Keep away! Keep away!

I take back anything nice I may have said about the Reading Gods. They’re mean.

My journey to my latest Reading Roulette selection was an exercise in exasperation. My first hit was something called Such Things Were; or, The Lady On The Rock by Archibald Maclaren from 1820. My search for this was made more difficult by the surprising number of Archibald Maclarens out there (Scottish physical fitness experts, English Test captains, etc., etc.), but I finally determined that “my” Archibald Maclaren in fact wrote stage musicals: his various works are described as “a dramatic piece in two acts with songs”, as “a musical entertainment in two acts”, as “a comic opera in two acts”, and so on. I couldn’t find my actual hit, but there was a piece called The Isle Of Mull; or, The Lady On The Rock listed for 1820, so I guess that was it under a variant name. In any case, it certainly wasn’t for reading, so—delete—and back to the random number generator.

My next two hits both turned out to be for works that were dated incorrectly and therefore in the wrong spot in the Wishlist. Yes, I could have read them anyway; and yes, I should have; but my recent successes in finding things made me overconfident, I guess, so instead I re-dated both, slotted them in where they should have been, and tried again.

This time I hit a novel from 1825, The Robber Chieftain; or, Dinas Linn by Nella Stephens. This came up on GoogleBooks, so off I went downloading – only to realise that only three of the four volumes were available. (Why do they do that!?) They have the fourth volume but it hasn’t been digitised yet, so while I have future hopes of this one, I had to move on again.

Next up was Mairi Of Callaid: A West Highland Tale by Katherine I. Campbell, from 1878. My research on this one turned up the subtitle, Translated from the Gaelic and versified. Not exactly my usual thing, but I probably would have taken a whack at it if there had been a copy readily available. However, I didn’t feel like going the rather-pricey-import route, so it was back to the drawing-board once again.

And to cut a long and extremely frustrating story short, I then sequentially hit the following unavailable novels:

  • Wilburn; or, The Heir Of The Manor. A Tale Of The Old Dominions by Walter Whitmore (1852)
  • Deborah, The Advanced Woman by Mary Ives Todd (1896)*
  • Sweet Bells Jangled. A Dramatic Love Tale by Cara Oakey Hall (1878)
  • The Child Of The Wreck; or, The Stolen Bracelets. A Romance Of The South Of England by Fred Hunter (1848)

(*This one was particularly disappointing, since unlike some – I may even say most – “New Woman” novelists, Miss Todd was for and not against.)

And then the Reading Gods finally relented. Possibly they realised that if I hit my keyboard with my forehead one more time I might actually smash it, and then they wouldn’t be able to torment me at all.

So on my tenth attempt, I was given—

Vivia; or, The Secret Of Power by Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth, from 1857.

E.D.E.N. Southworth, as she is usually known, was one of the most prolific and the most popular American novelists of the 19th century; some sources have her as the most successful novelist of her time. She took up writing in order to support herself and her children after her husband deserted her, and wrote more than sixty novels between 1849 and 1899, some of which were published posthumously. Southworth was interested in social reform and a supporter of women’s rights, but with her family’s income at stake, she was careful in her handling of potentially controversial material. Although she herself was a northerner, many of her books are set in the post-Civil War south.

I have a notion that E.D.E.N. Southworth, too, ought to be on my Authors In Depth list…but I’m not sure I’m up to making such a long-term commitment. (A scary number of her novels are available.) So I guess we’ll wait and see about that. She will, however, be the first person slotted into my new subcategory – that for authors with quadruple-barrel names!

7 Responses to “Keep away! Keep away!”

  1. E.D.E.N. Southworth is also quoted in Jack Finney’s “Time and again”: the reading of her novels is part of the time traveller’s training to go back in the Nineteenth Century. The protagonist’s opinion on her novels (something as: “I’ve discovered not only to like this kind of novels, but also the kind of persons who can like this kind of novels) is very moving 🙂
    I’ve a copy of her “The hidden hand”, reprinted in the late 20th Century.
    Another very interesting american woman author from the 19th Century United States is Catherine Sedgwick. In continental Europe (France, and then translated from french to italian) her novels were attributed to Fenimore Cooper and sold with his name as author. I met her the first time on a bookstall in Milan, when I’ve bought a novel titled “Redwood” thinking it was a work by the ‘last of the Mohicans’ yet unknown to me: it has been love 🙂


  2. Hi, Luca!

    Thank you for those anecdotes. I have read Time And Again, but obviously it was too long ago (back when I was reading horror and SF as obsessively as I am now reading classics) for Southworth’s name to mean anything. I love that quote, though!

    Of Catherine Sedgwick I can only say what I always say – she’s on my Wishlist. 🙂

  3. I’ve read your wishlist on librarything: it is quite the carbon copy of mine and, if I’ve well understood, it is animated by the same spirit: the conviction to find something very good in the ocean of forgotten literature. Have you ever tried the “books quoted in other books” as a criterion of research? Often major classics offer good suggestions for forgotten novels…with the comments of literary characters; I’ve been happy some time ago to recognize, with a good percentage of probability, in Flo’s reading in the part 2 of Little Women (“Flo settles down to enjoy the Flirtations of Captain Cavendish”, wrote Louisa May Alcott) “Cavendish, or a patrician at sea”, a really funny novel written in 1831 by William Johnson Neale, a sea adventures writer completely obscured by his rival author Captain Marryat (they also had a not very elegant “kicks and fists” fight among the crowd in the streets of London, in 1832 or 1833) 🙂

  4. Yes, absolutely. I read books on books all the time to hunt down more novels, and certainly I take note of any novel mentioned in another novel. (I didn’t know what the Captain Cavendish reference was to before, though, so thank you for that!)

    Another source has recently opened up. When I’m using my eReader for an old novel, I always try to get it in PDF instead of re-formatted, partly because the PDFs have so much more personality (and a lot less formatting issues), but also because very often they carry the piublishers’ “upcoming releases” lists in the back of each volume. Not every publisher advertised like that, but the Minerva Press did; while in American novels of the mid-to-late 19th century, those lists often go on for pages. Those things are a GOLDMINE.

  5. Yes, I often use the “upcoming releases” advertisings. Great advertisers were also Henry Colburn and “Ward, Lock, Bowden & Co.”


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