Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The bestseller you've never heard of

Maria Susanna Cummins

Do you know the name of the bestselling novel of the 19th century? 

Come on... Think. You know it.

You've most likely (oh, I hope!) read it… 

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Now, do you know the second bestselling novel of the 19th century? Second in sales only to Harriet's book? 

It's the bestseller you've never heard of…

The Lamplighter by Maria Susanna Cummins, and it was her first book. Within eight weeks of publication, it sold 40,000 copies, and totaled 70,000 by the end of its first year in print. Not too shabby, Miss Cummins. Even by today's standards. 

She wrote it "without any thought of achieving reputation," the publishers note in a 1902 edition records. "It was written originally for the entertainment of one of her nieces during a period of illness, with no intention of publication." Can you imagine? (I can't.)

The Lamplighter was first published as the work of an anonymous author, but Miss Cummins' identity was soon linked with the book, and she became a frequent contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, and other popular periodicals of her time.

Today, the novel is almost completely unknown, and as I read online, "its very popularity was used to condemn the novel in literary critical circles" during Miss Cummins' lifetime. (Not to worry, Miss Cummins, you showed them!)

She wrote other books, including Mabel Vaughan (1857), but none of which had the same success as her first…

About the book: 

The Lamplighter tells the story of the development of a young, orphaned girl into a resilient, capable young woman who gets her man––her childhood compatriot––but does just fine on her own, thank you, until he returns at the end of the book from his quest to make his fortune overseas. 

About the author (from online sources):

Maria Susanna Cummins was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on April 9, 1827. She was the daughter of Honorable Judge David Cummins and Maria F. Kittredge, and was the eldest of four children from that marriage. 

The Cummins family resided in the neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts. Cummins' father encouraged her to become a writer at an early age. She studied at Mrs. Charles Sedgwick's Young Ladies School in Lenox, Massachusetts.

In 1854, at age 27, she published the novel The Lamplighter, a sentimental book which was widely popular and which made its author well-known. One reviewer called it "one of the most original and natural narratives". 

And the best thing for us today: 

It's free on Amazon for your Kindle. Also for your Nook

I've already started reading it and am really enjoying it. Hope you'll check it out. There's something about reading a book that was popular in another era that gives insight to that era like nothing else. After all, we are what we read, right?

Do you ever read classics like this? What are you currently reading? Me? I'm reading The Lamplighter by Maria Susanna Cummins  and The Storykeeper by Jodi Picoult, among others.

Thanks for helping keep history alive,
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