Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
It's interesting that if you actually analyse the Alger stories -- I read a social/lit-crit of them some years ago -- they do not really hinge on hard work.

Some may find this analysis excessively "revisionist" but I think the facts check:

Horatio Alger (1834-1899) wrote about 130 short novels. Like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which I read at the same age, they are all the same, yet all quite readable. Alger had a great gift for narrative. For some reason or other, I happened to pick one up as an adult. I was quite surprised at what I was reading. Then I read several more to see if that was an aberration. No, that part of my memory, at least, was correct; they are all exactly the same.

They feature a boy just at, or on the verge of, puberty, from the country or the slums. He comes to the center of the big city. He does work, but he doesn't work astonishingly hard, certainly not as compared to the majority of other working children in the days of legal child labor. He doesn't start his own business or invent a better mousetrap or find the Northwest Passage.

What really happens is he meets a rich older man who takes quite a fancy to him and sets him up with money and educates him and teaches him how to dress and conduct himself. There is, indeed, a "meet cute" in which the boy does something that draws that nice rich man's attention. It's usually something heroic, like stopping a team of galloping horses that's dragging a coach that is carrying the rich man's daughter.

This action is referred to in the books themselves and by people like those at the Horatio Alger Society as a sign of character. It is also a chance for the older man to notice how this boy stands out from the other boys. He has that forthright, noble-boy quality. Which is very, very attractive. Eager, earnest, shining. It's what draws priests to alter boys. In addition to the convenience, of course.

I do not understand how an adult can read Alger's stories and not realize that these were homosexual pedophile fantasies. Actually, it's a single fantasy repeated over and over again.

So I looked him up. And there it was. He had started out as a minister in Brewster, Massachusetts. He was having sex with boys in his congregation. Two of them told their parents. He admitted to a certain "practice." He resigned and moved to New York City. There he became a writer and began churning out these fantasies as dime novels.

We have two distinct ideas of what happened when he went to New York. Jessica Amanda Salmonson, a critic, antiquarian bookseller, and gay activist, has written: "Alger continued his 'practice' although thereafter most often against types of boys nobody cared about, thus avoiding further trouble with authorities. The newsboys Alger glamorized in his fiction were in reality homeless child laborers who spent their nights in alleys or slum-squats .... Their plight included sexual exploitation ranging from outright rape to 'willing' prostitution."

Stefan Kanfer, writing in the City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute, a neoconservative propaganda mill, has a very different tale to tell: "The fugitive repaired to New York City in the spring of 1866. Though never to wear the cloth again, he resolved to live out the Christian ideal, expiating his sin by saving others." Upon seeing the slum children of New York, "an idea came to him .... He had sinned against youths; now he would rescue them and in the process save himself. He would do it as a novelist."

In this version, Alger never had sex with a young boy again (nor anyone, presumably, as there is no reference to marriages, mistresses, or an adult male companion). Kanfer describes also how Alger did many good works, works that kept him close to the youngsters he was trying to save, and how he helped many of them and found them places with his friends.

So, two distinct interpretations of Alger's reality.

Whatever the facts of Alger's personal life, the plotlines of the books are in the historical record and they are, indeed, all Cinderella stories for boys:  the young man's virtue and personality, not to mention his fresh-faced and honest good looks, attract the benevolent attention of an older, wealthy, powerful man who then smooths his way to privilege and position.  They are the boys' equivalent of the endless shelves of True Romance novels for girls and women, in which it is not really backbone or hard work that earn a living, but the appeal of the spunky, courageous young protagonist to a far more powerful elder male who lifts him/her out of struggle and into ease.

If Horatio Alger is really the moral literature of the Far Right, then the real sin of the poor is that too many of them are neither young nor cute, or that there are too many even of the young and cute ones, exceeding the capacity of the handful of sentimental rich people who have chronic rescuing tendencies :-)  

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Feb 14th, 2009 at 01:00:01 PM EST
Bravo! You've motivated me to go read Horatio Alger.

It seem that your critique shows Alger's books to be fundamentally conservative, by the way.  The social structure is celebrated, not challenged.  Had he written books about young men (or women) achieving against the odds and through hard work, they would in fact have been slightly more progressive.

by cambridgemac on Sun Feb 15th, 2009 at 09:19:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the one hand, the stories seem to plainly reflect a narrative of sexual predation, and further to have been written by a sexual predator.  

On the other, they are used to support a claim or myth about the efficacy of industry and hard work, though the stories themselves contain nothing of the kind.  

Which myth sides-steps the fact that the actual socio-economic playing field is not "level." and "hard work" really has nothing to do with social status, respect, or success.  

Which further side-steps the fact that a just society is fair to everybody, and not just the few who happen or manage to be "upwardly mobile."  

Further, the real core of "conservative values" seems to be a commitment to (committing or enabling) abuse.  

Which closes the largest Chinese box inside the smallest, and around again.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Feb 15th, 2009 at 07:10:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers pretty much dispells the myth of the hero going on to great success by dint (I love that word) of hard work, pluck, and smarts. It just doesn't work that way. In the vast, vast majority of cases, the successful,

"...got a big head start, an opportunity they neither deserved nor earned. And that opportunity played a critical role in their success."

Your Horatio Alger stories are accurate as far as that goes, streaming and mentoring are huge. Right in the opening of the book, he details why boys get ahead in the Canadian Junior Hockey League meritocracy: the cut off date for boys age X is such that those born in the first three months of the year have a little bit more maturity, status, growth than those born closer to the cut off date.

And the advantage is cumulative, these boys start off doing marginally better, and get more attention, support and direction than the rest. They are put into the hockey "stream." The advantage continues accumulating all the way through that person's career. Those who make it into the NHL exhibit the same pattern of birthdate distribution as those in the Juniors. Those born 5 or 6 months later have little chance right from the start.

Alger was right. It's not a moral, it's a dynamic.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Feb 15th, 2009 at 09:30:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you look at the Wikipedia entry you will find there are two, one for Horatio Alger the person and the other entitled "Horatio Alger Myth".

The myth has a life of its own. The myth is that hard work leads to rewards in life, that's why I coupled it with the studies which show that inter-class mobility has decreased in the past few decades.

If you want to discuss the fact that the myth is, well, a myth that's fine, but this is irrelevant to the main point.

Mobility has declined and my thesis is that it is not due to an increase in wealth disparity, but that wealth disparity is yet another symptom of the power disparity in the US.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Feb 15th, 2009 at 10:07:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sorry rdf, I was not attempting to derail your main point -- w/which I agree, obviously -- but fascinated by the fact that the myth to which the conservatives cling is itself a myth, i.e. that Horatio Alger, mythwright, did not even say what they say he said.  this is actually pretty typical -- much of the praxis and dogma of the "Christian" established church has precious little to do with the text of the NT, let alone any remote, irrecoverable historical Jesus;  Marx was not a Marxist;  Darwin never uttered the simplistic tropes repeated by crypto-Darwinists;  Adam Smith was in fact skeptical and mistrustful of sharp practises on the part of business owners, and so on.

this is all a sideshow -- of sorts -- to the main drama of dispossession, Enclosure and immiseration aka the Story of Capitalism, whose endgame is playing out in our time.  and yet, if we understood a little better the tenacity of these myths, or our preference (as individuals and a culture) for an invented history or dogma over the complicated texture of fact, we might get a better handle on the possibilities for social change?  (I am not becoming a Straussian, btw -- I don't to say that we should learn to manipulate this human frailty, but somehow compensate for it...)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Feb 16th, 2009 at 12:50:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
whose endgame is playing out in our time.

That's been said before.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 16th, 2009 at 01:07:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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