Friday, January 8, 2016

Stories by American Authors, Volume IX by Thomas Nelson Page, et al.

Nothing to write home about
Thomas Nelson Page
This is the ninth volume in the Stories by American Authors series published by Charles Scribner’s Sons from 1884 to 1885. I haven’t been pleased with the series as a whole, though I’m toughing it out until the end in hopes of uncovering the occasional buried treasure. While Scribner’s Stories by Foreign Authors and Stories by English Authors series feature some of the world’s greatest authors, it seems the American series was primarily conceived as a dumping ground for a host of unknowns who weren’t worthy of their own solo collections. Needless to say, I approached Volume IX with low expectations.

The best entry in the book, simply by the process of elimination, is its opening selection, Thomas Nelson Page’s “Marse Chan: A Tale of Old Virginia.” It’s a Civil War-era love story of a young plantation master and his steadfast devotion to a Southern belle from the neighboring estate. Narrated by a former servant of the hero, the story is transcribed in a heavy Southern black accent, like what you might find in some of the works of Mark Twain or Charles W. Chesnutt. For its day, it’s not overtly racist, and it makes for an engaging tale, if a bit predictable.

Nothing else in the collection really satisfies. “Mr. Bixby’s Christmas Visitor” by Charles S. Page is an attempt at an Edgar Allen Poe-style tale of the macabre, but ends up coming across as merely foolish. “Eli” by C. H. White is a New England courtroom drama that doesn’t make much sense from a legal standpoint, and the bank robbery around which it’s centered makes for a terrible mystery. “Young Strong of ‘The Clarion’” by Milicent Washburn Shinn shows some promise at first. In a small town in California the shifty local judge and the young newspaper editor find themselves at odds over the hiring of a new schoolteacher. Of course, a love story develops between the newspaper man and the school marm, leading the two to analyze the nature of love in tedious, poetic dialogue that no two actual human beings would ever utter. “How Old Wiggins Wore Ship” by Captain Ronald T. Coffin is an adequate seafaring yarn, penned in a thick sea-dog patois. Heavy on the nautical jargon, it’s plot is primarily concerned with the raising and lowering of sails. In the final selection, Leonard Kip’s “—mas Has Come,” a city slicker falls in love with the daughter of a lighthouse keeper on a remote stretch of coast. Though it strives to be clever, it ends with a predictable punchline that inspires groans of annoyance. The narrator/leading man, so likeable for most of the story, ends up looking like a boob in the end.

This is almost the worst volume in a very mediocre series (Volume II just barely wins that dubious distinction). There’s nothing offensively terrible here, but nothing worth spending your time on either. With one volume left in the series, I’m hoping it will end with a bang rather than a whimper, but if this penultimate volume is any indication, I won’t hold out much hope.

Stories in this collection
Marse Chan by Thomas Nelson Page 
Mr. Bixby’s Christmas Visitor by Charles S. Gage 
Eli by C. H. White 
Young Strong of “The Clarion” by Milicent Washburn Shinn 
How Old Wiggins Wore Ship by Captain Roland T. Coffin 
“—mas Has Come” by Leonard Kip

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