Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Adventurous Allens Final Thoughts

After I finished the fifth Adventurous Allens book, I felt traumatized and like I had dementia. It was agony forcing myself to read the final book. All five books are poorly written, but the first three are still pretty good stories in spite of that fact. The fourth and fifth books are very weak and difficult to get through. I skimmed parts of both books, especially the fifth book, since all I wanted by that point was to put an end to reading a series that I no longer enjoyed.

I searched the archives of the Girls' Series Group on Yahoo! Groups, and I was a bit horrified that years ago someone stated that Harriet Pyne Grove was a pseudonym of Mildred Wirt Benson. The writing of Harriet Pyne Grove is nowhere near the level of that of Mildred Wirt Benson. In fact, I suspect that Mildred Wirt Benson's practice writing from back when she was very young would have been much better than the books of Harriet Pyne Grove.

To make clear to anyone who is not aware of who wrote what in series fiction, Harriet Pyne Grove had no connection to Mildred Wirt Benson. All of the books written by Mildred Wirt Benson are listed on this page. Benson was one of the very best writers of juvenile series fiction, and all of her books are very good.

On a funny note, someone read one of Grove's books years ago (The S.P. Mystery, I believe) and thought it was so awful that he suggested an annual Harriet Pyne Grove Award for Mediocre Writing. Ha. That's actually a good idea. I nominate Roy J. Snell for the award since I have read just one of his books, Jane Withers and the Phantom Violin, which is an awful story.

I will probably never read another one of Harriet Pyne Grove's books after this experience. I have this idea that the Adventurous Allens series might be Grove's best work. The reason I think this is because someone took the Adventurous Allens series and edited the books into a two book series called Penny Allen, which I will review shortly. Wouldn't some of Grove's better books be chosen rather than some of her worst?

If the Adventurous Allens books are Grove's best, I cannot stomach the thought of reading her other books. Fortunately, I have held back from buying any other books by Grove due to a suspicion that the books might not be good. Some of the dust jackets are pretty, but I like to collect books that are good, not just books that have pretty artwork. As always, if anyone has read any of Grove's other books, I would love to read your opinion.

Does anyone wish to mention a series book that is so bad that it messes with your mind?

13 comments:

Lenora said...

The excerpts that you've posted have been so horrific--I'm really impressed that you made it all the way through. It's too sad, really, the plots seem decent, it's just that the execution is awful. Of course, the author may have been provided with a perfectly fine outline, on which she wreaked her own havoc.

Jennifer said...

I may be traumatized by Harriet Pyne Grove for days to come. She did have good plot ideas, but she had no idea what she was doing. She could not seem to come out and state events as an author should.

I always wonder about these authors. Who was Harriet Pyne Grove? Did she come up with the ideas? How did such an awful writer get published?

I didn't mention it in my recent posts, but Grove kept using the unnecessary quotation marks all the way through the series. It was so distracting.

I really did feel like I was losing my mind by the time I read the fifth book. The text is that muddled and incomprehensible at times.

Jenn said...

I've never read these but I'm surprised they got published in this shape in the first place! Was the company desperate for books to publish and just went with it I wonder?

Jenn:)

Jennifer said...

A. L. Burt probably was that desperate. I have realized that some juvenile series books are very weak and not worth reading. The Roy Snell book I mentioned is a good example.

I suspect that A. L. Burt accepted the Grove books just as she sent them, not caring about the quality. In fact, we have evidence that Burt did not care much about quality.

In this post, I quoted Anita Susan Grossman from an issue of Yellowback Library:

A more demanding publisher might have asked about matters of coherence and plot logic, but from the written evidence, the Burt Company's chief concern was the number of words in the manuscript and the speed with which their commodity could be supplied to the juvenile market. Literary criticism was limited to general remarks in passing.

We can conclude that Burt did not care what was in the manuscripts so long as the manuscripts were long enough. All of the Burt books are around 250 pages long, while books from the same era published by other companies tend to be no more than 225 pages. Burt wanted long books, and to heck with quality.

As far as the books themselves, the Burt books were made with high quality materials. It's too bad that the texts of the books are not necessarily of the same quality.

keeline said...

(part 1)

Who was Harriet Pyne Grove? My research for the Series Book Encyclopedia has been somewhat fruitful in this area.

She was born on March 6, 1866 in Marysville, Ohio, and died in 1939. I found here in the available census records for the period, including 1870 and 1880 in Ohio as Harriet L. Pyne.

She had been married 12 years by the time of the 1900 Ohio census (i.e. m. 1888) to John Grove, who was a Latin teacher. However, by 1910 she was shown as a widow. In that census and the 1920 she was listed as a teacher. In the 1930 census, the latest available, she was identified as a writer.

The earliest books I can find by her were the Greycliff Girls series beginning in 1923. Other series include Ann Sterling, Betty Lee, Merry Lynn, one of the Campfire Girls series, a Girl Scouts series, and the Adventurous Allens series. There were also five single titles in the A.L. Burt publisher library called the Mystery and Adventure Series for Girls. All of her books were published by A.L. Burt between 1923 and 1933, 40 titles in all. To my knowledge, none of her stories appeared under pseudonyms.

I will leave it to the interested readers to learn if her earlier work merited an ongoing publishing contract with A.L. Burt. Possibly the AA series was done at the end of her career when her quality and skill were on the decline.

...

keeline said...

(part 2)

We have seen other prolific authors who's writing does not appeal to the modern reader. Lilian Garis is sometimes criticized for the odd material in the Melody Lane series. However, I cannot speak to this as I have not read them. She did a few books for the Syndicate (about 17) and a number of short 2-volume series for a couple of publishers like Milton Bradley and G&D.

In both cases, some editor liked what was submitted enough to keep buying them year after year over a span of time. This can only occur if the sales were sufficient to merit purchasing the manuscripts.

I don't know if it was always true but it appears that Burt preferred to buy manuscripts outright. They did so for the Howard R. Garis Rocket Riders series. This outright payment was comparable to what the Syndicate paid for similar long books. Of course the publisher paid upon publication while Stratemeyer paid immediately. I have a copy of the contract for the Rocket Riders and can look up the details if there is interest, especially since it was likely similar to other writers' agreements with them (e.g. Clair Blank for Beverly Gray and the Adventure Girls).

Burt books were generally more expensive (75c vs. 50c or 40c) than other series books on the market so they did not sell as well, especially when the economy tanked in 1929. Hence the books are hard to find, especially with jackets.

As I noted in the Nancy Drew Sleuths in Dec. 2008, the Syndicate sold off many of its printing plates to houses like Commercial Bookbinding. That firm issued them in new editions in super-cheap copies under imprints like World Syndicate and International Fiction Library. Saalfield was a separate company with similar pricing for the dime store market.

According to http://incopyright.org, the Adventurous Allens were not renewed after their initial 28-year term so the stories, though comparatively recent, are public domain today. They would have become so by 1960.

The lack of a renewal could be due to the author's death and any heirs were unaware of the literary properties. However, since the books were published by Burt and likely purchased outright by them, it would have been up to Burt or its successor to renew them. If the firm had been purchased at the end by another company, like G&D, they would have been responsible to renews the copyrights. However, I suspect that that it was more of a case of G&D or Saalfield getting the printing plates they wanted to issue in new or cheaper editions.

I know that Anita Grossman did some pioneering work on Clair Blank and perhaps something about the movement of Beverly Gray from Burt to G&D is known from that research.

keeline said...

(part 3)

When I wrote my PCA paper that traced the plagiarism of a Jules Verne story to a Bracebridge Hemyng story to an Edward Stratemeyer story, I opened with an old (1649) quote from Iconoclastes by John Milton:

"For such kind of borrowing as this, if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiary."

What you have noted is that the 1950 Penny Allen versions of the stories are better than the Pyne stories. Of course with Pyne gone and perhaps even her heirs had no legal interest in the original out-of-print AA stories, perhaps there was nothing to be done.

A number of too-close-for-coincidence stories are out there in the series book world and elsewhere. We know there are cases of authorized rewrites of old material. There are also unauthorized ones that were caught and many more which were not caught.

...

keeline said...

(part 4)

The pressure to produce more material was fairly large and in some cases, it is possible that a writer was influenced by something they read without recalling that they had consciously.

For example, there are two Hardy Boys stories (#31 OT, #33 OT) that seem very close to stories by Capwell Wyckoff. This was to the point that Fred Woodworth, editor of the Mystery and Adventure Series Review, thought that Wyckoff might have been the ghost for these volumes. He was not. His widow came forward and the ghost of the first draft of #31, William F. Hallstead III said that he had not read Wyckoff. However, it was another ghostwriter, William M. Dougherty, who wrote the published versions of these tales. Did he read Wyckoff as a kid and included elements subconsciously?

In my 2009 PCA piece I discovered that a small chap book published by Edward Stratemeyer in 1878 when he was about 16, and still in high school, was actually a verbatim reprint of a chapter from a book by another author. He did not claim to write this, only to publish it. Nevertheless, no credit was given to the original author "Vieux Moustache". Stratemeyer was not the only one to appropriate this story. No less than W.H.G. Kingston copied the entire book, without credit for the British market.

...

keeline said...

(part 5)

In early 2011 an article of mine in Dime Novel Round-Up will talk about how one higher-class publisher handled a situation of plagiarism. In this case, no US copyright was in force for the original story but the publisher still felt obliged to offer payment to the original author and note the situation in book trade journals and copies of the book. The US edition is in Google Books but I have not found the British original for a comparison. As with the Verne case, some settings and names had been changed.

I have a couple copies of a book for young kids called Lost in Dinosaur World which predates Jurassic Park but has a dinosaur park with animals brought to life and even the order of the class of animals seen is the same as the Crichton book.

An L.M. Montgomery book called Blue Castle was apparently copied by Colleen McCullough in a book decades later.

The list goes on and on but to what end other than to look more closely at how stories are created in the fast-paced world of mass-market fiction.

James Keeline

Jennifer said...

It is probable that the writing style of Harriet Pyne Grove and Lilian Garis appealed better to young people of 80 to 90 years ago than it does to us today. When I began reading the Adventurous Allens books, I immediately thought of Lilian Garis and felt like the writing style was similar.

I did enjoy the first three Adventurous Allens books. The writing has obvious problems, but Grove told a good story. The story really fell apart with the last two books. She put in too much filler and not much of anything happened in the last two books.

It would be interesting to read one of Grove's first books to see if it is better. I do have a copy of Merilyn at Camp Meenahga from 1927. The first two pages seem to make sense. Flipping through the book, I see the obnoxious unnecessary quotation marks. Oh, dear.

Perhaps Grove had dementia by 1932, which is why I felt like I had dementia when I read the Adventurous Allens.

I have The Girl Scouts' Problem Solved by Harriet Pyne Grove from 1932. This is one of the two titles written by Grove but tacked onto the end of the Lavell series. The two Grove Girl Scouts books have no connection to the Lavell Girl Scouts books, yet Burt added them to the end of the series.

The book begins:

Happy swam slowly in, watched by three redbirds of the Cardinal Patrol. Back upon the beach the various swimmers and waders were still going through the exercises set them by an active leader; but Dixie, Rosalie and Sally, now relieved of some anxiety, since they had seen Jacque and Cordy drawn into the boat, sat apart, in the soft sand at the very edge of the water, where a lapping wave sometimes washed over them a little.

Oh, please, no! I can't stand it!

keeline said...

More grist for the mill perhaps. I looked on Google Books and Archive.org to see if any of the HPG stories were available, especially since the copyrights were not renewed on several (perhaps all). On Archive.org I found The S. P. Mystery, one of those singles in a publisher library, in a weird format but I have converted it into something most people can deal with (PDF). I uploaded it to my server:

http://Keeline.com/Grove,HarrietPyne-The_S.P._Mystery.pdf

I also learned that Grove was an associate editor for two Methodist publications called Woman's Home Missions and Children's Home Missions in 1922. The mention of her joining the publications noted her new series of books but did not name it.

Before this I saw that she wrote a song called "Whoop a Whoop for Hoover" under a pseudonym, "Philip V. Hart", in 1920.

Earlier still there is a 1905 book called Where Pussies Grow with words and music by Grove. It was illustrated by Ella M. Dolbear, before she married Charles Lee. She wrote some series books for A.L. Burt as well later on.

James Keeline

Jennifer said...

You've done some good sleuthing, and it all confirms that Harriet Pyne Grove was a real person. I really should get a hold of one of her earliest books and see how the writing compares to her later books. A big part of me does not care to read any more Harriet Pyne Grove ever again, but another part of me is curious.

StephenF said...

Have you ever read any of Grove's "Betty Lee" Series. I thought it wasn't so bad in comparison to some of her other novels.