What book do you think these elegant 19th century ladies are discussing at their reading club? NYPL Digital Gallery image."The great demand is for fiction!"
"Among all classes of people, do you think?"
"Then you mean to say," persisted the reporter, "that the principal portion of the reading public of New York is composed of novel readers."
"That is it exactly, so far as library patrons are concerned," replied the librarian.
—The New York Times, January 22, 1882
Welcome back to the Reader's Den. I hope you enjoyed reading Time and Again by Jack Finney and taking a journey back to late 19th century New York with Simon Morley, advertising artist from 1970. What are you in the mood to read now? Would you like to enter into the reading mindset of a New Yorker in 1882? I've put together a list based on references in Time and Again and information provided in a New York Times article from January 22, 1882 entitled, "What the People Read: The Demand for Fiction at the Circulating Libraries." (If you are reading this on site at any NYPL location, you can read read the article through the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database.)
At the end of this post, you'll also find some suggestions for more historical fiction set in Gilded Age New York, as well as nonfiction exploring some of the people, places and mores of the time. Please recommend any other titles you think readers who enjoyed Time and Again might want to read! If you are in the mood for more time travel, Jack Finney wrote a sequel to Time and Again, From Time to Time, in which Si Morley travels to 1911 to try to prevent World War I. Steven King's recent time travel/alternate history 11/22/63 was partly inspired by Time and Again. If you've never read them, you might enjoy classic early time travel novels, such as The Time Machine by H. G. Wells or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. In novels likeThe Doomsday Book and Blackout by British author Connie Willis, Oxford University historians use time travel to visit the past as part of their research. For a more extensive look at time travel fiction, please check out J. Soucé's post Library Time Travel: Ruminations in Science, Literature and Film. And now, back to 1882...
What were New Yorkers reading in January 1882?
Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (1819-1899), c. 1860. Unidentified Artist. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg MuseumDo you remember the novel that Si and Kate are reading in the Dakota? The one that featured a heroine named Gentileska? If you'd like to read Tried for Her Life by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, you can request it in the Main Reading Room or download a copy from Project Gutenberg, along with dozens of other works by this prolific but now nearly forgotten author. Tried for Her Life is actually the sequel to Cruel as the Grave; both novels were published in 1871.The Hidden Hand is considered to be Mrs. Southworth's most popular work.
Chances are you haven't read any of Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth's novels, but it's quite possible that you have come across a satire of the author. In Little Women, the popular and sensational writer upon whom Jo March models her early literary efforts is named Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury, a reference to Southworth that contemporary readers would have easily recognized. As for Louisa May Alcott's popularity among New York readers in 1882, the author of the "What the People Read" article reported that her "pleasant stories" appeared to have had their day. Today's School Library Journal readers would seem to disagree, however; Little Women was ranked 47 on the 2012 list of Top 100 Chapter Books.
During Si's first dinner at 19 Gramercy Park, one of the other lodgers mentions that he has just finished reading Ben Hur. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, published in 1880, is one of the most popular American novels ever written. This story of the life of Jesus combined with the adventures of a fictional Jewish prince has never been out of print, and has been filmed four times, most famously in William Wyler's 1959 film starring Charlton Heston. Learn more about Ben Hur and author Lew Wallace in this article in Humanities magazine. You can also download a free e-book from Project Gutenburg.
Horatio Alger's stories extolling brave, honest, hardworking boys who pull themselves out of poverty were quite popular at this time. Si mentions Tom the Bootblack. Ragged Dick, Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks is perhaps a better known title today. Free eBooks of many Alger stories, such as Rough and Ready; or, Life Among the New York Newsboys, are available through the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. According to the New York Times article, other books popular with boys in 1882 included Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the works of James Fenimore Cooper and the sea tales of Frederick Marryat.
Percy Bysshe Shelley. NYPL Digital Gallery.One of Aunt Ada's treasures at 19 Gramercy Park is a pressed daisy she took from the poet Shelley's grave in Rome. According to the librarians interviewed byThe New York Times, other British poets whose work was in demand with the New York reading public were Tennyson and Byron. As for American poets, Longfellow, Poe and William Cullen Bryant (for whom Bryant Park is named), are mentioned. Nearly all of Emily Dickinson's work was published posthumously, so poetry readers in New York would not have known about her in 1882. Walt Whitman is not mentioned in the "What People Read" article, but in the same issue (01/22/1882),The New York Times also published an article, "Whitman, Poet and Seer: A Review of His Literary Scheme, Work, and Method."
Oscar Wilde. NYPL Digital GalleryAccording to the New York Times article, Oscar Wilde's Poems (1881) were in high demand at New York City's circulating libraries in January 1882. Wilde had yet to write the works for which he is best remembered today, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, and was probably more famous for his wit and persona than for his writing in 1882. Wilde's arrival in New York on January 2, 1882 to begin a lecture tour of the United States generated a great deal of interest in his poems. In Time and Again, Si is delighted at the idea that Julia actually heard Wilde speak. "Satire paid them [Byron, Keats, Shelley] the homage which mediocrity pays to genius." I confess that I, too, would love to have the chance to hear Oscar Wilde utter one of his famous epigrams.
When Si spies a New York City Directory in a bar, he tries to come up with people who would be living in New York in 1882 to search for. He thinks of author Edith Wharton but does not know her maiden name—Edith Newbold Jones. He eventually looks up and finds a listing for Melville, Herman, inspector, living at 104 E. 26th Street. Moby Dick did not receive great acclaim during Melville's lifetime, so he might have appreciated the thought if Si had carried out his idea of visiting him to tell him that he liked the book very much. If Si had been traveling from our time, he could have brought Melville a copy of Nathaniel Philbrick's 2011 celebration of the novel, Why Read Moby-Dick? Henry James, on the other hand, enjoyed critical and popular success during his lifetime. By 1882, he had published many stories and novellas, such as Daisy Miller, and several major novels, including Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady. According to the 1882 "What the People Read" article, there was "considerable call" for his books. Edith Wharton, only 20 years old in 1882, had yet to write her great novels and short stories, but much of her work, such as The Age of Innocence, includes portrayals of New York society in this period, so it makes sense that Si Morley called her to mind.
It is not mentioned in Time and Again, but one librarian interviewed for the New York Times "What the People Read" article pronounced, "The most remarkable book of fiction of this age is Uncle Tom's Cabin. That is a book that seems to gain rather than lose in popularity. Each successive generation of readers reads it with unabated interest." That view did not necessarily hold true into our time. Although Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel helped persuade many readers of the justness of the anti-slavery cause, it was later vehemently criticized, by James Baldwin and others, for perpetuating racist stereotypes and as lacking artistic merit. For a 21st century perspective on this influential and controversial novel, you can listen to a discussion recorded at Live from the NYPL on November 29, 2006: Uncle Tom's Cabin Reconsidered: A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates & Margo Jefferson. You can also find a copy of The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin with notes and an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Hollis Robbins at NYPL. In 2011, David S. Reynolds examined the cultural context and both the immediate and long term impact of Stowe's novel in Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America.
The New York Times article states that Mark Twain's books were "necessary features of every library." In 1882 Twain had yet to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), one of the most frequently challenged books of our time, or his time travel novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). Apparently, his most requested works in 1882 New York were travel writing, Innocents Abroad and Roughing It. The term often used to describe this era in American history and its excesses comes from Mark Twain's 1873 satirical novel, The Gilded Age, written with Charles Dudley Warner. According to the New York Times report, the stories of New York writer Washington Irving were also in demand, and we are still reading classics, such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, today.
As for British novelists, the works of Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott and Edward Bulwer Lytton were reported to be "about equally popular". The Charles Dickens novels most frequently requested at New York's circulating libraries in 1882 were The Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield. Returning to the 21st century, Oprah Winfrey did not choose either of these for her book club; she included A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations on her list of recommended reading in 2010. Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot are also mentioned as having "a good, steady, circulation."
An increased interest in French, Italian and German novels among New York City library patrons was also noted in the 1882 New York Times article. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is mentioned in particular, and as there is today, there was a steady demand for Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The "once popular" Jules Verne, however, was reportedly "losing his grip" on New York readers. We know that Julia in Time and Again has read Jules Verne since she likens Si's drawing of automobiles on an 1882 streetscape to something out of one of Verne's futuristic novels. And it appears that Mr. Verne never quite lost his hold on the reading public as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days and other works by the author are still widely read today. Jules Verne was honored with a Google doodle on his 183rd birthday in 2011.
Biographies of presidents Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield were also in demand among New Yorkers, according to the New York Times article, and as we learn from the discussions around the table at 19 Gramercy Place, many newspaper headlines at the end of January 1882 were dedicated to the trial of Charles J. Guiteau, who shot Preseident Garfield on July 2, 1881 and was ultimately convicted for the assassination. Candice Millard examines Garfield, Guiteau and the medical malpractice involved in the case in her award-winning 2011 book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of A President.
The fearsome Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes depicted in Time and Again really was Chief of the New York City Detective Bureau at the time. He authored Professional Criminals of America, known as "Byrne's Book," which the New York Times called an "authoritative review of criminals and their ways." In addition to Time and Again, Byrnes makes a fictional appearance in Caleb Carr's popular historical thriller, The Alienist. If you'd like to read more about this larger than life character, J. Conway North published a biography of Byrnes in 2010, The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America's First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective. Although he died a few years before the time travel episodes in the book begin, another New York City figure whose legacy is clearly felt in Time and Again is the powerful and corrupt political party boss, William M. Tweed. Several books on Boss Tweed and the Tweed Ring are available to borrow from NYPL, including Kenneth Ackerman's Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York, a 2005 New York TImes Notable Book.
During his time in 1882 New York, Si Morley encounters people from diverse levels of society. The upper echelon of New York society to which Carmody and his wife aspire is meticulously depicted in Eric Homberger's 2002 study, Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age, and When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in A Gilded Age by Jacob Riis. Tenement Yard, How the Other Half Lives. Preus Museum.Justin Kaplan shows how social behavior was changed by the great Astor hotels built in the 1890s. Biographies of some of the major industrialists of the age, such as T. J. Stiles's 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, David Nasaw's 2007 Pulitzer finalist Andrew Carnegie and Jean Strouse's masterful Morgan, American Financier offer insight into important business figures and financial practices of the time.
On the other hand, the people described in social reformer Jacob Riis's classic How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, published in 1890, and in 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life, would likely be more recognizable to the streetcar driver who explains the reality of typical working class life in New York to Si on a freezing cold night. 97 Orchard street is now home to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which does an outstanding job of bringing history to life for those of us unable to hypnotize ourselves into the past like Si.
More depictions of Gilded Age New York in fiction:
People, politics, finance, crime and architecture of Gilded Age New York: assorted nonfiction
- Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: the Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels by Jill Jonnes
- The Cooper-Hewitt Dynasty of New York by Polly Guérin
- Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age by H. Paul Jeffers
- Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes
- The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough
- Gilded Mansions: Grand Architecture and High Society by Wayne Craven
- Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward P. Kohn
- Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-loving New York by Richard Zacks
- King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era by Richard F. Welch
- The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age by H. W. Brands
- The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins
- New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age by Robert A. M. Stern
- Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913 by Sarah Bradford Landau
- Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe & Hummel, Lawyers to the Gangsters, Cops, Starlets, and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age by Cait Murphy
Please feel free to suggest additional books for this list or comment on any you have read.
Most of the books mentioned in this post are also included on these lists in the BiblioCommons catalog:
Read the previous Reader's Den posts on Time and Again by Jack Finney:
Find another great read on the schedule of past and upcoming Reader's Den book discussions.