story in the sixth issue of the children’s periodical, The Young Crusader. Like many stories published in The Young Crusader, “What It Cost” promotes the anti-alcohol stance of the temperance movement.

The young crusader, v. I, no. 6, February 11, 1887, p. 21.

The young crusader, v. I, no. 6, February 11, 1887, p. 21.


“Heart” by James Fenimore Cooper

Like Alcott, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) is mainly remembered for his novels, in particular The Last of the Mohicans (1826). His story, “Heart,” appears as a cover story in two segments in the March 13 and March 20, 1841, issues of The Boston Notion. A full transcript of the story is also available through Project Gutenberg.

Boston notion, v. II, no. 24, Saturday morning, March 13, 1841, p. [1].

Boston notion, v. II, no. 24, Saturday morning, March 13, 1841, p. [1].

“The Jolly Roger” and other stories by Robert W. Chambers

Robert W. Chamber (1965-1895) wrote the short-story collection The King in Yellow (1895), which is one of the most influential works in the history of weird fiction. The first four stories in the collection directly impacted the “Cthulhu mythos,” a literary universe shared by H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) (whose astronomical journal is housed at Falvey Library) and other writers of the early twentieth century. The King in Yellow continues to excite the popular imagination, having been the basis for much of the acclaimed first season of the television series True Detective. However, most of Chambers’ writing was not in the horror genre. The Villanova Digital Library offers access to parts of three stories by Chambers: “One in a Million,” “The Shining Band,” and “The Jolly Roger” (the last of which is available, in its entirety, as digitized microfilm through the Internet Archive).



“Houdini, the Enigma” and other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1870) is the creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who appears in several stories, starting with “A Study in Scarlett” (1887). The Villanova Digital Library offers access to three works by Doyle that do not feature his famous detective: “Houdini, the Enigma,” which focuses on Harry Houdini (1874-1926), a famous magician and friend of Doyle’s; “An Alpine Pass on Ski”; and “De Profundis.”

Bonus: The Digital Library also includes one story, “The Affair of the Glenranald Bank,” by Doyle’s brother-in-law, E. W. Hornung (1866-1921). Hornung was influenced by Doyle’s work on Sherlock Holmes and created the character A. J. Raffles, a gentleman thief who is, in essence, the reverse Sherlock Holmes. The character first appeared in the short story “The Ides of March” in 1898 and the first collection of A. J. Raffles stories was subsequently published in 1899.


“Hunter Quatermain’s Story” and other stories by H. Rider Haggard

H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a writer of adventure fiction, mainly remembered for creating the character Allan Quatermain. The most widely known tale featuring the character is the novel King Solomon’s Mines (1885), a reprint of which is available in the Villanova Digital Library. However, the site also includes other stories by Haggard (some of which feature Allan Quatermain), such as “Hunter Quatermain’s Story.” Allan Quatermain has continued to appear in literature since Haggard’s death, having played a central role in the comic-book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999-2019) by Alan Moore (b. 1953) and Kevin O’Neill (1953-2022).


“The Blockhouse Mystery” and other stories by Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) was a writer, political activist, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He wrote The Jungle (1906), a novel about working conditions in the meat industry, which raised awareness of unsanitary practices and influenced the passing of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The Villanova Digital Library preserves four stories written by Sinclair under the pseudonym Douglas Wells for The Starry Flag: “The Blockhouse Mystery, or, Hal Maynard’s Cuban Romance”; “Hal on the Outpost, or, With the Army Above Doomed Santiago”; “The Hero of Manila; or, Hal Maynard Under a New Commander”; “Hal Maynard at West Point, or, The New Member of the Seven Devils”.


All the abovementioned stories are available in the Villanova Digital Library’s Dime Novels And Popular Literature collection, while more are being added on a regular basis. The digitization project not only preserves the works of obscure writers, but also brings to light the lesser known works of well-known writers.


Note: The stories by Doyle, Haggard, and Sinclair were identified by Director of Library Technology Demian Katz.


eBook available: How to Hypnotize

Another item from our Digital Library has been converted to a free Project Gutenberg eBook by the Distributed Proofreaders project. How to Hypnotize: The Science of Controlling the Minds of Others is the twenty-eighth volume of the Multum in Parvo Library, a collection of tiny 16-page chapbooks covering a variety of topics.

While this book’s title might bring to mind either villainous manipulation or humorous showmanship, it is actually focused on therapeutic mesmerism, containing suggestions on using hypnosis to treat illness. Much (possibly all) of its content appears to have been lifted without attribution from James Coates’ longer work, How to Mesmerize.

Given the book’s small size, brief length, and frequent commercial interruptions, it doesn’t provide very much information on its stated topic, but it remains an interesting example of late 19th-century novelty publishing (and trans-Atlantic piracy of text).

The entire book can be read online or downloaded in commonly-used eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: How to Become an Inventor

Another of Frank Tousey‘s Ten Cent Hand Books has been released as a Project Gutenberg eBook thanks to scans from our Digital Library and the volunteer efforts of the Distributed Proofreaders project.

How to Become an Inventor, published in 1898, doesn’t really include much practical advice on inventing things, but it does include introductory (if sometimes cryptic, and never illustrated) instructions on carpentry, electricity, hydraulics, magnetism, photography, mechanics, pneumatics, optics and microscopy. All of this advice is likely drawn from other sources without attribution, as was the fashion of the cheap publishers of the time.

While not likely to be of much practical use to a modern reader, the book is nonetheless interesting in what it reveals of its time, including the details of some outdated scientific theories, and the alarming fact that it was once considered an everyday fact of life to have “eels” living in your vinegar.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can find the whole book online (and available for download in popular formats) through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: The Spider’s Web

Another book from our Digital Library has been transformed into a Project Gutenberg eBook by the Distributed Proofreaders project. The latest release is The Spider’s Web, an early entry in Street & Smith‘s long-running Eagle Library of inexpensive popular novels, written by prolific author St. George Rathborne and published in 1898.

Like another recent release from this series, Sweet Violet, this story takes place during the Chicago World’s Fair. It follows Aleck Craig, a Canadian who visits Fair, partially in hope of being reunited with a mysterious Chicagoan woman he previously met under dramatic circumstances. He not only finds her but also discovers that she is entangled in a revenge plot focused on her father, a well-known grain speculator named Samson Cereal. Along the way, he is reunited with an old friend, eccentric former actor Claude Wycherley, and the two set out to help the Cereals through a variety of troubles.

The Eagle Library (which was eventually renamed to the Eagle Series, and then the New Eagle Series) specialized in publishing stories of romance featuring female protagonists. The vast majority of the thousand-plus entries in the series fit this pattern. However, this book falls a bit outside of the typical series formula. While its story certainly has romantic elements, it is more focused on action and intrigue. While female characters are important to the plot, it is much more focused on its male protagonists. Since this was published in only the second year of the series’ more-than-thirty-year run, this demonstrates some early experimentation on the part of the publisher.

If you would like to check the story out for yourself, you can read or download the entire book through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: A Tragedy of Love and Hate

The latest dime novel from our collection to be made available as a free Project Gutenberg eBook by the Distributed Proofreaders project is A Tragedy of Love and Hate; or, A Woman’s Vow, part of Street & Smith‘s Bertha Clay Library.

The novel opens with a mysterious murder, then gradually reveals the cause of the tragedy through a flashback which makes up the majority of the book.

The identity of the book’s author may be a bigger mystery than the identity of the murderer in the story. While attributed to the fictional “Bertha M. Clay” pseudonym for this edition of the work, the novel was first anonymously serialized in The Family Reader under the title Lady Alden’s Vow. Many Bertha M. Clay novels were pirated reprints of works by the British author Charlotte M. Brame; the tone and content of this book seem very close to Brame’s usual territory, but because of its anonymous publication, it cannot be definitively identified as her work. (See the Victorian Fiction Research Guide to Brame for much more detail on this).

Whether or not Brame is the author, the book is comparable to some of her most successful works, while also having some unique characteristics of its own. The tone is darker than many romances of the period, featuring comparatively complex and flawed characters, and a plot where love cannot conquer all problems. The mystery elements and non-linear narrative also set it apart from more formulaic fare.

If you would like to read the book for yourself, the full text can be found online or downloaded in common eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: How to Become a Scientist

Another one of dime novel publisher Frank Tousey‘s Ten Cent Hand Books has been added to Project Gutenberg, using scans from our Digital Library and volunteer time from Distributed Proofreaders. This latest title is How to Become a Scientist, which covers experiments in pneumatics, mechanics, arithmetic, chemistry and acoustics, with a special section devoted to making fireworks.

Like many other books in this series, the text seems to have been borrowed from other sources without a lot of thought to context — particularly in cases where illustrations are referred to but not included. While the reader of the book would certainly learn how to achieve some interesting (and frequently quite dangerous) effects, the text doesn’t devote much space to theory, or any at all to the scientific method. If it created any young scientists, it did so by sparking curiosity rather than providing much instruction.

The book does acknowledge the hazardous nature of some of its proposed experiments, and justifies them in this way:

We know full well the intense delight taken by boys in risking their limbs or their lives, especially when such risk is accompanied with noise. Boys always have done so, and always will do so in spite of the very best of advice or precautions. As, therefore, it is impossible to keep them from making noises, and endangering themselves, we have, in this article, endeavored to show them how to make as much noise as possible, with as little danger as possible.

If you want to learn more about how science was presented to young readers at the dawn of the 20th century, you can read the full book online (or download it in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg… but please don’t try these experiments at home!


eBook available: The Strength of Love

The latest Project Gutenberg release produced by Distributed Proofreaders from images in our Digital Library is The Strength of Love; or, Love is Lord of All, by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.

First serialized in The New York Fireside Companion in 1896, the novel is another of its author’s melodramatic tales of love and jealousy. The story revolves around Daisie Bell, a poor school-teacher whose beauty attracts two suitors: the wealthy Royall Sherwood and the mysterious Dallas Bain. In typical Mrs. Miller fashion, the romance is accompanied by plot twists and dramatic incidents, including attempted murders and various life-threatening disasters.

If you’d like to learn more about the trials and tribulations of Daisie, Royall and Dallas, you can read the entire book online, or download it in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: How to Conduct a Small Mail Order Business

Once again, an item from our Digital Library has been converted into a Project Gutenberg eBook by the volunteers of the Distributed Proofreaders project. The latest title is another of the small chapbooks from the Multum in Parvo Library: How to Conduct a Small Mail Order Business, first published in March of 1896.

As the title suggests, this little book contains general advice on making money by selling goods through the mail. Given the limited scope of the text, most of its advice is very broad and high-level, and rather curiously, the book switches from mail order advice to random jokes and anecdotes near the end. Needless to say, this is unlikely to provide a whole lot of value for a 21st century business person, but it is an interesting relic of the past.

You can read the full text of the book (or download it in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: The Man She Hated

Another dime novel by prolific author Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller has been added to Project Gutenberg by the Distributed Proofreaders project, using scans from our Digital Library. The latest book is The Man She Hated; or, Won by Strategy, a melodrama first serialized in the New York Fireside Companion story paper under the title A Lovely Orphan; or, The Love Story of a Beautiful Sewing Girl.

The novel tells the tale of Fairfax Fielding, a young sewing girl whose mother desires that she should marry a rich man and restore the family’s fortunes. This pressure, assisted by the malicious actions of a jealous coworker, leads Fair into an unhappy marriage, allowing Mrs. Miller’s usual style of plot twists and catastrophes to ensue.

As always, the full text of the book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats via Project Gutenberg.

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eBook available: Sweet Violet

Another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel has been added to Project Gutenberg based on scans from our Digital Library. First serialized in Street & Smith’s New York Weekly story paper from June to September of 1894, Sweet Violet; or, The Fairest of the Fair is a tale of jealousy, in which Amber Laurens seeks revenge on her cousin, Violet Mead, after Violet wins the affections of the poor but handsome Cecil Grant.

Being a Mrs. Miller novel, there are a few subplots to supplement the surface-level romance. The most interesting of these involves a murder near the Chicago World’s Fair which bears at least a superficial resemblance to the story of conman and murderer H. H. Holmes, who received sensational newspaper coverage around the same time that this novel was published. However, given that Holmes’ crimes didn’t begin appear in the national news until about two months after the serial ended, this seems to be coincidence rather than a case of the author taking inspiration from the headlines.

If you want to read the book for yourself, the full text can be found online (or downloaded in popular eBook formats) at Project Gutenberg.


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Last Modified: May 17, 2023

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