Contemporary novels from the past

From Hollow Lands:

Unless they are set in an exotic location or exotic demographic, [writers of contemporary fiction] expect their audience to understand the culture that they share with the author. And, so, they often waste no breath on explaining the things that everyone knows. They just get on with the story.

Still, time does pass, and the settings of such books do grow distant and unknown from their latest readers. Part of the appeal of these works for modern readers lies in their matter-of-fact portrayal of a different time in the ancestry of the current culture.

The picture above shows a camping trip in 1920. There was quite a fashion for these in the early years of the family automobile. Farmers from the mid-West could now take their families safely and conveniently on a multi-week vacation, participating in one of the luxuries that was previously unaffordable for them, educating the mind by seeing other places, and glorying in the exercise and fresh air that are everyone’s right.

How do I, specifically, know this? Why, I read about it, in Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1925 novel: The Keeper of the Bees.

The same exact vehicle is featured in some of the early scenes (our desperate hero is given a ride by a kind family on vacation). She describes its numerous conveniences as we would the latest high-tech camping gear. Even the fashionable pageboy haircut sported by the young girl on the left is part of the persona of another major character who could be the very same child.

Stratton-Porter‘s best known work is Freckles (ignore the execrable & worthless movies), and she has several others. They were aimed at an adult audience, of course, but have survived in popularity as part of that cultural-core of wholesome books suitable for an adolescent readership in my own childhood, like the dog-focused novels of Albert Payson Terhune.

What you may not know is that she was as popular in her day as J. K. Rowling is today.

Only 55 books published between 1895 and 1945 sold upwards of one million copies. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote five of those books—far more than any other author of her time.

Link to the rest with more information at Hollow Lands. If you have problems with this link to the post, go to the Main Page and work your way through the blog section to November, 2021.

3 thoughts on “Contemporary novels from the past”

  1. Keeper of the Bees was my mother’s all-time favorite book. I read it in my teens, which means early ’60s and liked it, although I couldn’t say it was a favorite. Albert Payson Terhune’s books were favorites.

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