Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What they (supposedly) wanted us to read in 1895.

Harvard, as part of its exhibition "Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History," is offering online the 1895 List of Books for Girls and Women and Their Clubs, issued for the American Library Association. The fiction list, "chosen and annotated by a reviewer for The Nation," tends to snarkiness, especially about popular books by women. Some of the listings:
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Aurora Floyd, Eleanor's Victory, Lady Audley's Secret. "The worst that may be said of her books is that the impression of life conveyed by them is generally false."

Arthur Conan Doyle, Micah Clarke, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. "His best books are narratives of military adventure, though perhaps the most popular describe the commission and detection of crime."

Marie Corelli, Vendetta, The Soul of Lilith. "She enjoys great popularity."

Anna Katharine Green, The Leavenworth Case, The Mill Mystery, A Matter of Millions, A Strange Disappearance. "She scorns probability both in plot and character, and, to persons of reason, her books are tiresome and nonsensical. From her popularity it would appear that reason is scarce..."

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines, She, Heart of the World. "He is ingenious."

Anthony Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda. "...The impossibility of all is a cold afterthought."

Edgar Allan Poe, Tales. "Morbidly imaginative."

E.D.E.N. Southworth, A Leap in the Dark, The Lost Heiress. "Her distortion of truth and fact is wonderful, and her sentimentality appalling."

Lew Wallace, Ben Hur, The Fair God, The Prince of India. "His books are extremely long, the construction is intricate, and the grammar imperfect."

Ellen Wood, East Lynne, Danesbury House. "The work is much better than much of its class."
(Hat tip to PhiloBiblos. About the image: Cartoon of Mary Elizabeth Braddon from Punch, 1881, NYPL.)

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