Love Feud

Cover Art by Mach TeyCollecting obscure authors from yesteryear presents many joys and challenges.  Some of those challenges include locating copies of titles, or finding much about the author’s life.  

Mabel McElliott wrote short stories and a handful of articles of newspapers during the 1920s and starting in 1931, wrote a novel each year for newspaper syndication:  Love Feud (1931), The Man Hunters (1932), Darling Fool (1933), Married Flirts (1934), and Summer Sweethearts (1935).  The newspaper syndication of the stories varied in appearance from newspaper to newspaper.  For example, some newspapers included photos of a cast of characters, while others had text-only versions of the stories, sometimes to be found adjacent to the comics section.  It also meant that these stories were divided up into smaller segments than those serialized in magazine and pulp publications.  While I can’t find any evidence that her final novel was published, I’m pleased to share that I own a dust jacketed copy of each of her four published books.

This brings me to the other bit of information I found about Mabel McElliott:  her New York Times obituary is terrible.  Per the convention of the era, she doesn’t even get her own name, and her accomplishments are downplayed.  The headline reads, “Mrs. R.W. Clarke, Wife of Daily News Editor.”  Also, from the article, “Mrs. Clarke was the author of two novels.”  Excuse me?  I’m pretty sure that Mabel McElliott’s FOUR published novels are in my collection, with the fifth novel partially saved from a newspaper database in fragments on my computer.  This may have led to a mini Twitter rant, and I’m honestly considering sending a correction to the New York Times.

This summer, I read Mabel McElliott’s first novel, Love Feud. I snagged my copy way back in 2011, and have always found the Mach Tey dust jacket somewhat awkward yet delightful. As a novel, it’s not great, but I’ve definitely read worse. The main character, Liane Barrett, reads as childlike and frustratingly naive.  Also, it’s like the author wasn’t sure which book she was writing and threw dozens of plot points very quickly at the wall to see which would stick. The book is busy, but without being exciting.  Tropes that I’ve seen used to bring other novels to a dramatic climax are simply another episode in Love Feud: a dramatic crime scene with guns, a blackmailing attempt, a kidnapping, a marriage of convenience, running away from said marriage and nearly starving to death, etc.  There’s also an entire sub-plot about Liane’s guardian being her aunt rather than her mother, with her estranged father’s family wealth waiting to be inherited by the end of the novel.

Love Feud opens with Cass Barrett, an aging stage actress, raising eighteen year old Liane while barely scraping by.  A wealthy patron of theater, Mrs. Cleespaugh, offers Cass a summer job at a theater in the fictional Willow Stream, Long Island, and by extension Liane works at the theater’s box office.  Once in Willow Stream, the cast of characters is slowly introduced including Liane’s spoiled coworker, Muriel Ladd, as well as the handsome and mysterious Van Robard.  Upon hearing that Liane has met Van, Cass is horrified and makes Liane promise never to speak to him again.  This only sparks Liane’s curiosity and the promise is swiftly broken.  Various episodes during the summer include the theater getting held up at gunpoint.  At the end of the summer, Mrs. Cleespaugh offers to let Liane stay with her as a companion and the Barretts accept.

The love feud of Love Feud is more like a love square, or possibly some other polygon, only without much love.  Clive Cleespaugh wishes to marry Liane to fulfill the terms of a wacky will which stipulates that he’ll only inherit his great wealth if he marries before turning twenty-five.  However, Tressa Lord would prefer to marry into the Cleespaugh fortune herself.  Meanwhile, Liane has a “case” (i.e. crush) on playboy Van Robard and only agrees to marry Clive because Van Robard becomes engaged to Muriel Ladd, who in turn elopes with Chuck Desmond.

About the middle third of Love Feud follows the various antics and shenanigans that Tressa Lord tries to thwart Liane from marrying Clive.  She tries to have Liane blackmailed, but Liane’s police friend runs the blackmailers out of town.  She has Liane kidnapped, but the kidnappers are pursued and Liane escapes. She resorts to putting a thumbtack in one of the tires of the Cleespaugh family car and arranging for Van Robard to rescue a stranded Liane from the side of the road.  Finally, on Liane’s wedding day, she gives Liane a note from Van Robard and implores Liane to go to him.  None of these plans work out, and Liane marries Clive without any expectation of romance.

What follows is then one of the more discontented marriage of convenience plot lines.  Liane continues to pine after Van Robard.  It’s revealed that Van Robard is Liane’s half-step-brother.  When that’s somehow not an instant and complete dealbreaker, Van Robard’s character is abruptly killed off in a drunk driving accident.  Liane reacts by running away for six weeks, working in the stocking department of a large store until she faints from hunger and exhaustion.  She’s reunited with Clive, but they’re still miserably contemplating divorce.

Liane and Clive’s happy ending comes from an unlikely source.  When Tressa Lord returns to make a final play for Clive, she unintentionally drives Clive and Liane together.  They declare their feelings for each other and continue their marriage, but no longer as a business arrangement.  The novel ends with a time jump and Muriel paying a social call to Liane and admiring Liane’s newly born baby.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other Grosset and Dunlap romances can be found here.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Mabel McElliott, Mach Tey | 3 Comments

A Romantic Proposal and a Setback


I said “yes” on September 6, 2019.

Daniel’s proposal was one that I knew was coming, and yet it caught me by surprise.  I knew that Daniel had a very specific ring that we had recently sized to fit me.  However, we were hitting the road on September 7th to visit the place where we first met, so I erroneously assumed that Daniel might propose there.

Unsuspecting, I had stayed a little late at work to chat with a few coworkers, and even stopped at a store to pick up candy for the trip ahead.  For the past few years, bringing a box of Dots on the road has become a tradition.  I came home and was singing the hello song to Thomas the cat (don’t judge), when I saw it.

On the counter was a set of instructions.  It was a scavenger hunt!  I was to be given a clue, and the answer to each clue would lead me to the title of one of my collectible books.  Admittedly, it took me a hilariously long time to figure out the first clue.  I insisted that I know my own books, and that there was no way I had a book titled The Best Man.  Eventually, Thomas walked over, sat in front of The Best Man, and meowed at it until I got the hint.

Within each book was a bookmark with the next clue written on it.  Each book led to the next, and the moment grew and grew as I guessed where this was headed.  My own collection of romances novels was now telling the story of my real life love.  The last book’s bookmark read, “open the bottom drawer,” and I found a beautiful leather journal.  “… because the most timeless love story of all is the one that we’re writing together.”

The proposal was classic Daniel: sweet, clever, and sentimental.  Without me noticing, he had studied the titles of my books until he wove them into our own narrative.  A few of the titles he picked have even been featured on this blog!  There are also a great many titles that I’m glad are NOT part of our narrative:  FickleSecond Choice, the list goes on.

As I said yes, Thomas cheered us on in excitement.

Our wedding date was supposed to be August 9, 2020.

We know what happened to that plan, and if you don’t know, I bet you can guess.  Daniel handled it better than I did, and wrote a beautiful note to our families and our friends announcing the change of plans.  It’s a delicate subject still, and I will forever give the stink-eye to anyone who spouts the cliches like “love isn’t cancelled.”

So now it’s August 9, 2020.  We had celebrated what we thought was our in-versary (inverse anniversary) in the months leading up to this date.  This was supposed to be the day we said, “I do.”  We’re spending today together, feeling so close to yet so very, very far away from what we expected.

Our new date is in summer 2021.

Tomorrow, we’ll move forward with our new plan and continue planning our future together.  But today, we need a moment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Younger Sister

Younger Sister by Kathleen NorrisIt’s about time this blog covered a Kathleen Norris novel!  A prolific romance writer of the era, Kathleen Thompson Norris is one of the more (relatively) recognizable names in my collecting scope.  A handful of her novels were adapted into film, and her husband was Charles Gilman Norris, another novelist.  Grant Overton’s The Women Who Make Our Novels includes a brief biography of her.

To be perfectly honest, what called to me about Younger Sister in particular was the photographic dust jacket by Paul Hesse.  Also, the cover says “A Summer Romance,” so what better time to read it?  I decided to dive into this novel shortly after it arrived from Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books.

One mystery surrounding this title is its copyright page.  Published by Doubleday, Doran, & Company and printed at the Country Life Press, my copy is a stated first edition but also says, “Copyright, 1928, 1932.”  Usually that would mean it’s a reprint, but the stated first edition made me suspect the 1928 copyright could be its original serial publication date.  However, I couldn’t find any evidence of serialization in The FictionMags Index.  I figured that could either indicate a hole in the index (these definitely exist in the romance genre) or that the novel was serialized under another title.  Sorting through Kathleen Norris’ serialized stories in the index, one 1928 title jumped out at me as a possibility:  The Make-Believe Wife.  Based on the story itself, I could see that being the title, but how could I definitely prove that it was?  The hunt was on to find the text of any one of nine Collier’s weekly magazine containing a segment of the story.

HathiTrust Digital Library has hundreds of volumes of Collier’s available.  The Make-Believe Wife is still a few years away from entering the public domain, so “full view” was not an option, but I figured I could still do a search for character names.  However, Murphy’s Law clearly states that the volume I need won’t be available and as such, HathiTrust has over one hundred volumes of Collier’s but is missing volume 82, the second half of 1928.  Searching in Worldcat to see what libraries might have volume 82 was a nightmare, and so many libraries are closed right now anyway.

When all else fails, there’s eBay.  And sure enough, an affordable copy of Collier’s from September 1, 1928 was available for sale.  After confirming that there was a Kathleen Norris story in that issue, I ordered it and hoped for the best.Make-Believe Wife

When it arrived, I breathlessly flipped to The Make-Believe Bride.  I landed on a page mid-way, saw the protagonist was named “Bee,” and knew my hunch was correct.  And sure enough, The Make-Believe Bride is the story of Beatrice (Bee) and Houston (Hugh) Challoner.

Now onto the story!  This is a weird one.  The main premise is that Bee marries Hugh for his money in order to save her ailing sister, but then Hugh’s son, Bert, returns from abroad and falls in love with his new step-mother.

The power dynamic of Bee and Hugh’s courtship unsettles me as a modern day reader.  He is Bee’s boss, and is twenty-eight years her senior.  He’s a wealthy well-known architect, and she’s twenty years old with a family living in borderline poverty and a sister in ill health.  Hugh is older than Bee’s mother, and Bee is younger than Hugh’s son.  When Bee lives among Hugh’s family in their county homes for the summer, she’s closer in age to his nieces.

Bee marries Hugh for his money and loves him for everything he does for her and her family.  Her past life seems like a distant dream and Beatrice enjoys the luxuries of her new life.  During the first year of their marriage, Bee suffers a miscarriage and spends the spring convalescing, growing closer to her new husband with each day.

Hugh isn’t entirely satisfied with his new marriage.  He complains to his wife that none of it seems entirely real.  “You are playing a part, like a little girl playing house” (74).  Bee is devoted to him, but he’s often skeptical and jealous.  He asks her repeatedly if she loves another man, and then asks her if she’d tell him if she did.  Hugh often doesn’t recognize the repetitiveness of his own reassurance seeking behaviors until Beatrice starts finishing his sentences for him, “I know this one, too” and informs him that he’s asked the same question “about two hundred times” (164).  He even complains to his mother that his wife is a child.  Well, duh.  This grown man asks a woman twenty-eight years younger than him to marry him and then is upset because he perceives her as being immature?  It reads like something out of Reddit’s relationship page.

More trouble comes when Hugh’s jealousy, Bert’s ill-advised crush on his stepmother, and an old trouble-making family friend get mixed up.  Bert’s introduction is when he arrives at the end of his father’s wedding, meets his new stepmother and remarks, “well, that’s that, isn’t it?”  He’s known to be unable to hold down a job for a sustained period of time, and occasionally leaves the icebox door open.  His crush is picked up on by Aileen, a dear friend of Hugh’s deceased first wife who absolutely despises Beatrice.  Bert’s crush is then also picked up by Beatrice, who is so startled and embarrassed by it that she begins acting funny, only heightening her husband’s suspicions.

There’s a slight mystery regarding missing architecture plans for a prestigious competition, and during the confrontation over who hid Hugh’s plans, tempers run hot.  Hugh accuses his son of running around with Beatrice and sabotaging the contest entry.  Then suspicion falls on Aileen for hiding the plans, with a dramatic reveal (spoiler alert) that is was Beatrice who hid the plans and ruined Hugh’s chances.  After having been accused of an affair with her own stepson, Beatrice storms off and catches the next overnight train out of town.  The confrontation makes Bert realize the gravity of the wrongness (and possibly weirdness?) of crushing on his stepmom.

As soon as Bee arrives in the city, she’s lost without her husband.  She finds an unfamiliar hotel room and is perfectly miserable with her rash decision, realizing that she’s done exactly as Aileen would have wanted.  However, it takes only a few hours for her and Hugh to find each other.  They reconcile and it’s revealed that Hugh has won the architecture design contest after all, helped in part by him being friends with the judges who accepted his late entry.

The wealth and power dynamic were completely unequal, but Norris makes sure to wrap up Younger Sister by leaving no doubt to Hugh and Bee’s future happiness together.  By having a falling out and nearly losing him, Beatrice insists she now loves Hugh, “in a new way.  As a wife.  Not as a very much spoiled baby” (297).  By moving to complete the newly won architectural contract, the Challoners will also be much closer to Bee’s mother and recuperating sister.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Kathleen Norris’ works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Doubleday, Doran, and Company, Kathleen Norris | 3 Comments

The Ring Cost a Dime

The Ring Cost a DimeOf all the various sub-categories of romances within my collection, few are as fun to read as the delightfully ridiculous romance with the outrageous plot.  Most of the outlandish plot romances I have are from the 1930s, with a majority but certainly not all of them representing the latter half of the decade.  The Ring Cost a Dime is no mere bauble, it is a shining gem within these treasured stories.  One marriage of convenience plot isn’t enough for this story; The Ring Cost a Dime has two!

My copy of The Ring Cost a Dime was a New York Rare Book Week 2019 find from Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books.  Written by Rob Eden (aka Robert and Eve Burkhardt), The Ring Cost a Dime was published in 1939 by Gramercy.  OCLC only lists one copy, at Ohio State.  Combining the scarcity of this title with the excellent condition of my copy, well, there’s a small running joke that this book seems to have picked up in my family:  “The ring cost a dime… the book did NOT.”

My favorite part of any Rob Eden novel worth its salt are the small amusing moments thrown in, and The Ring Cost a Dime doesn’t disappoint!  In order, the three best moments of this book are:  3.  Upon sharing their first dinner together, the protagonist (Janice) tells the love interest that she doesn’t like the short collars on his shirts or his taste in ties.  2.  The first time Janice is in her future husband’s apartment, she goes to his bookcase and determines that she does approve of his taste in books.  1.  The first time Janice writes her ex to say they’re through, she does it while on the clock at work.  Using company stationery.  A coworker reads it over for her and approves.

This book was the quarantine read I needed, a breath of fresh air.  Discussions of wealth, women’s careers, and how finances are negotiated within relationships are incorporated into Janice Garth’s story.  Her story begins with her fiancé reading the will of his recently deceased rich aunt.  Yes, this story has a wonky inheritance plot!  Aunt Martha Dorian left Howard one million dollars, but only if he marries his aunt’s protegee, Betty Wallace!  Before this, Janice and Howard had created a careful budget with their combined and equal salaries, determining that they’d be able to marry in two years time.  However, with this will, Howard insists on marrying Betty and simply divorcing her a year later to keep the money.  Betty pretends to be on board with this plan until after “I do,” when she dramatically informs Janice that she intends to keep Howard.  Janice is heartbroken.

Despondent, Janice takes the bus and walks home in the rain, and is pleasantly surprised when a stranger from the bus offers to share his umbrella.  She discovers they are neighbors, and then her new friend, Van Emerson, admits that he’s in trouble at his new job.  His employer only hires married men, so Van lied about the existence of a Mrs. Emerson to get the job.  Now, Van’s new boss’ wife wants to pay a social call to Mrs. Emerson, and I think everyone can see where this is going… a second marriage of convenience!

The title for The Ring Cost a Dime comes from Janice buying a ring at a dime store to pass off as her wedding ring.  When the wife of Van’s boss pays Janice a house call, she comments that it is strange Janice doesn’t have a ring.  Janice says it’s getting resized and wears her dime ring to a company party.  Later on in the story, Van produces a more suitable ring.

Even though it’s a sham marriage, Van immediately insists on providing Janice with a weekly allowance of $50 ($5 more than what her job pays), pays her rent, makes her the beneficiary of all his accounts, and gives her a key to his apartment.  “All good wives should have keys to their husbands’ apartments” (142).  So starts the married life of Janice and Van.  They settle into a happy routine of sharing meals and evenings together in peaceful companionship.  Meanwhile, over at Howard and Betty’s, Betty is renovating the oppressive Dorian family mansion while Howard continues to insist that everything will work out all right with him and Janice in the end.

Along the way, Van declares his feelings for Janice, which she doesn’t immediately reciprocate because of Howard.  They have a falling out period, but reunite at the end of the story when Van agrees to visit Janice’s family with her in her small hometown for Christmas.  As soon as Van and Janice get their happy ending, a few paragraphs before the book ends, Van tells Janice to stop working.  “He turned his head quickly to look at her as if he expected resistance.  He got none.  ‘Yes, I’ll quit working, and be a real wife.'”  As a modern reader, this is a bit of a let down for me.

Just before returning Van’s love, Janice sends Howard a telegraph saying they’re through.  Betty had been finally willing to move forward with the divorce but now…?  There’s no resolution there, and it’s just as well.  The Ring Costs a Dime simultaneously uses marriages of convenience as a major plot element and lightly condemns such unions, warning that they may stick for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.

Announcement:  I’m participating in an online group exhibit with the Grolier Club this summer!  For the exhibit, I’ve shared three books, two of which haven’t been previously shared on this blog.  The New Members Collect 2020 exhibit can be found here.  Please check it out and as always, thanks for reading!

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Rob Eden’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Gramercy, Rob Eden | 3 Comments

Sally’s Shoulders

Sally ShouldersEarlier in the year, I wanted to kick off the Roaring Twenties in style.  I gravitated towards one of the books on my shelves with great flapper fringe dress cover art, Sally’s Shoulders by Beatrice Burton, published in 1927.

Part of my Beatrice Burton collection, this book was purchased in 2019 from Brian Cassidy a few months before he and Rebecca Romney founded Type Punch Matrix.  Speaking of, Type Punch Matrix released their first print catalog this spring, and I highly recommend taking a look at it here.

Sally’s Shoulders promises “a story of unjust burdens carried with a smile” and delivers just that!  What I read was just under 350 pages of Sally Jerome getting constantly dumped on.

At the start of the book, Sally lives with her mother, brother, and sister in a crowded flat. She takes care of all of the housekeeping (cleaning, cooking, sewing, etc.) and holds down a part-time job with Mr. Peevey, who is nearly exactly as he sounds.  Every member of the Jerome family is useless.  Sally’s brother and sister, who we’ll get to later, also work but are spendthrifts who rely on Sally to pay the rent and often bum funds off of her.  Sally’s father left the family when Sally was a child, because Sally’s mother did a poor job of keeping house.  Gosh forbid he learn to cook or clean.  Instead, he just up and left.

One exception I take to Burton’s characterization of the Jerome family is Sally’s mother.  Sally’s mother suffers from poor health, and sits around all day reading contemporary novels (e.g. Showboat by Edna Ferber).  It’s more or less stated in the book that Mrs. Jerome is either faking her symptoms, or would be cured if she only ate better and exercised more.  What a flaming heap of garbage!  I’m not a doctor, and Mrs. Jerome is a fictional character, but I know that many real people with chronic illnesses often hear this, and it’s bogus.  Mrs. Jerome could easily have a chronic illness, perhaps one that wasn’t easily diagnosed in 1927, and through that lens, her treatment in this novel isn’t entirely fair, even if she is a very manipulative character.

Beau Jerome, Sally’s good-for-nothing brother, has a storyline that illustrates some of what I found frustrating about this book.  He’s endlessly enabled by Sally and her mother.  One storyline involves Beau asking his neighbor for a $10 check, tampering it to be $110, and when confronted, writes the neighbor a check back for the $110, which bounces.  When the neighbor confronts Sally, she borrows the funds from her employer, which will take her about a year of garnished wages to pay off, and gives the money to Beau to return to the neighbor.  Beau promptly skips town with the funds, eloping with his girlfriend.  Later, he steals and gambles away $1,000 from the bank where he works (Sally asks, “One grand?  How much is that?” – it was still a relatively new idiom) and Sally goes back to the same employer to get those funds for him to replace before it’s noticed.  The employer gifts her the funds, and that storyline magically drops.  Then Beau begins running around with other women, after his wife Mabel gets an office job to pay for things and get out of the home.  Sally is left to care for their baby.  This storyline ends in the so-called sensible aunt advising Mabel, “You never should have worked a day in an office after you became Beau’s wife.  You should have become a clinging vine – a very clinging vine.  You should have thrown all the responsibility on Beau” (329).  His storyline is resolved with the implication it’s now Mabel’s responsibility to make Beau honest, and that by cleaning their home and not working, she’ll accomplish this.  Yeah, right.

Sally’s sister, Millie, snaps up the love interest of the story that Sally had been mooning over since page ten.  She picks up a few gentlemen suitors and attempts to play them all off of each other, which eventually backfires.  Her story wraps up when she writes that she’s married a rich man from Buenos Aires, and could she please have the family silver?

Sally’s dancing skills are a minor aspect of the story for about the first 200 pages.  Leading up to that, Aunt Emily launches a restaurant business out of her home and Sally begins to work for her.  The restaurant more or less has a tumbleweed rolling through it and is about to go out of business when Sally’s neighbor friend recommends she dances.  She does, and business begins booming.  Her family responds by moving into the inn uninvited and bumming even more money off of her, all while shaming her for dancing in public.

The rejected suitor role in Sally’s Shoulders is Ted, Sally’s neighbor friend who continually hits on her and doesn’t take no for an answer.  He first proposes when Sally is working in the kitchen, and more or less says that he wants her to clean his kitchen instead.  Ted is often handsy with unwanted advances.  The final time Sally rejects his offer of marriage, she lets him have it, but not in a way I would have found cathartic after 300-plus pages of his nonsense.  She calls him out because he would want her to continue to work and earn an income.  “It was all YOUR idea that you’d marry me and give me two jobs instead of one!  No thanks!  When I get married I expect to work hard at my own job of being a wife and raising a family – and I expect a man who’ll see things the way I do…  I still want to be the old-fashioned kind of woman who makes pies, scrubs floors on her knees, and goes to market pushing a baby carriage” (321-322).

Sally’s supposed love interest, John Nye, has spent most of the book dating Millie.  He doesn’t have many interesting qualities about him, but he’s rich, tall, and good-looking, so he’s the prize of the novel.  One of his first demonstrated acts of interest in Sally is when he literally shakes her and scolds her for dancing in public.

In the final hundred pages of Sally’s Shoulders, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about Sally dancing in public.  Sally enjoys dancing, she’s good at it, and it saves her aunt’s business from certain ruin.  That doesn’t stop her from getting dragged through the mud for it, with one of her suitors (the one who told her to dance in the first place! what nerve!) that men watching her dance is, “like flies crawling all over you, somehow” (314).  It’s finally concluded that Sally’s dancing has transformed the business, the one literally named “The House by the Side of the Road” into a roadhouse, which is unacceptable.  After catching on that their patrons are breaking prohibition laws, Aunt Emily cracks down on her patrons, fires the band, and closes her business.

Finally, John Nye comes around and sweeps Sally off of her feet.  It’s rather sudden, and is supposed to be our happy ending.  However, considering that Sally is still giving her family all of her money and hasn’t established any personal boundaries with them, the happy ending rings hollow.  John Nye has plenty of money, sure, but the reader is left with the feeling that his fortune will be squandered away by the extended Jerome family.

I started this book for the cover art, but stayed with it for its prohibition side-narrative and frustrating views on female performance and the male gaze. I’m glad I have Sally’s Shoulders in my collection, and I’m glad I’ve read it.

Copies of Beatrice Burton’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, Beatrice Burton, Grosset and Dunlap | 1 Comment

Determining Editions: The Flapper Wife

The Flapper Wife by Beatrice Burton
Back in February, in what feels like a different lifetime, I began thinking more about my copy of The Flapper Wife by Beatrice Burton.  I had been reading a different Burton title, which I really ought to review on this blog soon, and I had thought it suspect that the 1927 book I was reading was listed on the back panel of the dust jacket of my so-called 1925 copy of The Flapper Wife.

Here’s the thing about my copy of The Flapper Wife:  based on the copyright page alone, it appears to be a first edition.  The copyright lists 1925, and no additional printings.

I did some digging, back when things were still open.  My goal was to construct a mini-census of copies of The Flapper Wife to see how many variant printings I could find, all with identical copyright pages.  I reached out to a handful of special collections libraries with The Flapper Wife, and some wrote back.  Thank you, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and Cornell!  However, I found that I had better luck finding dust jacketed copies of The Flapper Wife through booksellers.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned.  (And please excuse any wonky formatting!)


Courtesy of Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc., New Jersey

This is Variant A.  It’s the true first edition of The Flapper Wife.


This is Variant B, my copy of The Flapper Wife.  It’s a reprint.  Based on the titles listed and other books in my collection with the same panel, my best guess is that this reprint is from late 1927 or 1928.


Courtesy of Princeton Antiques Bookshop

This is Variant C.  Again, my best guess based on titles listed and books in my collection with this same panel design would place this reprint around 1929.

That confirms it.  My copy of The Flapper Wife is definitely a reprint.  While the completist, perfectionist side of me is disappointed, I still think I have a great copy.  It’s in fantastic condition and has a really cool bookseller sticker from P.O. News Stand in Montana, as found in Dingman, pg. 65.  I even located the original owner in the census!  And if that’s not good enough for me, then it’s fair to say that I got what I paid for back in 2011.


Even if I’m happy with my reprint copy of The Flapper Wife, let this also be a cautionary tale to us collectors, librarians, booksellers, or other interested parties out there.  All editions of The Flapper Wife have an identical copyright page, no matter the printing.  Buyer beware!  I recommend asking for a picture of the back panel of the dust jacket before assuming a copy of The Flapper Wife is actually a first edition.

Now we know there are at least three variants of The Flapper Wife “out there.”  If anyone reading this (collectors, institutions, booksellers, etc.) has a dust jacketed copy of The Flapper Wife, please let me know if your dust jacket’s back panel is different from the three pictured above, or just give a shout out to which edition you have.  I’d be very interested to hear about it.

And of course, I owe a big thank you to Between the Covers – Rare Books Inc., ABAA and to Princeton Antiques Bookshop for helping me with this post.  Both booksellers promptly responded to my research inquiry and have graciously provided the images shown above.   Thank you again!

Posted in 1920s, Beatrice Burton, Grosset and Dunlap | 4 Comments

Party Girl

Party GirlOh, Party Girl.  Come for the silly title, stay for the (unsatisfying) discussion of double standards and the modern women’s experience.  Also, for those of us who like Midwestern settings, Party Girl takes place in Terre Haute, Indiana!

Party Girl: a Love Story is a Chelsea House publication.  Chelsea House printed many excellent fiction works, usually subtitled, “An Adventure Story,” or “A Detective Story,” or “A Love Story,” or “A Western Story.”  Since I collect romance novels, I look for the “A Love Story” titles exclusively, and I’ve found them to be more difficult to locate than the Grosset and Dunlap first edition fiction.  A grand total of one library lists this book in OCLC.  Like the Grosset and Dunlap titles, many of the Chelsea House novels have been serially published.  The copyright page of Party Girl only mentions “1929,” but after a little big of digging, I’ve found that the wonderful FictionMags Index Family lists that Party Girl was serially published in the pulp Love Story Magazine (Street & Smith Corporation) starting in v. 67 #1, dated September 28, 1929, weeks before the stock market crashed.  The index also mentions that “Vivian Grey” is a pseudonym for Harry Walter Anderson, although I haven’t been able to find evidence of that in the Library of Congress Name Authority Records.

The basic premise of Party Girl is that Carol “Melody” Sprague returns home late one night with Kent Mayburn, is refused entrance to her home by her father who is sick of her late night adventures, then Kent Mayburn pronounces that he could never marry a “party girl,” and Melody is left to pick up the pieces.  When she’s refused entrance at home, Melody assumes her beau Kent will marry her immediately, which leads to a painfully awkward interchange.  But no, Kent, who has been out with Melody many late nights, and kissed her many times, declares he’s looking for “the right sort of girl – an old-fashioned girl.”  He rejects Melody because he’s already enjoyed her company, but considers “sweet and shy and never been kissed” to be marriage material.  Kent is the worst.

For any readers wondering what Melody’s “party girl” offenses include, the book does list them!  See if any sound familiar to you… I won’t judge (shame):  “She had been gay, perhaps too gay.  She had danced and flirted, laughed at jokes that perhaps would have been better blushed at.  She had been daring.  She had been the first one to slip out of her dress at Lila Longstreth’s party and dive into the pool in moonlight…  Hers had been the first legs to go stockingless in her crowd.  Her sports dresses were always a bit shorter and more extreme than any of the other girls, and her evening dresses a bit longer and more exotic” (33).

Thoroughly without options, Melody spends one heartbroken night at Kent’s apartment while he goes to a hotel, and then she temporarily moves in with Willie Estabrook.  Willie is a girl-friend of Melody’s who benefitted extensively from Melody’s generosity while she was securing the affections of her husband Tommy, and not to mention his family’s fortune.  Willie has a cold personality and is a minor villain of the book, which I don’t feel is entirely fair.  Sure, she’s not the warmest, most supportive friend, but who wouldn’t be a little exasperated at the house guest who overstays her welcome?  Melody stays at Willie’s for about three weeks without making plans to leave, racks up a huge shopping debt her father refuses, causing creditors to call the Estabrook home, and she also catches the eye of Willie’s brother-in-law, Broddy.  When Willie finally turns Melody out, granted on short notice, Melody reacts by telling Willie they were never really friends to begin with.  Ouch.

During this time, Kent dates and becomes engaged to Agatha, who is several years younger than Melody and presumably more innocent.  Most of the novel is a rehashing of Melody being unable to go home, being heartbroken over Kent, being jealous of Agatha, and then dodging Broddy’s advances.  However, trouble is clearly ahead when one character says of Agatha, “Still water runs deep, baby, and there’s a whole lot of mud at the bottom of it” (129).  It turns out that Agatha had been cheating on Kent with a man twenty years older than her, and asks Melody to take the fall for it when Kent discovers them together.  The truth eventually comes out and Kent and Melody get their happily ever after, but the whole Agatha story line feels like a cop out to me.

At one point, Melody asks her friend Willie, “What’s wrong with me?  I haven’t done anything that the rest of you haven’t done a dozen times” (145).  In a story about double standards and whether or not an experienced man wants a “sweet and shy and never been kissed” wife, it’s a dodge that the character who is supposed to be that role in fact isn’t.  As a 2019 reader, I wanted Kent to realize he loved Melody because he loved Melody, not because Agatha’s a cheater.  Do we get that ending?  Yes and no.  The first time Kent returns to Melody he says to her, “You’re out and aboveboard with everything.  You have kissed more of the fellows than I like to know you have, but it’s out where every one’s seen it.  You haven’t gone to their apartments,” (194-195) and she turns him away.  The time that sticks, Kent instead declares, “I just thought that I wanted that kind of girl [meaning Agatha], but I didn’t… I do know what I want.  I want you and I must have you”  (220).

So, does Kent have his happily ever after with Melody because he’s seen the error of his ways, or because she’s a “good girl” after all, or somewhere in-between?  For 1929, the ambiguity will have to be good enough.  Oh, and Melody’s father also takes her back to complete her happy ending.

Bonus:  It seems worth noting that the male lead character names really threw me off in Party Girl, as they’re nearly identical to Blind Date by Vida Hurst.  In Blind Date, the lead romantic interest is Kenton and the other suitor is Roddy.  At one point in both books (B)roddy even offers to pay off a debt that the main character acquired from an unwise shopping binge.  What book is this again?

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other books published by Chelsea House are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, Chelsea House, Vivian Grey | 1 Comment

Triplicate Cover Art – and an Announcement!

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Sometimes when I buy a book, I have already seen a picture of it and know what I’m getting.  Other times, if the book is described as being in very good condition or better, I’ll buy it “blind” and hope for a great surprise when it arrives.  When I bought Glittering Girl, it was the first time I had ever seen the American edition in dust jacket available for sale and I bought it “blind” hoping for a really unique cover.  That didn’t happen.

And so, I present, not duplicate covers, but triplicate covers.  Better yet, two of these books are written by May Christie.  She wrote a different book only to land the same cover art she had half a dozen years previously.  Love’s Ecstasy was published in 1928, and Glittering Girl was published in 1934, the same year as this edition of Emilie Loring’s With Banners.  Three books, same Skrenda cover art girl.

Next, I have an exciting announcement to make:  tomorrow, Saturday, August 11th, I will be a guest on Rare Book Cafe’s Facebook livestream.  Rare Book Cafe starts at 2:30 EST and lasts for about an hour, and will be available on replay after that.  We’ll be talking anything and everything about 1920s-1930s romance novels as well as book collecting in general.  It should be a fun show, and I hope some blog readers will be able to tune in!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Substitute Sweetheart

Substitute Sweetheart by Priscilla Wayne“Suppose you loved a man with all your heart and he, while terribly ill wanted you to marry him, thinking you were another girl – Would you do it?”

That is the totally ridiculous question that leads the front panel summary of Substitute Sweetheart by Priscilla Wayne a.k.a. Besse Toulouse Sprague.  I mean, who hasn’t been in that very situation?

Substitute Sweetheart was published in 1936 by John H. Hopkins & Son, Inc.  It opens with a fashionable woman sitting on a plane and then explains how she got there through a flashback.  The C.L.W. dust jacket art depicts our protagonist, Ruth Drayton, at the airport and in her new coat purchased for the trip ahead.  My guess is that C.L.W. stands for Charles L. Wrenn, who illustrated other dust jackets for Hopkins around this time.

Ruth Drayton lives in Iowa and works as a clerk at a department store when one day, two strangers offer her employment that seems too good to be true.  This isn’t the first novel reviewed on this blog where the heroine is offered a gig that pays suspiciously well with all expenses covered – and new outfits – for just the teensy task of pretending to be someone else and executing some kind of manipulative plan.  Joseph and Clara Bradley will pay Ruth $500 dollars a week (according to an inflation calculator, that’s nearly $9k in 2018 currency) if she travels with them to Chicago and pretends to be the step-sister of a man who was recently in a car accident.  His real step-sister is “in quarantine,” because that’s not suspicious at all.  Like what happened in Blond Trouble, our protagonist accepts this shady proposition and then feels really good about her choices based on her new wardrobe.

Ruth’s actual brother Jerry scolds her over the phone not to take the job, but of course she does because otherwise Substitute Sweetheart wouldn’t be much a a story.  When she gets there, the job is sketchier than even Jerry could have imagined.  Joseph and Clara Bradley are criminals (and it’s revealed Clara Bradley once shot a dog for ruining her dress!) who have blackmailed a doctor into slowly poisoning their nephew in a plot to take his money since the hit-man they hired to drive him off the road didn’t kill him.  The Bradleys keep Ruth locked up and monitor her every move.  Their hired man accomplice, Pascoe, is incredibly creepy, like shudder-worthy creepy.

Jerry tracks the Bradleys down just as the blackmailed doctor gets cold feet about the plot, and there is a spectacular scene at the Bradley mansion where Joseph Bradley shoots the doctor, Ruth finally is able to phone the police, Pascoe disappears, and the Bradleys kidnap Jerry.  The whole last fifth of Substitute Sweetheart is the plot’s resolution.  Jerry saves the day all the way out in a remote Colorado cabin, and Pascoe and the Bradleys are finally brought to justice while Ruth quickly clears her name back in Chicago.

Pascoe’s unwanted affection towards Ruth isn’t the only sordid part of this love story.  There’s the attempted murder scheme that makes up this novel’s plot, but there’s also the love interest, Jim Bradley.  He doesn’t do much of anything for the span of the novel although to be fair, he’s also bedridden, temporarily blinded, and poisoned.  I find it unsettling that he’s attracted to his step-sibling’s doppleganger, even though the book mentions by page sixteen that they’re not actually related.  Jim claims at the end of the novel that he quickly knew Ruth wasn’t the real June, but she was similar enough to pass for June among the Bradley family inner circle.  To make it even worse, the real June emerges at the end of the story… to be picked up by Ruth’s brother.  What’s with these guys?

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Priscilla Wayne’s works are available for purchase here.

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Evolution of the Sparkling Romances of The Modern Girl

Sparking Romances of the Modern Girl 1930s Dust Jackets2018 is now in full swing.  In late January I wrapped up my commitments to my regional Mock Newbery and Caldecott committees (and introduced a book for Newbery!) and February kicked off a regional Teen Literature Reading Challenge that I join every year in the hopes of out-reading friendly rivals.  On top of that, I’m still not fully happy with my latest book review.  Instead of further editing that post (it’s coming eventually, I swear) or launching into the Teen Lit Reading Challenge, I decided to embark on a larger project involving all Grosset and Dunlap first edition romances.  Who else has ever done something super useful while putting off another thing?1930s Romance Novel DJs

Earlier tonight, I started pulling books from my shelves to photograph the advertisements for the Grosset and Dunlap project.  At first, I was just looking for the cleanest example of each advertising panel but then I started noticing patterns.  Before tonight, I assumed whatever advertising panel was on the back of my book was random or from a very loose era at best and never paid close attention to it.  That was a mistake.  It turns out, each year roughly corresponds to a separate advertising panel.

The photo at the top of this post is in chronological order with 1929 on the left and 1934 on the right.

Each year has its own advertising panel design for the Grosset and Dunlap romances.  The titles advertised sometimes change throughout the year, but the overall design remains the same.  Also, I’m finding a few straggler titles per year with the old design of the previous year.  For example, the 1931 design does have a few 1932 published titles.  The 1933 photographic design appears to be short-lived, as the final design on the right is a mixture of 1933 and 1934 publications.

Before these shared panels rolled out, my 1929 and earlier Grosset and Dunlap titles have either an author feature advertisement on the back (e.g Beatrice Burton, Vida Hurst, May Christie) or a unique panel.  A few of those authors, like Beatrice Burton, were more likely to continue to have her own advertising panel into the era of the “Sparkling Romance of the Modern Girl” dust jackets.  Around 1934, as the Grosset and Dunlap first edition romances began their sunset, a few were produced with photographic panels displaying characters in a dramatic pose from the novel.

So readers, now we know.  Tonight I learned a new party trick:  how to tell with reasonable accuracy what year a Grosset and Dunlap title was published just by looking at the rear panel of the dust jacket.  Higher quality photos of the dust jackets will have to wait until I roll out my larger project.  This is, after all, a work night.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksSee if the dust jacket advertising panel pattern matches more examples!  Copies of 1929-1934 Grosset and Dunlap romance novels are available here.

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