Monday, June 13, 2022

Mystery Monday: 1800s Mysteries

Mystery Monday: 1800s Mysteries 

Photo: WikiImages
Think Louisa May Alcott, and her book Little Women springs to mind. But you’ll probably be surprised to discover that long before she wrote the young adult classic, she made her living writing gothic and mystery stories. 

Born in 1832, she was raised in New England (primarily Massachusetts) by transcendentalist parents, her upbringing didn’t include a lot of formal education. Primarily homeschooled, Louisa had to go to work in her teens because of her family’s financial straits. However, her parents’ friends included such literary greats as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so she was able to learn from the masters. 

Not unusual for the time, she published under the pen name A.M. Barnard. Her stories have been described as “lurid” and “sensational.” Her novels focused on passion and revenge. Hard to believe after reading Little Men and Jo’s Boys. However, these books were highly popular and she received critical success during the 1860s. 

She signed up for a three-month period to serve as a nurse at the Union Hospital in Georgetown, Washington, DC during the Civil War, but had to quit after six weeks because of contracting typhoid. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches based on letters she sent home during her time as a nurse. 

That same year she won the $100 prize from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly (a periodical purported to be similar to the National Inquirer “minus the TV and movie celebrities,” for the short story Pauline’s Passion and Punishment. Described by one commentator as “mild stuff if read from the perspective of a 21st-century reader,” the story is one of love, anger, and betrayal. Goodreads states, “The beautiful Pauline has been wronged and sets about getting a little of her own back. Collateral damage ensues in this tale of revenge and its consequences.” Despite the themes, the author managed to keep offensive material out of the story. 

The plot is simple: Pauline is jilted by her beloved Gilbert who leaves her for a wealthy heiress. As a result, Pauline plans revenge by marrying a nice young man named Manuel. As Manuel is in love with her, he agrees to the marriage even after she informs him of her motive to make Gilbert jealous and remorseful. Her plan works, and her former beau is desperate to win her back even though he is married. In a bit of irony, Manuel meets and grows close to Gilbert’s wife. Pauline manipulates those around her to carry out her wishes, creating chaos and tragedy. The consequences are severe, but she’ll stop at nothing until Gilbert has felt the same pain she did. I

In many ways, the ending is a surprise, but in others typical of Alcott’s writings. It is available for free in many places including the Gutenberg project, so you can read it for yourself. 


Ellie's Escape

She’s running for her life. He needs a trophy wife. They didn’t count on falling in love. 

Ellie Wagner is fine being a spinster school teacher. Then she witnesses a bank hold up and can identify the bandits. Fellow robbery victim Milly Crenshaw happens to run the Westward Home & Hearts Matrimonial Agency so she arranges for Ellie to head West as a mail-order bride. But her groom only wants a business arrangement. Can she survive a loveless marriage? 

Banker Julian Sheffield is more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he’s done well for himself. Then the bank president tells him that in order to advance further he must marry in six weeks’ time. The candid, unsophisticated woman sent by the agency is nothing like he expected, but time is running out. When her past comes calling, does he have what it takes to ensure their future?

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