Friday, August 2, 2013

Contending Forces: A Novel for Social Change

A red book cover for "Contending Forces."We just acquired a copy of Pauline Hopkins's Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (Boston: Colored Co-operative Publishing Co., 1900). As the title suggests, this is a novel bent on affecting social change. Hopkins was a prolific and popular writer of the turn of the century. Much of her work appeared in Colored American Magazine, where she worked as an editor, and she published several full-length novels. Her writings positioned her as a major public intellectual of the time.

What makes our copy particularly interesting is two letters laid in, one, a fair copy written by Emma S. Burnett of Kalispell, Montana, praising Hopkins for the book.
A handwritten letter.
I have just finished reading your most interesting book "Contending Forces." it is grand. I wish every man and woman in the universe might read it. Especially of the more favored race for surely then they could not help but look upon us with more favor. We are living almost at the two extremes of this country yet your forceful words have come to us on the western side of the Rockies. I shall do all I can to have my friends in this section secure a copy as I feel that it will be food & strength for them. One of your own townsmen whom I met while visiting Boston last Sept sent me the book. I will once more pass my tribute of thanks to you for the good work you have done for the race.
Hopkins's answer lies along side. In a neat script (she earned her living for a time as a stenographer at M.I.T.), she thanks Burnett for her words of encouragement and answers in the rhetoric of struggle and purpose:
A handwritten letter.
Sometimes one becomes discouraged and is unable to see any good accomplished by the most faithful work. Your letter found me at such a time, and it has strengthened me to press forward in the good fight that we are all waging against wrong and oppression.
The voices of the two women united in cause, one in Boston, the other in Montana, help to carry today's reader into the social world that the text was responding to and trying to change.

You can see it by asking for Rare PS1999.H4226 1900.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Dartmouth Murders

The green and white dust jacket for "The Dartmouth Murders."While Dartmouth has had its share of real murders, this particular Dartmouth Murders, is the title of a work of fiction, possibly the first work of murder mystery fiction to feature the College, at least in book form. The story was perpetrated by Clifford Orr, Class of 1922, who would have lived through a real murder at the College in his sophomore year, but that’s a different story!

Clifford’s fictional murder is nothing like the real one. Instead it starts with the main character, Kenneth Harris, finding the body of his roommate hanging by his neck from the fire escape (in those days the fire escape was a rope that student would have to shimmy down in the event of a blaze). What appears at first to be a suicide quickly turns more sinister.

A new story with the header "Slayer of Student Killed!"Orr first published the piece in serial form in College Humor under the title "The Dartmouth Mystery," though there is little if any humor in his piece. The story was then picked up by Farrar and Rinehart in the company’s inaugural year (1929) and made into a book. While Orr went on to publish another mystery with them, The Wailing Rock Murders, his final book, allegedly set on the Cornell campus, never made it into print. The Dartmouth Murders was made into a movie in 1935, titled A Shot in the Dark. The New York Times panned the movie version for which Orr wrote the script.

The Dartmouth Murders is full of familiar Dartmouth locations and references. For instance Kenneth Harris is a resident of North Mass, just as Clifford Orr was as a student. But when the clock strikes the hour it is not the Baker Tower clock as it would be today, but the Dartmouth Hall clock (Baker hadn’t been built when Orr was a student). Webster Hall, the Chapel and the Inn also get at least passing mention. Hanover establishments of yore also make appearances, The Dartmouth National Bank and Campion’s for instance, but ultimately the book is more about the mystery and Dartmouth is very much a backdrop.

A black and white photograph of Orr.
In addition to several copies of the book, some signed by the author, we also have the original manuscript as well as Orr’s own letters home to his mother during his years at Dartmouth.

Orr, who started out as a literary associate at Doubleday, Dorn & Co., and later became a literary editor at The New Yorker, also published some short literary pieces in The New Yorker and wrote song lyrics. He died in Hanover in 1951 after “a long illness” at the age of 51.

To read The Dartmouth Murders, ask for: DC History, PZ3.O749 Dar or Rauner Alumni O75d
To see the College Humor version of the story ask for: DC History PZ3 .O749da
To see Orr’s papers and the manuscript version of the novel, ask for: MS-532
To watch A Shot in the Dark, go to Jones Media Center and ask for: Jones Media DVD 8519