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

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