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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.


eBook available: The Shoemaker

Once again, scans from our Digital Library have been converted into a new Project Gutenberg eBook by the Distributed Proofreaders project. The latest release is another dime novel based on a popular play, taken from J. S. Ogilvie’s Play Book Series: Olive Harper’s adaptation of Hal Reid’s The Shoemaker.

The novel follows Morris Goldberg, a Jewish immigrant who works as a shoemaker in New York until his daughter is kidnapped, forcing him to travel west in search of her. Along the way, he survives some “fish out of water” situations, and his kindness and persistence inspire those around him.

This book marks a striking contrast to the previous book released from the same series, The Shadows of a Great City. While that book featured a one-dimensional villain in the form of the familiar antisemitic stereotype of the evil Jewish pawnbroker, this story features a cast of sympathetic Jewish characters who are portrayed in an almost entirely positive light (particularly by the standards of turn-of-the-20th century melodrama).

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


eBook available: Bolo the Cave Boy

The Distributed Proofreaders project continues to have a very productive November, with yet another Project Gutenberg release today derived from our Digital Library images.

Today’s release is an issue of the Instructor Literature Series, a set of thin booklets used as “graded readers” for educational purposes in the early 20th century. This volume, no. 256 in the series, is Katherine Atherton GrimesBolo the Cave Boy, which describes life in prehistoric times, imagining how cave people hunted mammoths, dealt with natural disasters, shared fire, and began to develop agriculture.

If you’d like to read the whole book, you can find it freely available for online reading or download in popular eBook formats at Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Gay Life in Paris

The Distributed Proofreaders Project has continued to adapt issues from the Multum in Parvo Library, the “smallest magazine in the world,” into Project Gutenberg eBooks. The latest release is the June, 1895 issue: Gay Life in Paris.

While the title might suggest a light travel guide or a cheery celebration of a beloved city, the 16-page book is more of a sensational exposé, focusing in large part on the hardships faced by ballet dancers and also describing (in mostly vague terms) some locales and activities that were shocking to the sensibilities of the time.

The entire text can be read online or downloaded for free in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


Two eBooks available: Story of the Sawdust / Motion Picture Comrades

The Distributed Proofreaders project has been very busy, releasing two new Project Gutenberg eBooks this week built using images from our Digital Library.

The first release is The Story of the Sawdust, another tiny chapbook from the Multum in Parvo Library. This volume is devoted primarily to the tragic story of the life and death of a circus performer, but it also contains a series of (somewhat incongruous) jokes and advertisements at the end.

The second release is The Motion Picture Comrades Aboard a Submarine; or, Searching for Treasure Under the Sea, by Elmer Tracey Barnes. This is a volume from one of several silent-film-era juvenile series about young filmmakers. In this particular adventure, the titular Comrades take their camera equipment onto a submarine that is searching for sunken treasure during the dangerous years of the first World War. The book is perhaps most noteworthy for its unusual pacing — most of the action is delivered in the early part of the story, and several remaining plot threads feature more build-up than actual incident. It’s hard to imagine a young audience being pleased by this, though it may be a more realistic representation of the realities of treasure hunting!

Both of these books can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats free of cost through Project Gutenberg.


Corfu Through the Ages

A French souvenir photo album recently added to the Villanova Digital Library offers views of the Greek island of Corfu (or Kerkyra) from the early twentieth century.

A particularly significant landmark depicted on the album is the Achilleion (Αχίλλειον), a palace named after the hero of Homer’s Iliad. It was built in the nineteenth century for Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898). Since then, the palace has served as a military hospital for WWI troops, an orphanage for Armenian children leaving Turkey, an Axis-held military base, a conference hall, a museum, and even a casino, featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) starring Roger Moore (1927-2017).

Achilleion patio in the 1910/1920s. Page [27]. Souvenir de Corfou / A. Farrucia editeur.


A 1907 issue of the Saturday Globe, published not long before the souvenir album, features a photograph of the palace patio and announces the building’s conversion into “a hotel and sanitorium” by a “German-Swiss syndicate.” In the early twentieth century, Corfu also received attention in Italian publications, which is not surprising, as the island was under Venetian rule for centuries and the Italian influence is evident in much of the island’s architecture. The fourth issue of the Italian dime novel series Petrosino (the “Italian Sherlock Holmes”), originally published in 1909, features a story titled “Un covo di delinquenti a Corfù” (“A den of criminals in Corfu”).

Achilleion patio. Page 6. Saturday Globe, v. 26, no. 50, Saturday, April 27, 1907.

Cover. Un covo di delinquenti a Corfù. 1948 Reprint.














The souvenir photo album makes for some nice comparisons to photographs from more recent decades. The following photographs of my grandparents on the Achilleion grounds were taken in the late 1970s, while the palace was both a casino and a museum.

Pigi Giannea-Filiou at Achilleion in the late 1970s.

Pigi Giannea-Filiou and Miltiades Filios at Achilleion in the late 1970s.











The following three photographs, two of them pulled from personal/family collections, depict the same statue of the dying Achilles in the early twentieth century, in 1994-1995, and in 2021. Note the deterioration of the color on the statue over time.

“Dying Achilles” statue (marble, Ernst Herter, 1884) at Achilleion in the 1910s/1920s. Page [31]. Souvenir de Corfou / A. Farrucia editeur.

My dad, Yiannis Sassaris, with “Dying Achilles” statue (marble, Ernst Herter, 1884) at Achilleion in the early 1990s.

My girlfriend, Samantha Walsh, with “Dying Achilles” statue (marble, Ernst Herter, 1884) at Achilleion in 2021.


Similarly, the following three photographs depict the front of the palace during the same three periods.

Achilleion entrance in the 1910s/1920s. Page [31]. Souvenir de Corfou / A. Farrucia editeur.

Achilleion entrance in the early 1990s.

Achilleion entrance in 2020.


Another significant landmark whose history may be charted throughout the past century is the Old Fortress, which was built by Venetians on top of an earlier Byzantine structure.

Old Fortress of Corfu in the 1910/1920s. Page [5]. Souvenir de Corfou / A. Farrucia editeur.

My mom, Dimitra Filiou, at the Old Fortress of Corfu in the early 1990s.

Old Fortress of Corfu in 2021.


The following 2020 photograph of Arseniou Street in the city of Corfu, compared to a similar shot in the French album, demonstrates that some of the same buildings still stand a century later.

Arseniou Street in the city of Corfu. Page [3]. Souvenir de Corfou / A. Farrucia editeur.

Arseniou Street in Corfu in 2020.


Corfu is an island rich with history, where various cultures have intersected across many centuries. These layers of history are evident in structures all throughout the island. Corfu has inspired the likes of Jules Verne, who used the island as a prominent setting in his 1884 novel about the Greek War of Independence, The Archipelago on Fire (L’Archipel en feu). The Villanova Digital Library initiative preserves the unique histories of places like Corfu by digitizing rare publications such as the French souvenir album. As the above comparison of historical materials and personal/family archives indicates, the Digital Library also allows users to historically contextualize their own lives.


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Last Modified: November 10, 2022

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