Elsie’s New Relations (Martha Finley, 1888)

So this was a book. I’ve considered reading it for years as it has a very attractive cover, with flower designs and gilt lettering. And it turned out to be this all along.

It’s overtly Christian and leans heavy on the moralizing. In modern terms, it would probably be classed as a young adult novel. And it’s about child brides. Several of them. And it very much uses the term “child bride” and sees nothing wrong with it.

First, there’s Zoe and her husband Edward, who she dropped out of grade school to marry. As a consequence, Edward is tutoring Zoe — or as he charmingly calls her, his “little girl wife” — so that she might someday be intellectually capable of talking to him, but Zoe is a willful child and must first be taught submission and obedience.

Second is Violet, who has just become the second wife of Captain Raymond, a man who has children her own age. Son Max is rather smitten by Mamma Vi himself. Lulu, the difficult middle child, also needs to learn to submit and be obedient.

After the Captain ships-out, they all leave for their ancestral home Ion, a southern plantation, replete with either slaves or essentially-slaves (“lazy niggahs” to quote the book) that speak in a dialect so thick it’s challenging to read. Grandma Elsie of the title turns out to have also been a child bride married off to her father’s friend, an adult when she was born and who knew her all her life. And it’s she who does the teaching.

This was, undoubtedly, the most disturbing book I’ve read in a very long while.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “Private Library of Bernice Claire Bassett, Vol. No. 10”. On the facing flyleaf, “From Pearl, 1903”. You have my sympathies, Bernice.

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The Last of the Plainsmen (Zane Grey, 1908)

Not exactly a biography of Buffalo Jones, the conservationist credited with saving the bison from extinction, although it is in a sideways manner. The book is an account of Zane Grey going to Arizona to meet Jones, the travails it took to get there, and what he saw in and around the Grand Canyon area catching cougars. Jones isn’t the focus but is present on every page and the story of his life seeps in through the travel narrative.

Truxton King (George Barr McCutcheon, 1909)

Truxton King, son of an American steel tycoon, travels the world in search of adventure. He finds it in the tiny Eastern European principality of Graustark. This is one of many sequels to Graustark. I’ve already read one of them, The Prince of Graustark. That was a very light romance novel and I expected this to be one as well, but no, it’s rather dark and political.

Robin, the prince, is only seven years old, he having ascended the throne after his parents died in a train wreck. He has regents, but his primary guide is John Tullis, an American who was his father’s closest friend. Graustark has embarked on a rail project that would link Russia to Afghanistan. Russia is eager to invest — indeed, they’re eager to take a controlling share of the company, and it’s for that reason that Tullis maintains it would be wise for Graustark to seek more friendly investors in France and England.

Truxton has been smitten by the armorer’s niece, who he’s sure is a noblewoman in disguise. She was, at least, a gentlewoman in former times, but now she’s a member of the Committee of Ten, who aim to start a Bolshevik revolution in Graustark. Taking him for a spy, Truxton is captured and threatened with execution. Meanwhile, the disgraced and exiled Count Marlanx plots to install himself on the throne by kidnapping Tullis’s sister and leading away a large part of Graustark’s army on a wild goose chase in the mountains, leaving the city virtually undefended.

Truxton and Loraine (the sister) find themselves in the same holding cell in the Committee of Ten’s underground bunker — Marlanx is using them for his own aims by claiming to be a revolutionist himself. The two escape, but can they save little Prince Robin from assassination, Marlanx from capturing Graustark, and Russia from buying it out from under them?

Inscriptions: “~Papa~, From Clara May, Dec. 25, 1913”, on the front flyleaf. On page 19, someone who I can only assume is Clara May’s papa has written “E.N. Phinney -1913-” along the right margin.