Actually, I should make the headline of this post "Read in 2012 - 27 and 27 1/2", because I did not only read Bessie Bradford's Prize, but also about half of a book called "Jugend" (German for "Youth"), a collection of novellas written by Dora Duncker.
I decided to break off the latter because it was just too depressing, and I was reading this while on Majorca, with RJ in hospital (more about that later on - let it suffice for now to tell you that all is well again), which certainly called for something more cheerful.
Of the three novellas I read, two ended with a heart-broken woman leaving behind an equally heart-broken man, while the third one ended with a suicide. Lovely, eh?
There is not much information about the author; basically just that she lived from 1855 to 1916, was married once for a short period, had one daughter, knew (partly because she grew up in an intellectually rich family) many writers and other artists, and wrote, wrote, wrote. Her list of published books is quite impressive, but although the language of "Jugend" (which was published in 1905) is beautifully old-fashioned (of course it wasn't old-fashioned when she wrote it), nothing in "Jugend" made me want to read more of her works. It was - you guessed it - a free Kindle book, and therefore all I wasted was a bit of time. Looking at Dora Duncker's picture maybe gives you a hint of that she wasn't the most happy, cheerful person on earth!
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Now off to Bessie Bradford and her prize. Only a meagre outline of biographical facts are known about the author, Joanna H. Mathews. There seems to be uncertainty about her middle name; I've found "Hooe" and "Hope" as well as "Hone", but mostly Hooe.
She and her sister, Julia A. Mathews who wrote under the pen name of Alice Grey, were daughters of a Reverend Mathews of New York, who helped found New York University and became its first Chancellor in 1831. Nine years later, he stepped down for health reasons and took up writing, at the same time taking an active interest in the cause of education and welfare of young men until his death in 1870.
His daughter Joanna was born in 1849 and raised in New York, where she attended a girls' school. We know little more about her than that she never married and lived with family members in Summit, New Jersey, until she died in 1901. Her first book was published in 1866, and she was involved in charities in other "benevolent enterprises", as one source states.
Apparently, the "Bessie" books were her most popular; they feature Bessie Bradford, her family and friends, in various adventures, where the good, faithful and pious always win. I have read somewhere that this kind of book is sometimes classified as "Sunday School Fiction", and that pretty much fits the bill. But don't be fooled - the reading is still quite fun and cheerful, and the heros and heroines are by no means always good or superhumanly perfect.
In "Bessie Bradford's Prize", a 17-year-old student gets himself into trouble, causing a lot of grief for his younger sister and his old nurse, who - each unknown to the other - are torn between wanting to help Percy out of his difficulties while at the same time they know he has done wrong and should face up to it and finally start taking responsibility for his actions. All ends well with the help of friends and family, and the author leaves sufficient clues for the reader to hope that Percy will reappear later on in the series with his character strengthened and bettered by the experience.
In spite of it being part of a series, it was not necessary to know any of the other books. Overly sweet and sentimental at times, I won't go and find more of the "Bessie" books, but I don't regret having read this one.