Friday, July 13, 2018

Introduction to Augusta Huiell Seaman

Most of us have probably seen the Scholastic Book Club editions of books by Augusta Huiell Seaman, including The Mystery of the Old Violin and The Riddle of the Lonely House.  I never gave them much thought, since I am not very interested in Scholastic editions.  In the last five years, several series book enthusiasts have mentioned the books of Augusta Huiell Seaman.  The books have been universally praised.

Many of Augusta Huiell Seaman's books do not look like the typical series book, so I ignored the praise at first.  By outward appearance, many of the books look like the average old fiction book written for adults.  By 2016, after reading more commentary, I realized that I should look into Augusta Seaman's books, but I still wasn't that motivated.

In June 2017, I finally read The Riddle of the Lonely House, which is one of the Scholastic reprints.  I enjoyed it and decided to begin purchasing Seaman's books.  I kept quiet about my plan, since I did not want anybody else to get started at the same time.

Here is a list of Augusta Seaman's mystery books for girls.

The Boarded-Up House, 1915*
The Sapphire Signet, 1916*
The Girl Next Door, 1917*
Three Sides of Paradise Green, 1918*
The Slipper Point Mystery, 1919*
The Crimson Patch, 1920*
The Dragon's Secret, 1921*
The Mystery at Number Six, 1922*
Tranquility House, 1923
Sally Simms Adventures It, 1924
The Edge of Raven Pool, 1924
Bluebonnet Bend, 1924
The Secret of Tate's Beach, 1926
The Adventure of the Seven Keyholes, 1926
The Shadow on the Dial, 1927
The Disappearance of Anne Shaw, 1928
A Book of Mysteries: Three Baffling Tales, 1929
The Charlemonte Crest: A Mystery of Modern Haiti, 1930
The Brass Keys of Kenwick, 1931
The House in Hidden Lane: Two Mysteries for Younger Girls, 1931
The Stars of Sabra, 1932
The Mystery of the Empty Room, 1933
Bitsy Finds the Clue: A Mystery of Williamsburg, Old and New, 1934
The Riddle at Live Oaks, 1934
The Figurehead of the 'Folly', 1935
The Strange Pettingill Puzzle: Two Mysteries for Boys and Girls, 1936
Voice in the Dark, 1937*
The Pine Barrens Mystery, 1937
The Vanderlyn Silhouette, 1938*
The Mystery at Linden Hall, 1939*
The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals, 1940*
The Missing Half, 1941*
The Case of the Calico Crab, 1942
The Mystery of the Folding Key, 1943*
The Half-Penny Adventure, 1945
The Mystery of the Other House, 1947
The Vanishing Octant Mystery, 1949

*These books, and possibly others, are in the public domain.  Many of them can be found online in free digital downloads.  Some of them are not on Project Gutenberg but can be found elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most of Augusta Seaman's books are extremely scarce and difficult to find.  Most books are expensive.  I started purchasing the more common books of the ones that are not in the public domain.  I held off on the books in the public domain, simply because most of those books are available for free online.  I also held off on the more scarce and expensive titles.

I read The Disappearance of Anne Shaw and The Charlemonte Crest: A Mystery of Modern Haiti, which were the first two books I purchased.  I enjoyed them as well.  Around the same time, I found Christine M. Volk's articles about Augusta Seaman.  These articles contain a wealth of information and are well worth reading.

Nancy Drew for Smart Kids: Mysteries by Augusta Huiell Seaman
Creating an Augusta Huiell Seaman Collection
Augusta Huiell Seaman Checklist

The articles took away my final reservations.  I decided to go for it, purchasing all books that I could find, whether in the public domain or not.  This endeavor required much careful searching, a good bit of luck, and a lot of money.  The scarcity of these books cannot be overstated.

Most amazing is that some of these books read just like the early Nancy Drew books, yet many were published in the 15 years before Nancy Drew debuted.  Think about what that means.  The typical girls' book of the 1910s only has the slightest hint of mystery, with the books detailing average life.  The publication of the first Nancy Drew book in 1930 is considered the beginning of the juvenile girls' mystery book genre.  However, girls' books had already been gradually changing towards mysteries during the previous two decades, and Augusta Huiell Seaman led the way.

In Augusta Seaman's books, teenage girls find hidden compartments in trunks, discover secret passageways, explore abandoned houses, find and decipher cryptograms, outsmart spies, find lost inheritances, and do everything that Nancy Drew would later do.

Augusta Seaman's books usually involve a mystery from the past that needs to be solved.  Sometimes the mystery is completely fictional, while other times the mystery is based on actual historical figures.  I typically did not enjoy the books that use historical figures quite as much, since I prefer for my fiction to be completely fictional.

Since the books tend to be expensive, I suggest sampling some of the books that are available online to see if they are appealing.  I recommend The Girl Next Door as a good one to try.


Albert Alioto said...

Jennifer, This seems a very good opportunity to thank you for all your work. About a dozen years ago, I made the "mistake" of re-reading my old Hardy Boys books. That led to a curiosity about other series, and the discovery that the Hardy Boys and Nancy
Drew did not even begin to scratch the surface of the genre. I won't pretend to a scholarly interest in series books, but I do think
the subject of the messages that they communicated to children is far more than child's play. Your website has been an invaluable resource. As an example, I looked up Augusta Huiell Seamen after seeing her name on your blog and I have read four of her books. (I will confess to being a "cheater." So many of the titles of hers, and other serial authors, are available on Project Gutenberg.) Thank you very much.

Jennifer White said...

Thank you for your kind comments. It really does help and means a lot to me to know that others appreciate my efforts.

It's great that a number of Seaman's books are available online. Before I purchased any of her books, I did get all of the ones I could find saved on my iPad. I ended up purchasing the books because I was afraid I'd never get around to reading them unless I could see all of them on a shelf. Additionally, it bothers me to have some in electronic files and others in printed books. It shouldn't matter, but I wanted them all in the same place, so I purchased the printed books.

Linda said...

I got hooked on Seaman through my collection of bound issues of "St. Nicholas." I really enjoy her stories, especially the historical ones.

Chris said...

I enjoyed your article very much - and of course, your website in general is a great resource -

One of the books I often recommend as the first one to try - fairly easily available inexpensively - is "The Disappearance of Anne Shaw," since it uses the New Jersey beach area (now a state park) that is the setting for several of her books.

And one small correction - rather than "most" of her books being expensive, I would say simply that "many" are. About half are fairly easy to find at a reasonable cost if not too picky about condition, edition, dust jackets, etc. And, of course, a few are genuinely scarce and should be grabbed as soon as possible.

Chris Volk