Lena Rivers (Mary J. Holmes, 1856)

When she was still quite young, Lena’s father disappeared, and not many years thereafter, her mother died. Lena and her grandmother leave their Massachusetts home for Kentucky. Her cousin — grandmother’s son — married a wealthy southern woman, who is quite prideful and meets these poor Yankee relations with open hostility. Mrs. Livingstone takes a particular aversion to Lena, for she’s a beautiful girl, and unsophisticated as she may be, charming and intelligent as well. In other words, she threatens to draw attention away from her own daughters, whom she fully intends to make the most advantageous matches.

And it seems Mrs. Livingstone’s fears are founded. The man she has fixed upon for marrying Carrie, Durward Bellmont, plainly shows more attraction to Lena. Mrs. Livingstone begins a program of lies and schemes to undermine Lena’s reputation and scare-off Durward. She’s helped by the suspicious actions of Durward’s step-father, Mr. Graham, who shows an uncommon attention to Lena and who is discovered to secretly have a daguerreotype of her.

The daguerreotype, it turns out, is actually of Lena’s mother. Mr. Graham — Mr. Harry Rivers Graham — is, of course, Lena’s father. He believed that both his first wife and daughter were dead and had no idea that he was half wrong until Lena showed up in Kentucky. Cowardice in the face of his second wife, who’s even more prideful and overbearing than Mrs. Livingstone, kept him quiet for a time, but at last he confesses.  Durward, undeceived of Mrs. Livingstone’s gossip, marries Lena.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “P(h)… L.in…(f)ish, from Mamma. (1910).” The name hasn’t been erased so much as it’s been gouged out. I can still read a few letters and can guess at a couple others, but there’s no chance of deciphering more.

That Printer of Udell’s (Harold Bell Wright, 1903)

In short, a tramp printer wanders into a western city in search of work, finds it, becomes involved with a church youth group that intends to build a homeless shelter, then builds it. He also falls in love with the daughter of one of the city’s most prominent businessmen (supposedly). Father disowns her for it, but relents (sort-of, maybe) when he learns of his Good Son’s secret proclivities for gamblin’, drinkin’, stealin’, and whorein’.

Now repeat that three times with minor variation at each iteration. This book reads like three separate rough drafts that, rather than being rewritten into a cohesive whole, were simply cut-up and stitched together — never mind how they repeated or contradicted themselves. Plot lines are begun and built upon, only to be suddenly dropped, then dozens or even hundreds of pages later, not so much picked back up again but restarted entirely, with the details just different enough that it doesn’t quite mesh. The tone and characterization varies wildly from chapter to chapter, and towards the end, from paragraph to paragraph. Bits of new backstory are pulled out of thin air seemly as the author (or editor, I suspect) found himself in a corner. The last five chapters are positively frantic in their attempt to find some way — however absurd — to tie up all the loose ends.

Also, Dick… one issue about your plan for curing the city’s homeless problem… you’re proposing to enslave the homeless. Couch it in all the Jesus-speak you like, you are suggesting that your church youth group make slaves of the homeless.

And this Adam Goodrich… he’s the proprietor of a hardware store. It’s a respectable job, don’t get me wrong, but why are all of you acting like he’s the emperor of the universe? It’s not a one-horse town — you’ve got factories and mills and banks that all have owners. They’re the local aristocracy. But you’re not even claiming he’s just a local big man — you seem to think his reach spans from San Francisco to New York to London.

(Edit) Oh, I almost forgot: Whitley… trying to kill someone, then getting yourself killed with your own knife, then capping it off by announcing “you have killed me”… you’re not Laertes, man; don’t do that.

Inscription: “Vera J. Alesen Vera J. Alesen 30 laflin St. No Lebon, Mass” (sic, sic, sic, and sic), on the front endpaper. On the flyleaf, “V J A”. “From J.W.R.” was beneath it, but it’s been erased.

Leila; or, the Siege of Granada (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1838)

In Moorish Granada, Almamen is King Boabdil’s trusted adviser, but unknown to Boabdil, Almamen is a Jew. He is secretly plotting to deliver the city to King Ferdinand, who has promised equality to the Jews of Spain. Ferdinand takes Almamen’s daughter Leila hostage as guarantee of Almamen’s end of the bargain, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Christians will treat the Jews no better than the Muslims had and that Ferdinand has already reneged on the agreement. Almamen switches sides back to the Moors, through whom he hopes to recover his daughter, but Boabdil is fated to lose against Ferdinand. Leila, in captivity, has converted to Christianity. When Almamen at last discovers her and learns of her conversion, he kills her. Hated by the Christians, the Muslims, and his fellow Jews who blame him for the worsening of their already poor condition in Spain, he’s literally torn apart.

Inscription: a plate on the inside front cover says that the book was donated by John Manch to the Manch College of Music on November 23rd, 1926. Manch donated a complete set of Bulwer-Lytton, which is still intact and which I now own.

Friar Tuck (Robert Alexander Wason, 1912)

An idealistic preacher travels west to escape from the memory of the girl he lost. As fate would have it, he finds Janet in the custody of Ty Jones, an unscrupulous rancher. She appears to have amnesia and it’s not clear how she came to be there, but the word is that Ty has taken her for a wife. After a shootout in which Ty is paralyzed, he confesses that she’s actually his half-sister and he kidnapped her in revenge for their mother keeping her and abandoning him. Janet’s amnesia was caused by a brain tumor. Once the pressure on her brain is relieved, her memory returns and she and the Friar marry.

Inscriptions: Two sentence fragments have been underlined for reasons I can’t fathom. Underlined on page 32 is “The’ was somethin’ peculiar about the Friar’s grin when he first sighted Columbus, and”, and around a dozen lines later on page 33, “So that’s what we made up to do;”. Apart from that, there are no other markings on the book.