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Discovering Irving Bacheller

A photograph of Irving Bacheller

Laurie’s recent post on wanting to learn more about L M Montgomery reminded me of the time a few years ago I picked an old book at random, read it, reviewed it, and forgot all about it.

I found The Light In The Clearing on The Book Depository. Somehow I’d made my way to their free ebook section, discovered they’d produced PDFs of a great many old books and went on a downloading spree. I didn’t care for authors that day; if the book title sounded even vaguely interesting I promptly clicked on it.

And inevitably forgot about all of them. I’m sure you’re familiar with the free ebooks mad dash situation. The results of mine are festering in a folder on my computer. Yours?

Anyway, at some point some sound reasoning hit me and I decided it was time to choose one of these books and read it. I looked at Amelia E Barr’s A Daughter Of Fife but couldn’t get into it – accents a plenty, I believe. I moved on to the Bacheller – I thought the title pretty.

All this to say I knew nothing about the author. It’s amazing what you discover, sometimes, when you’ve made assumptions, tarring a group of books with the same brush and thinking that even if one was a best-seller it’s just a bunch of old books no one’s ever heard of so what’s to know? (I’m happy to say I’ve improved a lot since then.)

So I went looking for information. There’s not much to be found. There are few reviews of the book I read – at the time mine was the only one I knew of insofar as recent reviews (there’s now a single mini-review). Bacheller is far from the canon. He happened to write during Hardy and Fitzgerald’s eras but his mark on the world was temporary. The sand has since shifted.

But he is worth reading. I was surprised by my miney-mo choice; Bacheller, 1859-1950, was an American journalist who founded the first modern newspaper syndicate in his country. It was thanks to him Americans were able to read the work of British writers – Conrad, Conan Doyle, Kipling are those mentioned.

Bacheller’s first success as a novelist was Eben Holden. Originally drafted for children, it’s about the flight of a boy from Vermont to Paradise Valley and the man who plays a role in his upbringing. It was the 4th best-selling novel of it’s year, an immediate success upon its release in 1900, moving 125,000 copies in its first four months and a reputed 1,000,000 in total. The Light In The Clearing, 1917, was the 2nd best-selling novel; I likened it to Great Expectations in theme. Many of his other works faired similarly.

Bacheller remained a journalist throughout; he had left his job as an editor to write. During the First World War he was a correspondent in France.

Beyond this there is little, indeed most of my information comes solely from Irving Bacheller’s Wikipedia page. There’s no page for the book I read and the one for Eben Holden doesn’t speak of the plot – I had to go to GoodReads for that. There’s something very grounding in the fact an author of best-sellers – noting the plural – can be so forgotten. Bacheller did help improve, on a major scale, Rollins College and his named is used there, but to all intents and purposes he’s illustrative of the fact that even long-term fame is fleeting.

In 1956, when Eben Holden was no longer popular, one Walter Harding (a recognised Henry David Thoreau devotee), is quoted as saying “one was not well-read in 1900 unless he had read [it].” Whilst it’s true there are many more books released in the 21st century compared to the 20th, there’s something to be said for the way a person’s ability to be considered well-read or not today does not depend on new releases.

I’ve marked the afore-mentioned well-read requirement for some point in the future as I feel I almost owe it to the man. When I think of all the possibilities of all the other authors whose works I downloaded it’s really quite humbling.

Any forgotten authors you’d like to share?



March 7, 2016, 6:12 am

I am off to zzzz land, but I quickly wanted to respond.

I found Walter Harding’s quote intriguing. And reminds me of one of your recent posts about books/technology mentioned in other books….

It is so insightful to hear what books were important or acknowledged to be, at different periods of time.


March 14, 2016, 10:25 am

Laurie: Yes, it seems it went out of fashion though it had a good run. It is insightful; even if it’s a small pastime iit helps show people’s mindsets and interests.



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