“Hardly anyone remembers Steve Jobs anymore, but in the age of electronic computing, he was iconic.”
This introduction hasn’t been written yet, but it will be. Fame is fleeting. The heroes of one generation, however high they fly, are unknown to the next. Tell me something about the life of Johannes Gutenberg. And then Petrache Poenaru.
Naturally, we know the most about the people of our own times. When my family plays “Heads Up” on New Year’s Eve, my twenty-something daughter and her friends clean up on “That’s so 90s,“ and “Friends: The TV Series,” but give us a good “70s Fever,” and my husband and I are the champions.
Researching Emilie Loring, I’ve come to know the authors that she knew, and I even feel a fondness for some of them. If “Heads Up” ever has a category called “Boston Authors at the Turn of the Century,” I’m going to celebrate!
I’d like to see a biography of Emilie’s friend and fellow author Sara Ware Bassett (1872-1968). A former kindergarten teacher, Sara Ware wrote a host of educational books for children such as The Story of Porcelain and Ted and the Telephone. I think she must have been an empathetic and creative teacher, because I found The Story of Lumber entirely compelling, and that’s not a subject where you’d expect it. But she was a textile designer before she was a teacher, and there was more than met the eye with her.
“There is a merry little twinkle in her eye–and also in her novels–which partly explains the immense popularity of Sara Ware Bassett’s books.” Daily Boston Globe, 1935
Sara Ware’s best were her Cape Cod novels. I especially recommend The Wall Between and Granite and Clay. She loved the people and way of life that she found in summers on the Cape, and she preserved them so faithfully that her characters feel like old friends. Two of her novels were even made into Hollywood movies: “Danger Ahead” (1921) and “Captain Hurricane” (1935). But Sara Ware Bassett has been forgotten, and her story remains untold.
I’d also like to see a biography of William Taylor Adams (1822-1897), a former teacher and principal who wrote under the pseudonym “Oliver Optic.” Optic wrote more than 1000 stories and 125 books, including the popular series Army and Navy, Yacht Club, and Upward and Onward. An enthusiastic sailor, his twenty trips to Europe inspired two more series: Young America Abroad and All Over the World. Oliver Optic sold more than two million books during his lifetime—and this was in the late nineteenth century. Read today, his stories can still ignite a youthful passion for discovery and innocent mischief.
How do we remember Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger but forget someone like Oliver Optic? Thomas Wentworth Higginson was philosophical about it:
“[Horatio] Alger’s tales are sometimes read, out of curiosity… whereas it is highly unlikely that anyone except fanciers of nineteenth-century children’s books ever reads any of Oliver Optic. They have had their day, and the world reads something else.”
“They have had their day.” The biggest stars become passé, then nostalgic, obscure, and finally disappear. I recently came across a 1921 book profiling the one hundred most popular stars of Hollywood. I knew only two—Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Emilie would have sighed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Books remain to be read any time, old movies can be watched, and online options have extended their reach. About the same time that I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell, her 1853 novel Cranford was broadcast as a BBC miniseries. I’d love to see Sara Ware Bassett rediscovered by travelers to the Cape and Oliver Optic read under the covers at summer camp.
Of course, I remember when Emilie Loring could be found in most drug stores and every bookstore, like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel are now. It still takes me a little aback when I mention her, and someone says, “Emilie Loring? Who’s that?”
Emilie Loring’s books have become “cult classics.” The Baby Boomers who bought thirty million copies of her books not only remember Emilie Loring but still read her. Entire sets of her books have been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. Our guest posts show Emilie’s continued influence: “I love Emilie, as does my mother” and “I wanted to be the heroine in her novels.”
But within the general public, Emilie Loring has been forgotten, and that’s fair. After Dorothea Lawrance Mann’s tribute in 1928, snippets of her life were told in newspaper and radio interviews and nothing more. Writing books about women’s lives was not as common then, and after she died, her publisher, Little, Brown, wasn’t anxious to make too much of it. Emilie Loring’s books earned generous royalties, and they hired a ghostwriter to write even more. Why disturb the golden goose?
Emilie Loring’s forgotten story is relevant today. She lived through Reconstruction, the Gay Nineties, Progressivism, World War I, Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II–times as fraught with change and misery, as uncertain as ours. Consistently, she chose optimism, poise, integrity, and “the saving grace of humor.”
“I still believe that the beautiful things of life are as real as the ugly things of life; that gay courage may turn threatened defeat into victory; that hitching one’s wagon to the star of achievement lifts one high above the quicksands of discouragement. In short, that it’s a great world to the valiant.” Give Me One Summer
Fame is fleeting, but appreciation doesn’t have to be. Keep reading Emilie Loring, and share this blog with your friends and family. Get the word out that her biography is coming. And as you look for summer reading, consider Sara Ware Bassett and Oliver Optic. They are easy to find and worth the effort.
I hope you’ll share your favorite “forgotten authors” in the comment section below. Maybe we can give them a new reading, too.