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eBook available: In the Volcano’s Mouth

The latest Project Gutenberg produced by the Distributed Proofreaders project from images in our Digital Library is In the Volcano’s Mouth; or, A Boy Against an Army, by Frank Sheridan.

The novel, first serialized as Madcap Max; or, The Man, the Mahdi and the Mamaluke during 1890 in the Golden Hours story paper, tells of the adventures of “Madcap Max,” a young American prankster whose trip to Egypt turns tragic when his father is murdered by bandits. He is rescued by a mysterious young woman, makes some new friends, then has a series of adventures, including deadly encounters with strange creatures in a subterranean river, and eventually becomes deeply involved in the Mahdist War.

Like many works of its time, the book requires a content warning. In addition to containing a startling amount of graphic violence and gore for a book marketed to children, it also includes racist and sexist language and ideas, and its “hero” frequently behaves in appalling ways — such as when one of his pranks ends in the gruesome death of an innocent bystander. However, in spite of these things, the book does contain more nuance than many of its contemporaries — some of its characters directly challenge various prejudices of its time, and its depictions of Muslim characters are more sympathetic than some found in much more recent entertainment media.

It seems unlikely that the author of this book set out to advance any particular social agenda; it is much more likely that his goal was simply to entertain with a series of “thrilling incidents” partially inspired by then-current events — the 19th century equivalent of an action movie. Whatever the motivation behind it, the book’s mixed messages and puzzling creative decisions make it an unexpectedly interesting read, perhaps raising more questions than are answered, but shedding some light on the complexity of the cultural landscape in which it was produced.

If you would like to see it for yourself (and can stomach some of the less tasteful aspects of the text), the entire book can be read online, or downloaded in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Book of Detective Stories

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project, is another entry in the Multum in Parvo Library, a set of tiny chapbooks covering a variety of subjects. This volume, from November, 1894, is the Book of Detective Stories, one of the series’ collections of extremely brief fiction. The book’s 16 small pages contain four (or five, depending on how you count them) miniature mystery tales. A contemporary mystery reader probably won’t find a lot of surprises here, but the stories are certainly compact.

If you want to sample these for yourself, you can read the entire book online, or download it in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Love Conquers Pride

Another novel by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller has been added to Project Gutenberg using scans from our Digital Library and the volunteer labor of the Distributed Proofreaders project. The story, Love Conquers Pride; or, Where Peace Dwelt, was first serialized as Pansy Laurens, the Belle of Richmond in the New York Fireside Companion from 1888 to 1889. It tells the tale of a young tobacco factory worker who falls in love while visiting her aunt and uncle on a summer break and suffers many of the usual story paper tragedies as a consequence.

These story paper melodramas tend to be fairly predictable based upon the societal expectations of their time — their plots are generally designed to reinforce cultural norms and demonstrate dire punishment for “bad” behaviors. This one is a little bit different — some of the situations Pansy finds herself in are more morally ambiguous than usual, and while the plot ultimately resolves itself in a fairly “safe” way, it takes some extra twists and turns to get there. The book also distinguishes itself by having several characters who are rather more tolerant and forgiving than is typical of the genre — it almost reads like a “what if?” exercise in how one of these plots might unfold if the plot didn’t hinge primarily on a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings.

If you want to give it a try, the entire book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.

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eBook available: Art of Love-Making

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project, is another entry in the Multum in Parvo Library, a set of tiny chapbooks covering a variety of subjects. This particular volume, published in March, 1894, is entitled “Art of Love-Making” (which, of course, refers to the 19th century definition of “love-making,” which is to say courtship).

The book contains a seemingly random assortment of advice on romance and marriage, most of it built around ideas that seem quite foreign to the modern reader (ranging from predictably sexist assumptions about gender roles to entirely bizarre supposed correlations between physical characteristics and personality traits).

Needless to say, this book is unlikely to help you with your love life, but it does provide an interesting window into a very different time. You can read the whole thing (or download it in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: All for Love; or, Her Heart’s Sacrifice

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, drawn from our Digital Library and processed through the Distributed Proofreaders project, is another novel by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller: All for Love; or, Her Heart’s Sacrifice, which had previously been serialized in the New York Family Story Paper under the title Berenice Vining’s Romance; or, Love Levels All.

The book chronicles the romance between Berry Vining, a poor and inexperienced girl who eventually becomes a successful actress and playwright, and Charley Bonair, a rich and irresponsibly flirtatious animal lover. It would not be a Mrs. Miller novel without complications, so there is a love triangle with a bloodthirsty heiress, a bear attack, a smallpox outbreak, and plenty of other twists and turns. Other interesting features of the book include a “story-in-the-story” in which Berry’s autobiographical hit play is described in great detail, and occasional hints of conscious humor (such as a recurring joke about Charley’s efforts to give up profanity) that give this a little bit of a “romantic comedy” flavor.

Like many romances of its time, the novel is very interested in class distinctions, and the theme of a romance between rich and poor is hardly a new idea. However, while many books of this type end with the revelation that the “poor” heroine was actually secretly or unknowingly rich all along, this one goes in a different direction, perhaps in an effort to differentiate this as a story in the American rather than the British mold.

If you’re interested in trying this one out for yourself, the entire book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Cavalry Curt; or, The Wizard Scout of the Army

George Waldo Browne’s Cavalry Curt; or, The Wizard Scout of the Army is the latest book from our collection to be transformed into a Project Gutenberg eBook by the Distributed Proofreaders project.

This juvenile dime novel, first published in 1892, tells the story of “Cavalry Curt,” a Union scout trying to survive in Confederate territory during Sherman’s March to the Sea, and Mara Morland, a young woman whose brother is both a Confederate soldier and an old school friend of Curt. Much of the narrative focuses on Mara’s efforts to save Curt’s life at great risk to herself and her family.

Written less than thirty years after the events framing the narrative, the book serves as an interesting example of how the Civil War was portrayed to a young audience while it was still quite fresh in the national memory. Some of the complexities of the situation — particularly the conflicts between personal and political allegiances — are important to the narrative, though the causes and politics of the war are barely discussed, and the book’s portrayal of slavery and enslaved people is the sanitized version common to literature of this period. The book is also noteworthy for its portrayal of Mara Morland, who is an unusually brave and competent female protagonist for a “boys’ story” (though her motivations still largely align with predictable gender stereotypes).

If you would like to read the book for yourself, you can find it for online reading or download in common eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Nimble Ike, the Trick Ventriloquist

Decades before the invention of the modern comic book and other contemporary forms of entertainment, dime novels were pioneering some of the conventions that would later become commonplace. For example, in the growing field of detective fiction, Old Sleuth (the pseudonym of Harlan Page Halsey) created an array of colorful and quirky detective characters, and even experimented with having their paths cross from time to time. One might dare call it the “Old Sleuth Bibliographic Universe.” A few years ago, we shared one of these “crossover events” as a Project Gutenberg eBook: The Twin Ventriloquists. Our latest release, produced with help from the Distributed Proofreaders project, is an earlier story from the same series: the origin story of Nimble Ike, the Trick Ventriloquist, a self-described “rousing tale of fun and frolic.”

The book tells of the early career of Nimble Ike, a young orphan boy raised by a globetrotting magician, who is left to fend for himself and decides to use his incredible powers of ventriloquism to fight crime (and play the occasional prank). Along the way, he befriends a more experienced detective and uncovers a plot against a young banker. It is written in Old Sleuth’s signature style, with the narrative frequently broken up by repetitive, staccato dialog (the better to fill pages with, when you’re churning out dime novels at a frantic pace). While not a literary masterpiece, the book delivers what its audience likely expected from it: a bit of mystery, a bit of action, and a bit of humor (though the prank sequences are unlikely to elicit much laughter from a modern reader).

Nimble Ike would go on to star or co-star in another six adventures written by Old Sleuth, so apparently there was a market for ventriloquism-based detective fiction.

If you want to experience this story for yourself, you can find the full text available for online reading (or download in popular eBook formats) at Project Gutenberg, or you can view the original scanned book in our Digital Library.


eBook available: Let Us Kiss and Part

Another novel by prolific story paper author Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller has been added to Project Gutenberg thanks to content from our Digital Library and volunteer labor from the Distributed Proofreaders Project.

Let Us Kiss and Part; or, A Shattered Tie features many of the author’s favorite themes: accidental live burials, terrible family secrets, and jealousy-driven violence. In spite of a lot of familiar content, it also cracks the mold here and there. One character, a fortune teller who would rather be reading mystery novels, offers a bit of self-reflection about popular fiction. The book’s structure seems fairly conventional until the story is completely resolved at the end of chapter 41, and the next nineteen chapters tell an almost entirely unrelated second story.

If you want to take a look for yourself, you can find the full text of the book available for online reading and download in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Cliquot

The latest Project Gutenberg release from our collections (courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project) is Kate Lee Ferguson‘s Cliquot, a novel focusing on the romantic life of a Southern man whose future depends on the success of a dangerous race horse in his possession.

The book was published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, a Philadelphia publisher with a long history of producing paper-covered books. By 1889, when this particular title was published, thick and inexpensive paper-covered books were becoming more widespread, and Peterson’s offerings were expensive by comparison to those of many of their competitors.

Cliquot sold for 25 cents, making it one of the Peterson firm’s least expensive titles, yet it still cost more than twice as much as the dime novels coming from firms like Street & Smith. This particular book doesn’t compare favorably to the competition in terms of value for money, either — the novel is quite short and is made to appear longer through the use of wide margins and tall line heights, and a substantial portion of the page count is taken up with extensive advertising from the publisher.

As an arguably overpriced title in the catalog of a waning publisher, it is not surprising that this story has been largely forgotten since its publication more than a century ago. However, it would likely not have fared much better even under more favorable circumstances. In addition to being short enough to barely qualify as a novel, the tale’s disorganized narrative and underdeveloped characters suggest that they author may not have invested a great deal of time and effort into the work.

While the novel itself is unlikely to make a strong impression, its author seems to have lived an eventful and sometimes challenging life, as evidenced by the biography at the Mississippi Writers & Musicians, and this work may be more interesting when viewed as part of that larger story. If you wish to see for yourself, the full text is available for online reading or download in commonly used eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: How to Get Married, Although a Woman

Our latest Digital Library item to be made available in Project Gutenberg through the Distributed Proofreaders project is a late-19th-century relationship advice book: How to Get Married, Although a Woman, by “A Young Widow.”

As the title suggests, the book attempts to address the difficulties women faced during a time when they were often dependent on marriage for survival, but also were socially discouraged from explicitly expressing interest in the subject. While one might hope for a book critical of the restrictive social systems of its time, what this actually provides is a set of rules for conforming to those systems, largely founded upon stereotypical views of both men and women. It is also heavily padded with poetry and quotations, some of limited relevance to the topic at hand.

Like many non-fiction works from this period, its usefulness for its intended purpose has long-since expired; however, as a primary source document, it offers a window into a very different time, and could prove useful in various fields of historical research.

If you are interested in learning more, the whole book is available for free at Project Gutenberg to read online or download in popular eBook formats.

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Last Modified: September 23, 2021