Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Corresponding With an Imaginary Lover
What with the whole cyberspace Internet deal thingee, communicating with a "pen pal," or "pencil pal" (as Charlie Brown did in the comic strip Peanuts), is entirely different today than it was, say, 53 years ago (when Charlie Brown began handwriting letters to his "pencil" pal), or, going further into the past, a century ago, when Eleanor Hallowell Abbott wrote (and Walter Tittle illustrated) the romantic novel, Molly Make-Believe (New York: The Century Co., 1911).
Here's the plot in a tuna tin: A bedridden young American businessman is recovering from an ailment. His self-absorved girlfriend escapes the cold northern winter for balmy Florida. She's too busy (or thoughtless) to write him letters, so she suggests he hire letters from a company that will send them regularly for a fee. There are many letter types, but our recuperating fellow wants love letters. So "Molly Make-Believe" faithfully sends them.
Soon, the predictable happens. "Molly" becomes the most interesting person Carl knows, and, so it seems, vice versa. Romance develops at a distance. But Carl decides to attempt to bridge that space between and discover, once and for all, if "Molly" is the beautiful girl of whom he has been imagining, whose words and mind have so captivated him.
Having been first published 100 years ago, Molly Make-Believe possesses the language, attitudes, social conventions, and stereotypes typical of the time period. There are unfortunately some racial biases present--standard for Caucasian American society in the early 1900s--and some readers may find these annoying (Scowl-Face certainly did). Similarly, the dialogue between the characters sometimes seems stilted and contrived. Critics consider it a bit of romantic fluff. Well, it's a turn-of-the-20th century American romance novel, so what did they expect? Leo Tolstoy? (By the way, Tolstoy was a great romantic writer. Read Anna Karenina, for instance.) Franz Kafka? Upton Sinclair? Henry James? Florence Marryat? You get my drift. Abbott intended her short novel to be a pleasant diversion. Walter Tittle's jaunty sketches revealed as much.
Sorry, but you won't find this book in our Evergreen Indiana online catalog. However, there are digital copies available online through the Project Gutenberg eBook Project. Here's a hypertext version with illustrations.
I'll Take That Tuna Tin Now, If You Please,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Readers' Advisory News Beat
P.S. "Love Letters" (1945) was composed by Victor Young (music) and Edward Heyman (lyrics). An instrumental version was the theme song to the movie by the same name (also 1945) starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotton. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for best film song.