Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A real-life Victorian horror story

For those of you who enjoyed reading Around the World in 72 Days, Monroe St. Press has released another work by the indomitable Nellie Bly that explores a much darker side of Victorian America.

Ten Days in a Mad-House recounts Bly's undercover investigation of conditions at the New York City insane asylum on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island) in 1887.

Bly, then 23 years old, had already left a newspaper job in Pittsburgh and in an effort to get hired by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, proposed a daring story idea: she would pretend to be insane and get herself committed to the asylum so she could see for herself how its patients were being treated.

Under the name Nellie Brown, she checked into a boarding house, began acting "crazy" and claimed to have amnesia. Within days she had been hauled away by the police, declared insane by a judge and doctors and packed off to Blackwell's Island. For 10 days she witnessed, and experienced, the filth, neglect and abuse to which women patients were subjected by callous and largely untrained staff.

Her stories shocked readers, prompted improvements in the treatment of the mentally ill and remains a landmark in the history of investigative journalism.

Ten Days is priced at $5.99 and is available on the "History, Mystery and Miscellany" page at the Monroe St. Press website.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Idle Thoughts"

Our newest offering is Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by British author Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927).

Published in 1886, this collection of reflections on daily life in late Victorian England helped establish Jerome's reputation as a humorist, and contains many observations that are as accurate today as when they were written more than 130 years ago.

For example, in the very first essay, "On Being Idle," Jerome makes an important distinction between being idle and being merely lazy:

  There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.
  It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen. 
Other topics addressed in Idle Thoughts include food, drink, fashion, money, apartment hunting, weather, shyness, depression, pets, babies, and love. There are many reflections that are witty and poignant as well as humorous:

"Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching it a second time."
"Each of us have an inborn conviction that the whole world, with everybody and everything in it, was created as a sort of necessary appendage to ourselves. Our fellow men and women were made to admire us and to minister to our various requirements.... I fear we are most of us like Mrs. Poyser's bantam cock, who fancied the sun got up every morning to hear him crow."
"If you are foolish enough to be contented, don't show it, but grumble with the rest; and if you can do with a little, ask for a great deal. Because if you don't, you won't get any.... If you can feel satisfied with a hundred, begin by insisting on a thousand; if you start by suggesting a hundred you will only get ten."
"I think it is only to us in cities that all weather is so unwelcome. In her own home, the country, Nature is sweet in all her moods... Weather in towns is like a skylark in a counting-house—out of place and in the way." 
The author, born Jerome Clapp Jerome in Caldmore, England, changed his middle name to Klapka, apparently in honor of a Hungarian military hero (Gyorgy Klapka). After dropping out of school at age 15 due to his family's financial straits, he worked for a railroad, joined a traveling acting troupe, and worked as a clerk and a teacher. His first reasonably successful book was On the Stage—and Off (1885), a memoir of his years as an actor. Idle Thoughts was published the following year.

His best known work is Three Men in a Boat (1889), a comical tale of a trip down the Thames River. Other works by Jerome include its sequel Three Men on the Bummel (1898), the autobiographical novel Paul Kelver (1902), and Diary of a Pilgrimage (1891). He also composed numerous essays, articles, and stage plays and published his autobiography, My Life and Times (1926), a year before his death at age 68.

Idle Thoughts is now available at our website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Two new swashbuckling tales

Now that spring has arrived (sort of), if you're in the mood for some adventure, Monroe St. Press is offering two well-known swashbuckling tales, one set in Medieval England and the other during the French Revolution.

Men of Iron (1891) by Howard Pyle tells the story of young Myles Falworth and his quest to restore the honor of his family during the reign of King Henry IV in the early 15th century.  The novel includes illustrations by Pyle —who was also a well-known artist — and inspired the 1954 film The Black Shield of Falworth starring Tony Curtis.  Its detailed description of the training and initiation process for aspiring knights have made it a favorite "coming of age" story for generations.

Meanwhile, Scaramouche: A Romance of the French Revolution by Rafael Sabatini (1921) recounts the adventures of Andre-Louis Moreau, a young lawyer caught up in the intrigues of a nation in upheaval. Born with "a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad", Andre-Louis assumes several disguises in his quest for justice and truth, including that of a comedic actor in a traveling theater troupe. This novel also inspired a silent film in 1923 and a 1952 movie starring Stewart Granger that includes one of the longest sword fight scenes ever filmed.

Both titles can be purchased at our website.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Two new vintage gaming guides

If you're looking for ways to entertain yourself or your family during these cold winter days, or if you have made a New Year's resolution to learn something new or challenge your mind, Monroe St. Press has just released two new titles that may be of interest. 

The Blue Book of Chess by Howard Staunton was among the first comprehensive guides to the game of chess, composed by the British chess master (1810-1874) who organized the first international chess tournament in 1851 and popularized the "Staunton Design" for chess pieces still used today. First published in 1870, a later edition in 1910 added games and strategies used by other chess masters such as Emmanuel Lasker, Wilhelm Steinitz, Paul Morphy, and Adolf Anderssen. Monroe St. Press has reprinted the 1910 edition complete with diagrams and instructions. 

Meanwhile, Cassell's Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun (third edition, 1881) features hundreds of games and activities for all ages, including: 
– classic party games such as Charades, Simon Says, and Blind Man's Buff
– rules for numerous card games including poker, whist, euchre, vingt-un (Twenty-One/Blackjack), and many variations
—directions and diagrams for do-it-yourself toys, puzzles, and crafts
—word and number puzzles and brain teasers 
—sleight of hand magic tricks
This book is a great resource for families, classrooms, historical presenters and reenactors, and for Victorian or Steampunk-themed events. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

As we enter a new year....

.... Monroe St. Press takes a quick look back at 2017. 

We released 9 new titles this year, branching out into genres such as utopian/dystopian, non-fiction and satire: 

-- The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
-- The Iron Heel by Jack London
-- Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
-- Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss
-- The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe
-- Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly
-- The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners by Eliza Leslie
-- Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini 
-- To Venus in Five Seconds by Fred T. Jane 

Events that Monroe St. Press took part in this year were Winter War 44 in Champaign, Ill.; the Geneva Steam Convention in Delavan, Wis.; Heroicon in Decatur, Ill.; the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Mo.; and Archon in Collinsville, Ill. 

We plan to return to all these events in 2018, and also plan to make another appearance at Cog County Faire in Montello, Wis., which we attended in 2016. 

New titles for 2018 are already in the works, including vintage gaming books. We hope to add more non-fiction titles that could be used as reference guides for Victorian and Steampunk aficionados, historical reenactors, and others interested in preserving or learning more about the era. 

Thanks to everyone who has visited our website, Facebook page or vendor table/booth this year! Hope your new year is as prosperous and creative as you wish it to be. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A rare and witty sci-fi satire

The author of Monroe St. Press' latest release is best known as the founder of the Jane's series of reference books on warships and  aircraft. But Fred T. Jane was also known during his lifetime (1865-1916) as a fiction author and illustrator in his own right. 

To Venus in Five Seconds: An Account of the Strange Disappearance of Thomas Plummer, Pillmaker (1897) pokes fun at the conventions of what was then known as "scientific romance", such as lost/hidden worlds, Egyptology, super-intelligent aliens, impossibly handsome Anglo-Saxon heroes, etc. 

The title itself parodies the full title of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, Direct Course in 97 Hours, 20 Minutes.  It recounts the improbable adventure of a young medical student with (as the reader is repeatedly reminded) a "splendid physique" but not so splendid intellect, who finds himself transported to Venus by a mysterious "lady doctor". 

In his quest to return to Earth, our hero faces multiple obstacles such as blinding sunlight, giant bug-like creatures, humanoid vivisectionists bent on capturing him for ghastly medical experiments, and tedious scientific discourses.  

Venus was one of several speculative fiction works that Jane wrote and illustrated. His other works include Blake of the "Rattlesnake" (1895), a future submarine war adventure; The Incubated Girl (1896), in which a young woman is hatched from an egg found in an ancient Egyptian tomb; and The Violet Flame (1899), an end-of-the-world tale. 

Contemporary works that Jane illustrated include George Griffith's Angel of the Revolution (1893) and Olga Romanoff/The Syren of the Skies (1894). His interest in and talent for drawing ships eventually prompted him to publish All the World's Fighting Ships (1898), the first in what would become an annual series of  guidebooks to naval vessels and military aircraft. 

To Venus in Five Seconds is now available at Amazon for $5.99.


Monday, November 27, 2017

The Victorian Era's "Miss Manners"

Our newest offering at Monroe St. Press is The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners by Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), one of the first recognized domestic experts in antebellum America. 

Originally published in 1853 as "Miss Leslie's Behaviour Book", the Ladies' Guide covers almost every subject of interest to the middle/upper class woman of the era -- entertaining family and friends, travel tips, shopping, correspondence, how to address and introduce others, imparting good manners to children, and much more. 

Born in Philadelphia, Eliza Leslie spent six years of her childhood in England. After her father's death, her mother managed a boardinghouse. These experiences likely influenced her tips on how travelers and boarders should behave courteously toward other guests and staff. 

Miss Leslie attended a cooking school operated by Elizabeth Goodfellow, a well-known confectionery/bakery owner in Philadelphia. This experience inspired her to collect and publish her favorite recipes (then referred to as "reciepts") in her book  Seventy-Five Reciepts for Pastries, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828). The success of this book led to her publishing others, including her best known work, Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837), which stayed in print through the 1890s. 

In the 1840s she began branching out into popular literature. She published an annual collection of fiction titled The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present, which included short stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. She also contributed to Godey's Lady's Book, the Saturday Evening Post, and other popular periodicals. The effects of her fame as a writer are addressed in one chapter of The Ladies' Guide, which discusses how to communicate courteously with authors. 

While much of the book's advice addresses now-obsolete or rarely used forms of transportation and technology (such as maintaining coal or wood stoves or traveling by steamship) and inevitably reflects the ideas, culture and prejudices of her era, there is much that is still useful and practical. It also can be used as a reference work by Victorian and Steampunk aficionados and historical reenactors. 

The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners is now available at the Monroe St. Press website. Cost is $10.