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TBT: Adventure World

Czech 'dime novel' cover. Image is of two astronauts floating in space.

Photo courtesy of the Villanova University Digital Library.

May 11 is National Twilight Zone Day! Honor Rod Serling’s television series by reading a dime novel from the Villanova University Digital Library. The “Czech ‘dime novel’ – roughly translated as ‘Adventure World’ – (pictured above) covers stories of science fiction and adventure. Starting in 1927 and running until 1938, this was a popular Czech title for adults and children.” Skim the Dime Novel and Popular Literature collection here.

Looking for more sci-fi adventures? You can stream The Twilight Zone on Paramount+ and Amazon Prime. If you’re looking for some recommendations, Entertainment Weekly ranked 30 of the “best” Twilight Zone episodes. You can also check out the Falvey Library resources below:

Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Library.







eBook available: Olivia; or, It Was for Her Sake

Charles Garvice was a very popular author around the turn of the twentieth century, churning out formulaic but sometimes witty romances about upper class British life. Many of his works were reprinted in dime novel format, and so quite a few have made their way into our Digital Library, and a handful from there into Project Gutenberg, thanks to the efforts of Distributed Proofreaders.

The latest such book to be released as a free eBook is Olivia; or, It Was for Her Sake, a fairly typical example of Garvice’s output. The titular heroine is the daughter of a country squire, and the story focuses on her interaction with two neighbors who both grow to love her: a disgraced but self-sacrificing noble who has retired to the country to escape scandal, and a wealthy but ruthless and uncultured “self-made man.” As the setup implies, this is yet another Garvice novel built almost entirely upon its author’s class prejudices. The story is not without its sensational moments, but compared to the twist-packed work of some of Garvice’s contemporaries (like Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller), it seems rather slow-moving and conventional. Still, in spite of its flaws, its author’s style occasionally makes it distinctive, as demonstrated by the dry, ironic humor of its opening paragraph:

It was in the “merry month” of May, the “beautiful harbinger of summer,” as the poets call it; and one of those charming east winds which render England such a delightful place of residence for the delicate and consumptive, and are truly a boon and a blessing to the doctors and undertakers, was blowing gaily through one of the lovely villages of Devonshire, and insidiously stealing through the half opened French windows of the drawing-room of Hawkwood Grange.

If you want to read any further, you can find the entire book available for free online reading (or for download in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: The Presidential Snapshot

In the early years of the 20th century, author Bertram Lebhar wrote a series of novels for publisher Street & Smith about Frank Hawley, an adventurous photojournalist known as “the Camera Chap.” Our latest Project Gutenberg release, produced by the Distributed Proofreaders project using images from our Digital Library, is one of the later “Camera Chap” novels: The Presidential Snapshot; or, The All-Seeing Eye.

In this book, Hawley is sent on a mission by the president of the United States to investigate rumors that a former president of a South American country has been illegally imprisoned by his successor. His mission is made more complicated by government spies, a growing revolution, and the appearance of an old rival. Fortunately, he also finds aid from a variety of allies….

As always, if you’d like to learn more, you can find the entire book available for free online reading, or for download in popular eBook formats, through the Project Gutenberg website.


Poetic License: Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

My case in “Poetic License: Seven Curators’ Poetry Selections from Distinctive Collections” highlights an unexpected interconnection between two different parts of Falvey Library’s Special Collections by featuring a poet whose work appears in both our Popular Literature and Irish Literature collections.

Mrs. S. M. B. Piatt.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. From Poets’ Homes: Pen and Pencil Sketches of American Poets and Their Homes, edited by Richard Henry Stoddard. Boston: D. Lothrop and Company, 1877: p. 66.

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (1836-1919)

Sarah M. B. Piatt was an American poet whose long career began in the mid-19th century and lasted into the early 20th century. She gained prominence in her late teens, with her early work appearing in widely circulated newspapers and story papers under the name Sallie M. Bryan. After her marriage in 1861 to fellow poet John James Piatt, she published more than a dozen volumes of poetry in book form. Although she was well-known during her own lifetime, she sank into obscurity for most of the 20th century as poetic tastes changed, only resurfacing in the 1990’s when she was rediscovered as part of the growing movement to reassess the scope of the literary canon and recover forgotten women writers.

Piatt demonstrated great flexibility as a poet, writing poems that could appeal equally to multiple audiences, including children as well as adults. Her lasting success during her lifetime demonstrates her accessibility to casual readers of popular periodicals, but her work also rewards re-reading and careful analysis. Her poems, which often incorporate multiple voices and perspectives, comment directly or indirectly on social and poetic conventions. Her use of irony to contrast surface meanings with deeper intentions makes many of her poems particularly appealing to modern readers, who may be more attuned to this mode of expression than her 19th century contemporaries were. For one particularly striking example from Piatt’s work, take a look at “Giving Back the Flower.”

The New York Ledger, v. XVII, no. 4. New York: Robert Bonner, March 30, 1861.

The New York Ledger

Story papers were one of the leading forms of home entertainment for much of the 19th century. Resembling a newspaper but containing a mix of serial installments of novels, short stories, poems, household advice, humor, and sometimes even games or puzzles, these publications provided weekly or monthly doses of entertainment for millions of American readers. One of the most successful and influential story papers was Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger, which began publication in 1855 and ran for almost fifty years.

The New York Ledger relied heavily on recurring contributors to fill its pages every week, and these writers gained celebrity as a result of their frequent appearances in the widely-circulated paper. Sallie M. Bryan was one such celebrity poet, contributing works frequently during the early years of the Ledger. Several issues containing her work can be found in Villanova’s collection of New York Ledger issues, available online.

The Sarah Piatt Recovery Project at Ohio State University has collected many of Piatt’s New York Ledger poems in an online archive. The process of preparing this exhibit led to the rediscovery of a Piatt poem, “The Dove and the Angel,” in the March 30, 1861 issue, which had not been previously identified by OSU’s project.

An Irish Garland

Long after she had moved on from story paper contributions, Sarah Piatt and her family lived in Ireland for well over a decade (1882-1893) as a consequence of her husband’s appointment as a United States consul. During this time, she had opportunities for travel and to become part of the local literary community. Piatt’s Irish years produced a significant number of new poems. Most of her published volumes saw first printings published abroad. One such volume was An Irish Garland, first published by David Douglas in Edinburgh in 1884, then reprinted for American audiences in an edition found in Falvey Library’s Joseph McGarrity Collection of works about and associated with Ireland. The full book has been digitized and can be read online in its entirety.

Further Resources

If you would like to take a deeper dive into the life and work of Sarah Piatt, you might enjoy the Discovering Sarah Piatt: America’s Lost Great Writer podcast, hosted by Ohio State University’s Elizabeth Renker, to whom this exhibit and blog post owe a debt of gratitude for valuable input provided.

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“Classics Illustrated” Comics in Distinctive Collections

Last week, I posted an article on this blog in which I discussed the value of collecting comic books in special collections, while drawing on examples from Marvel Comics in Falvey Library’s holdings. This week, I have another comic-book collection to highlight: Falvey’s holdings in Classics Illustrated. This series, which was published by three separate publishers (Elliot Publishing Co., Gilberton Company, and Frawley Corporation) from 1941 to 1969, adapted literary classics to the comic-book medium. It has significant research value not only in comics studies, but also in adaptation studies, a field that is becoming increasingly central in the arts and humanities. With the tagline “Featuring stories by the world’s greatest authors,” the series sheds light on mid-twentieth-century cultural conceptions of texts that have traditionally been viewed as particularly significant in the United States and elsewhere, as well as how these texts were transmitted to new audiences.

The Tragedy of Macbeth and Paratext

These comics include not only abridged adaptations of their source material, but also paratextual material that assists readers to understand and appreciate the stories. For example, the adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth includes numerous explanatory footnotes, which make the early modern language of the text more accessible to twentieth-century readers.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Additional segments at the ends of issues often provide biographical and historical context for the preceding narrative, typically in the form of a text box. The following two examples, drawn from the Macbeth issue of Classics Illustrated, explain Shakespeare’s life and the relation between the play and King James I of England (you may click on all images in this blog article to enlarge them).

Other times, this type of supplementary content at the end of an issue takes the form of a comic book, like the following panels on British history, which are again drawn from the final pages in the Macbeth issue.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Another paratextual aspect worth noting is the banner that appears across the bottom of the final page in each adapted story, which urges readers to track down a copy of the original text in a school or public library. This inclusion demonstrates the comics’ goal of developing an appreciation of literature in younger readers. On the one hand, this is beneficial in that it encourages engagement with libraries and promotes further reading. On the other hand, it is potentially problematic in its suggestion that comics are valuable only if they serve as a stepping stone to a more highly respected (and supposedly more advanced) medium or mode of reading, namely prose and verse.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 128, Macbeth.

While seeking to cultivate a love of reading, Classics Illustrated promoted bibliophilia, especially as the notion relates to the material aspect of books. The following advertisement demonstrates this attitude, as it aims to sell a “handsome, durable, permanent” binder for storing Classics Illustrated issues, which is “made to last a lifetime of handling.” (However, the primary aim of any advertisement is, of course, to sell a product or service.)

Advertisement on back cover of Classics Illustrated, no. 64, Treasure Island.

Advertisement on back cover of Classics Illustrated, no. 64, Treasure Island.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Getting back to the adapted narratives themselves, it is important to note that Classics Illustrated sometimes altered or added to the source material. An illustrative case-in-point is the adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is collected alongside two other adaptations in issue #21 of Classics Illustrated. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published in 1841 in Graham’s Magazine, is widely considered the first modern detective story. It is a predecessor to popular detective fiction like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, as well as numerous dime novels and story papers available on the Villanova Digital Library, most notably Mystery Magazine (1917-1927). Poe’s full short story is available on Falvey’s website. A facsimile edition of the manuscript can also be consulted in-person at the library.

Famously, this short story ends (spoilers!) with the reveal that a runaway orangutan had committed the eponymous murders. In Poe’s story, the orangutan’s fate remains ambiguous. However, the comic book adds an extra page at the end of the story, where detective C. Auguste Dupin and his associate (the unnamed narrator of Poe’s story, who is named “Poe” in the comic-book adaptation) track down and fight the animal, which was changed to an ape for the comic book. These changes and additions to the source material may have happened for a variety of reasons. In this case, perhaps the creators wanted the story to fit more neatly into the conventions of the adventure comic-book genre, hence the action-packed ending. Alternatively, they may have felt uncomfortable depicting an ambiguous ending, where a dangerous animal is still on the loose, especially if their target audience was mainly composed of children. (I have no explanation, however, for why the animal was changed from an orangutan to an ape.)

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 21, 3 Famous Mysteries.

Detail from Classics Illustrated, no. 21, 3 Famous Mysteries.

Robin Hood

Besides detectives like Dupin and Holmes, another famous character portrayed in Classics Illustrated is Robin Hood. Two early issues of Classics Illustrated in Falvey’s collection feature the character. Robin Hood has had a long history of popular culture portrayals (having even become a fox in a Disney animated film), and comics are no exception. In addition to Classic Illustrated issues, the English folk hero also appears in Martin Powell and Stan Timmons’ Robin Hood, published by Eternity Comics in 1989. The series’ first issue, which was recently donated to Falvey, sports a cover illustration by painter N. C. Wyeth. (More information about the original painting is provided in the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s N. C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonné.) Other popular culture materials at Falvey’s Distinctive Collections that depict Robin Hood’s adventures include dime novels like the Aldine Robin Hood Library and The Story of Robin Hood (1889), both of which are available to read on the Villanova Digital Library.

All the comics shown in this article, and several more issues of Classics Illustrated and other titles, are available to see in Falvey’s Rare Book Room during walk-in hours (Wednesdays 9:30-11:30 AM and Thursdays 2-4 PM) or by appointment. Make sure to check the library’s blog for more articles on our growing collections of comic books, dime novels, and other popular literature.

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eBook available: A Bitter Reckoning

Our latest Digital Library item to see new life on Project Gutenberg courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project is another Mrs. E. Burke Collins melodrama: A Bitter Reckoning; or, Violet Arleigh.

Like our earlier Collins release, Her Dark Inheritance, much of the plot revolves around a buried secret from the past. In this case, the titular heroine’s mother is a victim of blackmail by a villain who wishes to marry her (or her daughter) in order to gain access to the family’s considerable wealth. This setup leads to many of the familiar story paper tropes: jealousy and misunderstandings between lovers, apparent deaths and subsequent resurrections, abuse of insane asylums, a clever detective hot on the trail, etc., etc.

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, the entire book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: The Shadow Between Them

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Distributed Proofreaders project has released a new romance by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller to Project Gutenberg, built from images in our Digital Library.

The Shadow Between Them; or, A Blighted Name was first serialized in The New York Family Story Paper as A Blighted Name; or, The Tragedy of Hallowe’en, but was later retitled for its 1910 and 1923 appearances in Street & Smith’s Eagle/New Eagle Series; the new digital edition is derived from the latter of those two reprints.

The novel follows the misadventures of Eva Somerville, a young, orphaned West Virginia girl who lives with her grandfather, who needs constant attention due to a wound received during the Civil War, and several other family members he has taken under his roof. One Halloween night, a prank incited by her selfish older cousins leads to a tragedy, turning her family against her and driving her temporarily insane. From here, twists and turns in Mrs. Miller’s usual style proceed.

In addition to being a good example of its author’s style and the period’s standards for over-the-top entertainment-oriented reading, the book is interesting for several reasons. Like many of Mrs. Miller’s novels, much of the story is set in West Virginia, where the author spent much of her life, and it occasionally offers glimpses of the region’s places, traditions and politics. The book also contains an interesting portrayal of mental health care, which is very much “of the period” and certainly not realistic, but which depicts a workplace populated by human beings and troubled by real-life problems (including sexual harassment) rather than the usual stereotypical house of horrors. On a note less flattering to the author’s legacy, the novel’s eventual happy ending casually relies on the period’s anti-Irish prejudices in a way likely to startle the modern reader.

If you would like to see this all for yourself, the entire book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Kwasa the Cliff Dweller

The latest Project Gutenberg release created by the Distributed Proofreaders project from scans in our Digital Library is another entry from the Instructor Literature Series of primary school readers: Kwasa the Cliff Dweller by Katherine Atherton Grimes. Like the author’s earlier Bolo the Cave Boy, this is a story imagining life long-ago, though this time, the subject is the Ancestral Puebloans.

The book is a coming of age story, following the titular Kwasa as he must leave behind childhood games to take on difficult challenges for the sake of his people. One might expect a book from this era to present either a condescending or romanticized view of Native American life, but Grimes takes the approach of depicting her characters as regular, identifiable people who happen to be living in a different historical context. She also manages to balance the jobs of conveying historical information and telling a story about as well as could be hoped for in this type of book. Of course, the text is unlikely to fully live up to 21st century standards, if only because historical understanding has moved on in the century since it was written, but it is an interesting effort for its time, and it is certainly possible to imagine its original intended audience enjoying it.

You can find the full text of the book at Project Gutenberg, where it can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats.


eBook available: The Wooing of Leola

The latest Project Gutenberg release courtesy of Distributed Proofreaders and our Digital Library is another novel by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller: The Wooing of Leola, a turn-of-the-20th-century romantic melodrama. Written later in the author’s career and harder to find than some of her more successful and widely read works, it nonetheless displays many of her signature interests.

To an even greater extent than the earlier Pretty Geraldine, the novel is set in and around Alderson, West Virginia, Mrs. Miller’s home town for the majority of her writing career. Another personal touch is the way in which the narrative reflects its author’s love of poetry: much of the story here is structured around poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, including “Youth’s Antiphony” and “Chimes” (though none of the quoted poetry is attributed).

The book also serves as another example of its author’s interest in incorporating contemporary scientific developments into her fiction (such as x-rays in Dainty’s Cruel Rivals or blood transfusions in Kathleen’s Diamonds). One of the novel’s characters is interested in alchemical pursuits such as the transmutation of lead into gold, and his cruelty is driven by a single-minded desire to acquire enough money “to purchase the smallest specimen of a newly discovered mineral called radium, to which was ascribed the most remarkable properties ever heard of.” The fact that he works in a stone tower with the help of a hunchbacked assistant also anticipates mad scientist clichés that would persist throughout the 20th century.

If you’re interested in learning more, the entire book is available for free online reading, or download in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Nuts to Crack

Our latest Project Gutenberg release (assembled by the Distributed Proofreaders team from images found in our Digital Library) is Nuts to Crack, a tiny, 16-page chapbook from A. B. Courtney’s Multum in Parvo Library series.

This book is a collection of jokes (such as: “Why is a dog biting his own tail like a good manager? Because he makes both ends meet.”) and puzzles (including both word games and math problems). As is typical for this series, a variety of advertisements are woven in with the other content. Given that a lot of assumptions and conventions have changed since 1895, the modern reader is unlikely to find most of the jokes funny, or to understand all of the puzzles; however, a certain amount of the content still seems to work as originally intended. In any case, it offers a glimpse into 19th-century diversions.

You can read the entire book online (or download it in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


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Last Modified: December 13, 2022

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