dear child! Is it possible that you have never seen or read
of the wheel?
wheel? What wheel?
bicycle thenthe machine on wheels, that goes faster
than the horse.
bah! I have heard of people who put the cart before the horse,
and so you are one of them. I shall like to see the wheels
go ahead offaster than the horse, sir! Vic laughs
takes the lieutenant some time to explain to this untutored
mind the mechanism of the bicycle, and when at last she seems
to comprehend she can talk of nothing else.
perfectly splendid! she cries. It must be next
to flying. . . .
L. Lynch, Under Fates Wheel: A story of mystery,
love, and the bicycle, (Ward, Lock, and Bowden, 1900).
the late nineteenth century, women could often be found sitting
primly around the house in whalebone corsets, determined that
their waist size not exceed their age at marriage.
the bicycle came on the scene in the 1880s, it was a liberating
vehicle for women, who were suddenly encouraged to get more
fresh air and exercise. And so they put on their bloomers, hiked
up their skirts, and gamely pedaled away, as is recounted in
a cluster of bicycle stories in magazines and popular
womens literature of that era.
are stories about freedom, getting out and seeing things, having
adventures, says Associate Professor of English Catherine
Nickerson, who discovered the stories while serving as a consultant
on an Emory Women Writers Resource Project on novels written
by women near the turn of the twentieth century.
came bicycle backlash.
were afraid women who bicycled would fall in with the wrong
crowd, make themselves vulnerable by being so far away from
the house, and might even be raped, Nickerson says.
like Under Fates Wheel (1900), a romance-mystery
by Lawrence L. Lynchthe pseudonym of Emma Murdoch Van
Deventerreflect this ambiguity by glorifying the new-fangled
vehicle even while including cautionary warnings against it.
must know the Bike has struck the town, not numerously, but
with fervour, writes older brother in a letter. Do
you ride a bike, Sis? If you havent, dont. Ive
ridden bucking broncos, kicking mules, trotters, andrails,
and the bike can make you ridiculous in more languages, sore
in more places, and dismount you quicker than any animal that
lives. . . . I have ridden the two-wheeled, evilly disposed
demon for the first and last time!
bicycling to suffrage, womens issues of the day were reflected
in the popular literature, both in hardbound novels and paperbacks
(also called dime novels and yellowbacks.) The most
common genres were mystery, crime, and detective novels; wilderness
adventures and Westerns; and tales of suspense, seduction, and
Emory Women Writers Resource Project, in collaboration with
the Victorian Women Writers Project at the University of Indiana,
has been awarded a grant of $314,000 from the National Endowment
for the Humanities (NEH) to create an online database of about
330 of these American and British detective, crime, and romance
novels, authored by women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
database fits in well with the mission of the Women Writers
Resource Project, which began in 1995 to enable students to
create electronic editions of early literary works by women.
The project includes significant texts written by early African-American,
native American, abolitionist, and suffragette women, says Masse-Martin/NEH
Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Sheila T. Cavanagh
(below), the projects director.
and scholars from around the world now visit the site to access
material ranging from World War I poetry to the anonymous Memoir
of Elizabeth Jones, A Little Indian Girl, she says.
Robert W. Woodruff Library already had an impressive collection
of yellowbacks and dime novels, thanks to a few staff visionaries
who realized such novels would someday be rare as well as valued.
1960, librarian Marella Walker and Professor of English Harry
Rusche began a serious effort to collect yellowbacks. Ten years
later, Walker arranged to buy the Harold Mortlake Collection
of detective fiction. And in 1996, Emory received the Hugh Greene
Collection (1900 to 1914) and the Graham Greene-Dorothy Glover
Collection of Victorian Detective Fiction (1846 to 1900). In
total, the library has more than eight hundred American and
texts that we will be digitizing are hard for researchers to
find readily, Cavanagh says. By placing these novels
on the Web, we are making one of the strengths of our library
more visible while reducing potential wear on the books.
victims of their own success, many dime novels and yellowbacks
are fragile or in poor repair. In London, readers could rent
a yellowback at one train station and return it at another.
The cheapness of their mediuma feature that increased
their popularityfacilitates their destruction, Cavanagh
says. Many of these texts face imminent extinction.
to be included in the database span the decades from the Civil
War to World War I and are set against a backdrop of struggles
over slavery, womens suffrage, labor unions, urbanization
and industrialization, and changing roles between men and women.
database will create a portal for research that
allows scholars more efficient ways of analyzing the texts.
For example, if you want to see how many mentions are
made of Paris, you would just do a search, rather than flipping
through a thousand books, says Cavanagh.
on the project are the Woodruff Librarys Lewis H. Beck
Center for Electronic Collections and Services and the librarys
preservation and special collections staff. One of the
reasons we got the grant was that we were committed to preserving
the original books, says Charles D. Spornick (left), coordinator
of the Beck Center.
that have been selected by the projects editorial board
are converted to electronic data through a painstaking process.
First, they are placed in an elaborate wooden cradle with plexiglass
arms while they are photographed cover to cover (including inserts,
advertisements, and illustrations) with a $40,000, twelve-megapixel
digital camera. After the high-resolution images are converted
to text using Optical Character Recognition software, proofreading
and encoding typically takes an additional twenty hours per
(right), for one, cant wait for the database to be up
and accessible. I believe popular literature is vastly
under-examined by academics, she says, although
there has been a real change in this over the last fifteen years,
with a good body of scholarship emerging on womens popular
writings, all endeavoring to understand how women articulated
their experiences and lives at the time.
fiction by Danielle Steel or Mary Higgins Clark today, these
mass-produced novels were considered escapism as opposed to
were enormously popular and paid the usual price of this popularity:
to be regarded with suspicion by many stern moralists and to
be sneered at by the supercilious type of critic, says
Edmund Pearson in Dime Novels: Following an Old Trail in
Popular Literature. These were to be tales of dread
suspense; of the calm before the storm, but rather more of the
storm than of the calm. In their pages, . . . tons of gunpowder
was to be burned, human blood was to flow in rivers, and the
list of dead men was to mount to the sky.
their themes of murder and mayhem, many of the action-packed
novels that swept the country from the 1860s through the 1920s
were written by womenwomen writing under their married
name, their maiden name, their initials, male pseudonyms, a
stable of authors all writing under one name, or
one woman writing under different pseudonyms.
really changes the impression that womens writing was
all flowery and pretty, says Nickerson. There was
a lot of violence.
this graphic passage from Beatrice Heron-Maxwells The
Adventures of a Lady Pearl-Broker (New Century Press, 1899):
A woman was lying on the floor, her distorted purple face
bruised and bleeding, her eyes staring upward in mute and
desperate appeal. The lace ruffle around her neck at which
one of her hands was clutching convulsively, had been twisted
and strained with such force, that it looked like a narrow
ragged string on either side of which the flesh rose in two
below the roiling surface of the narratives, however, ran strong
undercurrents of social commentary.
works were maligned because of their melodrama, their purple
prose, their plot-driven narratives. Its not Proust,
says Nickerson. But why were these novels popular? Because
they struck a nerve. Women were right in the center of defining
what the issues of the day were, both in the U.S. and Britain.
This is a really valuable legacy of womens writing.
your ideal? demanded Patience.
of man, of course.
man! I havent thought much about men. I dont read
novels, like you do.
Sparhawk and Her Times, by Gertrude Atherton (John Lane, 1897).
may seem ironic that novels considered morally suspect
in their day and ignored by scholars for so long are now the
focus of such intense academic scrutiny. Even the titles seemed
to discourage serious scholarly discourse: Two Girls and
a Dream, The Devils Motor, At the Foot of the Rainbow,
A Womans Love Lesson.
wanted something that would grab their attention and keep them
from being bored, says Nickerson. These would be
the equivalent of airplane reads today.
stories were populated by orphaned young women with spunk, handsome
Yankee ranchers, mistresses of wealthy men, New York women of
fashion, well-known actresses, high-tempered queens of gambling
houses, dashing naval officers, spinster aunts, insistent suitors,
randy dukes, and haughty duchesses.
this kind of fiction theres a lot of interest in engaging
the reader with the characters, says Cavanagh. Writers
were far less concerned with realism than with whetting the
readers appetite for more.
wry sense of humor is apparent in many of the works as they
capture the lofty and occasionally contradictory demands made
of women of the time, while allowing them to transcend gender
barriers by taking on professions and roles usually occupied
question people frequently ask me, and other scholars of womens
popular novels, is Are they any good? says
Nickerson. I can only answer that I personally find these
novels satisfyingly complex . . . [and] sometimes hilarious
in their feminist wit.
Nickerson states in her scholarly work The Web of Inequity:
Early Detective Fiction by Women (1998), women writing around
the turn of the twentieth century formulated a style .
. . that drew on the moral force of the domestic novel and the
symbolic language of the gothic mode to critique the gender
and class politics of maturing capitalism.
best-selling novels, she writes, featured women learning about
corruption and transgression, looking below the placid
surface of things, and questioning appearances.
invisible machinations are apparent in titles such as The
Unseen Hand, Out from the Night, and Between the Lines.
Investigations and inquiries often take place in the domestic
sphere, signifying the centrality of home and family, but give
insight into the broader, male-dominated worlds of work and
and crime stories offer a great deal of information about peoples
fears and anxieties, threats to the social order, and proposed
or hoped-for solutions to these problems.
these fears take form as a haunted house, complete
with phantom screams, creaking doors, and ghostly intruders.
This device was used in The Mayors Wife (1907)
by Anna Katharine Green, a best-selling and prolific author
who wrote more than sixty detective novels. In it, the lady
of the house has been taken over by a mysterious illness after
seeing an apparition in the library:
was sitting reading . . . oh, I can not think of it without
a shudder!the page before me seemed to recede and the
words fade away in a blue mist; glancing up, I beheld the
outline of a form between me and the lamp . . . I was conscious
of no substance, and the eyes which met mine from that shadowy,
blood-curdling Something were those of the grave. . . . As
it burned into and through me, everything which had given
reality to my life faded and seemed as far away and unsubstantial
as a dream.
fact, the ghost has been manufactured by the mayors
wife, whoin a plotline that rivals any contemporary soap
operahas discovered that her abusive first husband is
not dead, as she thought, but is alive and working for her current
husband, the mayor. The fictional haunting becomes a metaphor
for a personal attachment she cant escape.
cast as heroines and villains, investigators and victims, are
central to these explorations of evil, morality, and justice,
genre captures the transition from Victorian to modern times,
as the fairer sex began asserting themselves politically,
socially, legally, emotionally, and artistically, she
says. Over the nineteenth century, the idea of what a
woman was got redefined.
contemporary women may discover they owe much to the fearless
young girl in Lynchs novel who set the wheels of
Fate in motion by running away from home to be a bicycle rider.
more information about the Emory Women Writers Resource Project,
go to http://chaucer.library.emory.edu/wwrp/.
To find out more about the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic
Collections and Services, go to http://chaucer.library.emory.edu/.