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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Would You Like Some Milk with That Serial?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, magazines were a large and thriving industry. But the word “magazine” referred to something quite different than the shiny, advertisement-filled publications found on racks today. Around the turn of the century, popular monthly magazines such as Everybody’s, McClure’s, and Munsey’s ran from around 100 to 150 pages, sometimes including thirty or more stories, articles, and poems, and cost ten or fifteen cents per issue. Though fiction has largely disappeared from today’s magazines, in those days it was a staple—besides publications that combined fiction and nonfiction, there were many all-fiction magazines, some devoted to specific genres—love stories, adventure stories, Westerns, mysteries, and more.

For aspiring writers, the magazine industry offered what could be their big opportunity. Having a story accepted by a widely-read magazine could be a stepping-stone toward a successful literary career—and helped them to make a living in the meantime. Renowned short-story author O. Henry, a prolific magazine contributor between 1900 and 1910 who often portrayed such aspiring authors and artists as characters in his own fiction, humorously summed it up in his story “The Last Leaf”: “Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.”

The fact that every one of the authors currently represented in the Legacy Vintage Collection wrote for magazines gives you an idea of how big a part of the publishing industry these periodicals were. Mary Roberts Rinehart and Booth Tarkington, for instance, were both extremely prolific, producing hundreds of short stories and serialized novels apiece. And several of the books in the Collection actually began life in the pages of a magazine. Mary Johnston’s To Have and to Hold was initially serialized in the Atlantic Monthly between June 1899 and March of 1900. Rose O’ the River was a three-part serial in The Century Magazine between March and May of 1905. On the other hand, some novels originally published in book form were reprinted in magazines later on—Dora Deane, originally published in 1858, later appeared (possibly in abbreviated form) in the May 1892 issue of the People’s Home Journal.

Kilmeny of the Orchard also began as a magazine serial, though under a different title. Lucy Maud Montgomery expanded and rewrote her story “Una of the Garden,” which had been serialized in The Housekeeper magazine between December 1908 and April 1909, into the novel as we know it. The L.M. Montgomery Institute has released a booklet with a facsimile edition of the original “Una of the Garden,” with an introduction that discusses its adaptation into a novel.

Individual magazine stories sometimes made the transition to book form, as well as the serials. That’s probably because many magazine stories were longer than what we regard as typical short-story length. Her Prairie Knight, for instance, though considered a novella today, appeared in its entirety in the December 1904 issue of Ainslee’s—along with eleven short stories, eight poems, two articles, a theater review, and a book review! That’s considerable value for fifteen cents.

Molly Make-Believe had a curious experience when it was reprinted as a serial in an English publication, the Girls’ Own Paper: the English editors changed the names of all American states and cities mentioned in the book to English and European locations—making Carl Stanton sick abed in London, rather than Boston, while his fiancée vacationed in Spain instead of Florida. Evidently they thought this would appeal better to their British readers! But that’s nothing compared to the many different versions of The Prince and Betty produced on both sides of the Atlantic. It began as a magazine serial in 1912, in both England’s famed Strand Magazine and in Ainslee’s on the American side. This version was collected in book form in England. But for the book version published in the United States, P.G. Wodehouse combined it with the plot of another serial featuring his popular character Psmith, who became Rupert Smith in the finished product. (To make things even more complicated, that serial on its own also became the novel Psmith, Journalist; and Wodehouse later re-wrote and re-combined both plots for a 1931 serial titled A Prince For Hire!)

It’s something to think of the many lesser-known stories by these authors that originally appeared in magazines, but were never collected in book form or have gone out of print over the years. It makes you wonder what forgotten gems might be lurking in the pages of those old issues. Perhaps one day, like these other Legacy Vintage titles, they’ll have their chance at being brought to light again for a new audience.

POSTED BY:  Elisabeth Grace Foley