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.