Ready for a literature quiz?
During the 1800s and early 1900s . . .
- Which books were despised by “high moralists,” condemned by preachers on Sunday, frowned upon by schoolmasters and schoolmarms on weekdays, and dismissed by critics and librarians as destroyers of the character of our nation’s youth?
- Which books were eagerly consumed by bankers and bootblacks, lawyers and lawbreakers, soldiers and sailors, working girls and housewives and youths alike?
- Which books did schoolboys conceal behind geography books during class?
The answer to all three quiz questions is: the “dime novel,” the paperback answer to fiction in the 19th century. Extremely popular, publishers churned out hundreds of titles—sometimes one new title a week—during the second half of the 1800s.
So, whose great idea was it to capture the hearts and minds of readers with colorful, romantic adventures and (in the process) take American literature in a new direction? A direction that lives on today in the “trade paperback” market of genre books, like—you guessed it—the romance novels of the authors of Petticoats and Pistols.
A couple of fellows by the names of Beadle and Adams came up with the idea in 1860. They took the popular “serial” papers (a chapter a week in a newspaper) and decided to publish complete novels instead—books anyone could afford: ten cents. Eventually, as other publishers caught the vision and competed for readers, Beadle and Adams introduced the half-dime library, as well.
Their first published book, Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, tells the tragic tale of a beautiful Indian maiden who follows her heart and marries a white settler. Tragic because she dies in the end. How many authors here allow their main characters to die at the end of their romance novels? Hmmm . . . I thought as much.
Malaeska was a runaway hit right off the bat. It sold 65,000 copies during the first few months. (Considering the entire population of the U.S. was only twenty million, I’d say the book did well.) It didn’t hurt that Beadle and Adams chose a popular literary author, Ann Stephens, to pen the first book.
With that success under their publishing belts, the company issued several more dime novels in quick succession. One of their most popular was Seth Jones, or The Captives of the Frontier. This paperback novel was President Abraham Lincoln’s favorite story. It was written by a nineteen-year-old school teacher named Edward Ellis and sold over 600,000 copies. Go figure . . .
So, what made these books so popular? Besides the subject matter—pirates on the high seas, courageous freedom fighters in the French and Indian War, and Indians raiding white settlements—dime novels were packed with patriotic themes, high morals, virtue, and “the good guy always wins, while the bad guy always gets what he deserves.”.
Why then, were preachers and teachers and “high moralists” so against these dime novels? There was no vice and very little passion in the books—squeaky clean we would call them today. The only thing I can figure is that fiction in general was on the “DO NOT READ” list of many folks during the 1800s. Here is a thought from the Reverend J.T. Crane from Popular Amusements magazine, 1869, which sums up why our youth (or anybody else, for that matter) should stay away from novels:
- Let our young people be constantly on their guard against the mental enslavement which marks the confirmed novel-reader. Common novel-reading is a fearful evil, and against it there are arguments numerous and weighty, which all will do well to heed.
You can read the entire article, but I warn you, it is lengthy: http://www.merrycoz.org/books/CRANE.HTM
Just for fun, I have included the opening lines to a dime novel. To read the entire novel, go here: DEADWOOD DICK’S DOOM
Too Late for the Stage
Did you ever hear of a more uninviting name for a place, dear reader? If so, you could not well find a harder role, where dwelt humanity than Death Notch, along the whole golden slope of the West.
It was said that nobody but rascals and roughs could exist in that lone mining-camp, which was confirmed by the fact that it was seldom the weekly stage brought any one there who had come to settle . . .
To see a few popular covers for women’s romance dime novels, go here:
If you would like to read a popular story from the “romance” dime-novel genre, click here: Mischievous Maid Faynie
The main character in my Circle C Adventures books, Andi Carter, loves to read dime novels. I haven’t quite figured out how to incorporate such a “vice” into a storyline yet, but with three older brothers (all eligible bachelors, by the way, ladies), Andi has access to such reading.
In honor of the release of my new CCA, Book 5, Trouble with Treasure, I’m offering up an autographed copy. This one’s full of rattlesnakes, bank robbers, gold-hunting, and survival in the Sierra range of 1880s California. Good, western fun. Read the first chapter at www.circlecadventures.com
To enter the contest, just comment and let us know on which side of the “dime-novel debate” you would find yourself (and why), if you were living during the 1880s. Try and imagine yourself with young teenagers. Would you want them to read these books? Would you take the “high road” or would you embrace the dime-novel “mania”?
We’re going to start and end this week with research books. On Monday, Winnie gave us a wonderful look at a book containing information and recipes from San Francisco in the late 1800s. Now I want to share a really cool book I discovered a couple of years ago. I mentioned it during our fun week of recipes back in September, but I didn’t get into what a truly great research resource this is.
THE ORIGINAL WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK
A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home,
Mrs. P.L. Gillette & Steward of the White House Mr. Hugo Ziemann, 1887 Edition
Wives of Our Presidents,
Those Noble Women who have
Graced the White House,
And whose Names and Memories
Are dear to all Americans,
Is affectionately dedicated
The Original White House Cook Book has a wealth of information that isn’t restricted to a single locale, a single setting in our history. There are complete menus showing family dinners or how a fancy dinner was put together in the late nineteenth century in America; dyeing or coloring cloth–and eyebrows; how to repair a hole in a silk gown; even table etiquette.
Here’s an example. General Grant’s Birthday Dinner started with clams, went to Consomme Imperatrice Bisque de Crabes (crab bisque), then to a variety of hors d’oeuvres, followed by trout, mushrooms, filet of beef… and then they got to the entrees! They served chicken and veal with green beans and asparagus, followed by sorbet to cleanse the pallet. Next came squab and salad, then fruits and pastries. The meal ended with glace, or glazed fruit, petit fours and coffee.
I feel stuffed just reading about it.
The book includes the seating arrangements for a dinner when the President was in attendance, how glassware should arranged on the tables, even what to put in the ladies’ corsages and the men’s boutonnieres.
Toward the back of the volume is a section dedicated to caring for those who visit the White House; how colds are caught; how to clean black lace; and how to render muslin clothing less likely to catch fire. In the author’s words: “Remember this and save the lives of your children.”
You can even learn how to make Rose Water or Bay Rum, Cold Cream or Hair Invigorator. Or my particular favorite, how to remove freckles. And no, I haven’t tried it yet – but I might.
This is a fun book with a wealth of helpful information. For example, if your heroine is a mail-order bride who grew up working in a wealthy household, you can find what kinds of skills she might have learned in this book.
THE ORIGINAL WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK 1887 Edition, Mrs. P.L. Gillette & Steward of the White House Mr. Hugo Ziemann [I located it on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; Borders.com has a different edition available]
Have you discovered a research book that you feel is exceptional? Share it, please.
We have another first-timer with us on Saturday….Miss Susan Marlow.
Miss Susan is going to explore the whys and wherefores of dime novels. She has a whole passel of interesting tidbits about the subject that ah’m sure you’ll want to know.
Miss Susan writes children’s books and she has a winner with her new one called TROUBLE WITH TREASURE. She’ll talk about that while she’s here and give you a chance to win an autographed copy. Ah love it when our guests come toting books!
We need your help in rolling out the red carpet for Miss Susan and making her feel right at home here at the Junction.
So saddle up your pony and get crackin’.
Don’t forget now!
I can’t decide if the topic of this blog is interesting or just plain gross. My nose wrinkles when I think about it. I get itchy. My neck prickles. I don’t get this old Victorian practice at all, and it strikes me as too weird to explain.
This fascination started during a chat with my mother-in-law. We were looking at some of her treasures, things that have been in her family for a long time. One of those items was something I couldn’t identity.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I don’t know what it’s called,” she answered. “But women used it to save hair they pulled from their brushes.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Why would they save it?” (Anything that comes out of my hairbrush goes in the trash or down the toilet.)
Neither of us knew, so I did some googling and discovered Victorian hair receivers, “ratts” and the lost art of hair jewelry.
In Victorian times, just about every woman had a hair receiver on her dressing table. She also had a lot of hair. After brushing it, she’d cull the broken strands from the brush and put them in the container. Hair receivers were typically made of porcelain, glass, wood or celluloid. They sat in plain sight and were generally quite pretty. They’re most easily identified by the finger-sized hold in their lids, designed to allow a woman to push through the hair.
Hair receivers kept a dressing table clean and free from loose strands, but what do you do with the hair? Commonly, the collected hair was used to make pin cushions. The wad could be quite dense, and the oil on the hair had a lubricating effect on the pins. The hair could also be used to make small pillows. The soft texture gave it an advantage over pin feathers, which could be prickly.
The collected hair had another common use. A woman’s hair was considered “her crowning glory.” As a result, Victorian women had elaborate hairstyles. To get the fullness and volume, they used “ratts” (sometimes spelled rats). A ratt was made by stuffing a hairnet with hair, sewing it shut and inserting it into the elaborate coif. A ratt, roughly the size of a potato, gave a Victorian woman her trademark “Big Hair.”
A lot of us probably have a lock of hair in a scrap book. I’ve got a snip from my oldest son’s first haircut. In Victorian times, this sentimental practice went far beyond a snip or two in a locket. “Hair art” might have been the “scrapbooking” of its day. It was considered a suitable occupation for young ladies and gave rise to a variety of interesting creations.
Mourning brooches were common. With high infant mortality rates and the devastation of the Civil War, death was very much present. Jewelry made from the hair of a lost loved one was seen as a fitting memorial. Friends and family members often exchanged sentimental tokens. The hair used in hair art didn’t typically come from hair receivers. It was carefully selected for color and texture and had to be straight to get the desired effect. Hair jewelry is deserves a blog of its own.
So what do you think? Are hair receivers gross or useful? I’m still on the fence, but I’m in awe of women who made such good use of something I’d have thrown away.
The winner of a copy of The Husband Tree is Karyn Gerard
I’m giving away a second copy of my book to Amy Harris-because she was so nice to leave her email address. An orderly soul. In complete contrast to mine. I like knowing there are people out there who are orderly.
And, because I ate food…real solid food…for the first time in three days…and it tasted GOOD, I’m giving away a third copy of The Husband Tree to: Amber Swafford
I think I’ve got all your email addresses. If I don’t contact you VERY SOON to find where to send the book, email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org and demand your book . Maybe THREATEN ME…try with germs, that oughta get my attention.
And thanks to ALL OF YOU, for stopping in to Petticoats & Pistols, offering me encouragement and being the best blog readers in the world.
Okay, now I’m getting weepy. I’m still quite fragile.
We have two winners! I actually do write down your names and draw them out at random. This time I pulled out two names at once.
The winners of a free book from yesterday’s blog are: Colleen and Tabitha. Will you both please email me with your snail mail addresses. You can email them to me at email@example.com.
Congratulations to the winners and my thanks go out to all who entered.
Here’s the thing….I’ve been sick. In fact, I had the flu badly enough that I considered whether it was even safe to post today for fear you all might catch it through the computer. That’s how contagious it was. And I considered whining to my filly friends to make one of them do this today. But I’m on the mend and ducking my day would just be wimpy. Which describes me pretty well, but … here I am anyway.
I decided to make this simple. I posted the first page of The Husband Tree and today we’ll have a drawing for a signed copy. To get your name in the drawing, leave a comment. That’s it. I’m going back to bed.
The Husband Tree
Belle Tanner pitched dirt right on Anthony’s handsome, worthless face.
It was spitefulness that made her enjoy doing that. But she was sorely afraid Anthony Santoni’s square jaw and curly dark hair had tricked her into agreeing to marry him.
Which made her as big an idiot as Anthony.
Now he was dead and she was left to dig the grave. Why oh why didn’t she just skip marrying him and save herself all this shoveling?
She probably should have wrapped him in a blanket, but blankets were hard to come by in Montana. . .unlike husbands.
She labored on with her filling, not bothering to look down again at the man who had shared her cabin and her bed for the last two years. She only hoped when she finished she didn’t forget where she’d buried Anthony’s no-account hide. She regretted not marking William’s and Gerald’s graves now for fear she’d dig in the same spot and uncover their bones. As she recalled, she’d planted William on the side nearest the house, thinking it had a nice view down the hill over their property. She wasn’t so sure about Gerald, but she’d picked right most likely because she’d dug the hole and hadn’t hit bones. Unless critters had dug Gerald up and dragged him away.
Belle had to admit she didn’t dig one inch deeper than was absolutely necessary. Maybe a little less than was necessary. This was rocky ground. It was quite a chore. Her husbands had made too many chores for her over the years. Digging their graves was the least of it.
She’d risked her own life to drag her first husband, William, out of the cattle pen, the one any fool would know was too dangerous to go into—which Belle always did, not being a fool. Rudolph, their longhorn bull, was a mite cantankerous and given to using his eight foot spread of horns to prove himself in charge of any situation.
Then Gerald had gotten himself thrown from his horse. His boot had slipped through the stirrup, and judging by his condition, Belle figured he’d been dragged for the better part of the three-hour ride home from the Golden Butte Saloon in Divide by a horse whose instincts told him to head for the barn.
Anthony’s only good quality was he’d managed to get himself killed quick. They’d been married less than two years. For a while there Belle feared he’d last through pure luck. But stupid outweighed luck. Stupid’ll kill a man in the West. It wasn’t a forgiving place. And Anthony was purely stupid so he didn’t last all that long.
Between William and Gerald—that is between being married to ’em—Belle had changed the brand to the T Bar. Known as the Tanner Ranch from then on, it never changed, regardless of whatever Belle’s last name happened to be at the time. She’d also had a real smart lawyer in Helena draw up papers for Anthony to sign so the ranch would always belong to Belle, and if something happened to her instead of a worthless husband, Belle’s wishes would be carried out.
She tamped the dirt down good and solid. About the fifth tamp she admitted she was using more energy than was strictly necessary. She’d whacked it down especially tight over Anthony’s pretty boy face. Three sides of the the Husband Tree used up. She wasn’t up to puttin’ up with a live one or buryin’ another dead one. The tree roots wouldn’t appreciate it.
And neither would the children.
She said a quick prayer for Anthony, reflecting silently as she spoke that knowing Anthony as she did, it was doubtful there were enough prayers in the world to save his warped soul. Never had it been necessary for God to perform a greater miracle, and Belle asked for just that, though she didn’t hold out much hope.
She finished the service in one minute flat, not counting the digging and filling which had taken considerably longer. It had been early in the day when she’d found Anthony dead beside the house. Planting him had interrupted chores, but there was no help for it. She couldn’t leave him lying there. He was blocking the front door
Good Morning or Afternoon or even Evening! : ) (Not sure when you’re joining us today.)
By the way, I’ll be giving away a free book to some lucky blogger today. Nothing to read — nothing to buy — just log on and leave a post and you’re automatically entered.
Okay, with that said, off to the right here is Georgie, the little kitten that I rescued when I was in Florida. Georgie is now full grown and two years old. But he’s the most recent addition to our pets. Pets are so important in any culture. And probably there is no human culture alive and well that doesn’t keep pets. Sometimes these pets are in the form of the family cow or the family pig or the family chickens. (Just recently a friend was going out of town and needed someone to watch her chickens. We were interviewed to see if we qualified to watch them for a week!)
Off to the right here is another one of our pets, Bear. It seems to me that pets enrich our lives. They love us when perhaps no one else might and they’re always there for us. Now, there were many pets in Native America. There were dogs aplenty. Indeed, before the advent of the horse in America, the dog was a necessity to any family. They watched the children, carried the family’s supplies and in Alaska, they formed a very needed mode of transportation (the dog sled).
I don’t know if you can see this very well, but behind me is a tiger. We discovered him (my husband and I) at a gas station along the route to Florida. He’s very much a pet. But I do wonder what it costs to keep him in food.
But I digress. I wanted to tell you about a true story. The story of Laughter the pet wolf. It’s a story told by James Willard Schultz in his book, Why Gone Those Times. The title of the chapter is called, Laugher, The Story of a Tame Wolf. Found by Schultz and his Blackfeet friend, Nitaina, after a rain storm had killed all of its brothers and sisters, Nitaina and Schultz carried the baby wolf home. I do want to repeat a little of the book’s narrative, if you will bear with me.
“Woles are not like dogs, you know. A dog father knows not his own children. A wolf marries and he and his wife live always together until death. When children come, he hunts for them, and brings food for them, and watches over them faithfully while the mother goes out to hunt and run around, and keep up her strength. Ah, they are wise, true hearted animals, the big wolves of the plains. And what hunters they are; they never suffer from want of food.”
Laughter was a male pup. He would sit outside the lodge at night and listen to the wolves off in the distance. He would run to his mater then and plead with him to take him out there. But his master would say “no,” and Laughter would obey. Interestingly none of the male dogs in camp liked him — the females did — but not the males, and so Laughter’s lot in life became fighting very early on. At first he was afraid of the other dogs, but then after he killed one of them, they all left him alone.
Now, interestingly, Laughter was only friendly to his master, Nitaina. He would tolerate Schultz, but he never really warmed up to him. In fact, he would snarl at anyone else other than Nitaina. Nitaina and Schultz would take Laughter with them when they were going on war parties. You couldn’t take a dog, because dogs would act the same as saying, “We’re here. We’re here. We’ve come here to fight you.” But not Laughter. He was a help to the war party, and not a hindrance. Indeed, Laughter saved their lives by sniffing out the enemy before Schultz and Nitaina were even aware there was an enemy about.
What became of Laughter? He stayed with Nitaina until he was full grown. They had many adventures. But Laughter began to absent himself from the camp for several days — and then for many days. Again, I should say again that wolves are not like dogs. He needed his own kind. He needed to marry. At first Nitaina tried to tie him, but Laughter would snap the ropes in two. And so there came a day when Laughter came no more. But there is a happy ending to the story, and I quote, “Later on we saw him one last time. We were hunting, and away out on the plain noticed two wolves sitting on a low butte watching us. As we neared them one came trotting down to meet us, and lo! it was Laughter, oh, so glad to see his master. Nitaina got down off his horse and petted him, then remounted and called him to follow. He sat down and watched us starting on, and whined, and trotted back to the butte and the wife hd had found. He jumped around her, wagging his tail, and then started toward us, looking back — by all his actions coaxing her to follow, but she would not move. Again and again he did that, and at last gave up and howled. He loved Nitaina, but he love his young wife most.
“We had thought in the spring to capture several wolf pups and tame them, and saw that it would be only a waste of time and trouble. The call of kind to kind is stronger than any other love.”
And so ends the story of Laughter, the tame wolf as told by James Willard Schultz.
Now, my question to you is this: Do you have pets? Have you had any unusual pets? And what do you think? Aren’t they family?
And don’t forget, if you haven’t yet picked up your copy of BLACK EAGLE, please do so today. Here’s a link:
And watch for my new book, SENECA SURRENDER, due out in April 2010.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I love browsing thrift stores for old books. I came across one the other day that just called out to me – Sumptuous Dining In Gaslight San Francisco 1875-1915. Its sub-title is ‘Lost Recipes, Culinary Secrets, Flambouyant People, and Fabled Saloons and Restaurants from a Golden Era’ – how’s that for intriguing. The inside jacket reads, in part “From the bawdy Barbary Coast to imperious Nob Hill, San Francisco has always projected a vitality and playfully corrupt character that are irresistible to all. And nowhere is this style more gloriously reflected than in the city’s fabled cuisine.”
There are a multitude of wonderful tidbits in this book about the people, eating establishments and social mores of the time. But what I thought I’d share with you today are just a few of the recipes, along with the snippets of information that went along with them, that are contained within the pages of the book. Naturally, I focused on the desserts. 🙂
According to the author some of the original recipes have been slightly modified to take current cooking methods into account. So let’s take a look at a few of these recipes and their stories:
Charles Schmidt was the chef at the Old Poodle Dog restaurant (don’t you just love that name?). He shared one of his most elegant dessert recipes with the folks at Sperry Products to advance the sales of their flour and so the recipe has been preserved to this day.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
Brandy, to cook’s touch
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
3 eggs, separated
1 ounce glace fruit, chopped into small pieces
½ ounce semi-sweet chocolate, grated
Preheat oven to 350F. Rub a tablespoon of the butter inside a medium sized soufflé mold and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of sugar. Crumble the macaroons into a little Brandy, and let them soak for several minutes. Boil half the milk with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Dissolve the flour in the remaining cold milk, add this to the boiled milk and cook it for 2 minutes. Remove the milk from the heat to cool before adding the egg yolks, thoroughly beaten. Bring the mixture to a slight boil, then remove it from the heat. Beat the whites of the eggs and the remaining teaspoonful of sugar until stiff peaks form, and fold them into the warm soufflé mixture. Then, in quick steps, pour half of it into the mold and top it with the fruit pieces, crumbled macaroons and grated chocolate. Pour in the rest of the soufflé mixture and slide it into the preheated oven. Bake the soufflé for 25 minutes and serve it at once.
Delmonico’s. one of the five great restaurants of San Francisco of this era, burned down in the Great Fire of 1906. The following recipe, which is popular to this day, was developed in remembrance of this disaster.
1 pint heavy cream
3 teaspoons white rum, plus additional for flambéing
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons milk
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup finely grated almonds
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup saltine crackers
In a small saucepan, scald the heavy cream. Add the rum, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch. Dissolve ingredients in the milk. Simmer long enough to remove the starchy taste, then add the egg yolks and transfer the cream to the top of a double boiler. Over boiling water, cook it, stirring constantly, until it is thick. Remove the cinnamon stick and pour the cream into a flat dish to a depth of about ¾ inch. When the cream is cool and firm, turn over the dish and slide the cream out on a flat board. Cut the cream into oblongs and roll in the finely grated almonds. Then dip each oblong in the beaten whole egg and roll it gently in cracker crumbs. Chill the cream. When it is firm, fry the oblongs in oil heated to 400 degrees F just long enough to turn the almonds golden. Pour additional white rum over the fried cream, carefully set it afire and serve the dessert flaming.
After the Gold Rush, an increasing number of no-nonsense Yankee women arrived in San Francisco, ready to set up housekeeping with their own brand of strict traditions and overall thriftiness. The following recipe was taken from an 1872 collection and printed in its original form
CANDIED ROSE LEAVES
Select the desired quantity of perfect rose leaves, spread them on an inverted sieve and let them stand in the air until slightly dried but not crisp. Make a syrup form a half-pound of granulated sugar and a half-pint of water, and boil the mixture until it spins a thread, then lift the leaves in and out of the hot syrup using a fine wire sieve. Then let the leaves stand for several hours on a slightly oiled surface. If the rose leaves then look preserved and clean they will not require a second dipping. Then melt a cup of fondant (basic vanilla icing) and add 2 drops of essence of rose and 2 drops of cochineal (herbal rose food coloring) to the melted icing. Dip the rose leaves into the mixture, one at a time. Dust with fine confectioner’s or powdered sugar and place on oiled or waxed paper to harden. Then pick daintily and enjoy as you would candy drops!
There are many more recipes and stories just like these. If you enjoyed reading them I’ll be glad to share others with you from time to time.