Charlotte Mary Brame (1836-84) was a prolific English author of sentimental stories with a touch of sensation, most of whose works first appeared over her initials in cheap weekly story papers issued in London. Since this was the age of the mass production of popular fiction and there was as yet no relevant copyright agreement in place, these were then reprinted widely in the United States under the signature ‘Bertha M. Clay’, which was also employed freely for stories of similar character written by others. This Research Guide thus aims to provide:
1) the first comprehensive list of the more than two hundred works written by Brame herself, with evidence for authorship and details of initial publication;
2) guidance concerning the hundreds of other titles that have become associated with her name, with information, still often tentative, circumstantial and incomplete, on their derivation;
3) a detailed account of why and how this state of affairs came about.
The first is carried out principally in the Bibliography section, the second in the numerous Appendices, and the third in this Introduction.
As chronicled in more detail in the Envoi, our author was the eldest daughter of Benjamin and Charlotte Law, Master and Matron of the Union Workhouse in Hinckley, Leicestershire, at the heart of the hosiery industry. With her parents joining the Church of Rome shortly after her birth, the young Charlotte was brought up a devout Catholic and educated at convent boarding schools, afterwards taking up a series of posts as a governess. Following the untimely death of her father in 1859, leaving several young children, Charlotte returned to Hinckley to assist her mother. In 1863, at the age of twenty-seven, Charlotte married Phillip Brame, three years her junior, and the couple moved to London. Brame set himself up as a wholesale jeweller, but was soon proved an incompetent businessman, being declared bankrupt as early as the spring of 1866. Further business troubles seem to have led to the family’s moves to Manchester in the later 1860s and to Brighton in the mid-1870s. Moreover, Charlotte seems to have experienced indifferent health throughout her marriage. While convalescing at the seaside after a long illness, she wrote to her cousin that ‘I … do not think I shall ever be quite well again’, at the same time lamenting the heavy medical expenses (undated letter to George Brocklehurst, held by Gregory Drozdz). Just four of her seven children born between 1865 and 1876 lived to maturity, and only her eldest daughter survived to old age. The family returned to Hinckley to take up residence around 1879, with Phillip Brame suffering increasingly from bouts of drunkenness and mental instability. Charlotte died suddenly from heart troubles in late 1884, leaving an encumbered estate of little over £1000, and when Phillip Brame was found drowned eighteen months later, the four children were taken into guardianship.
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Brame’s career as an author of romantic fiction, which can be read as an attempt to compensate both psychologically and financially for domestic troubles, falls naturally into three stages (see Bibliography (3)). As a teenager she began contributing uplifting verse and fiction aimed at the young to the Lamp. This was a penny weekly Catholic literary miscellany founded at York in 1850 by T.E. Bradley and ‘devoted to the religious, moral, physical and domestic improvement of the industrious classes’. Though there is also evidence of one or two pieces received but not published in the Lamp, altogether three short poems and twenty-four tales appeared there between late 1855 and early 1862, when she seems to have ceased to submit, presumably in view of her impending marriage. All but the first were signed ‘Charlotte Law’, and many of the by-lines provided details of the author’s place of residence at the time. According to H.J. Francis, she seems to have received remuneration from the Lamp only in the form of parcels of books. Francis also reports that, around this time, Brame ‘contributed short poems to the Hinckley and Leicester newspapers’ (see App. A), but, with the available files often incomplete, we have only been able to find a single example in the 1860 Hinckley Journal. This stage of her career can thus be characterised as an initial amateur phase where she writes primarily out of religious conviction.
Brame’s career only revives in the late 1860s, when we must assume that the primary stimulus was financial pressure on account of her husband’s business failings. The first sign was the publication in late 1867 by the London Catholic house of Burns, Oates & Co., of Tales from the Diary of a Sister of Mercy by C.M. Brame, a bound octavo volume retailing at 3s/6d, aimed principally at the Sunday School library and prize market. According to a brief unsigned notice in the Dublin Review, the volume included ‘several touching narratives of women’s devoted affection to … almost invariably good-for-nothing husbands’ (p. 563), though six out of the eight tales were revised versions of material appearing in the Lamp before the author’s marriage. The publication must have been fairly successful, since it was reprinted in New York by the Catholic Publication Society the following year, and there was also a new British edition in 1874. In the meantime a new collection of eight uplifting tales aimed at younger children, of which three were reprinted from the Lamp, appeared from the same publisher in the same format. This was Angels’ Visits (1869), by ‘the Author of “Tales from the Diary of a Sister of Mercy”’. It seems then safe to assume that Brame had begun writing again and that this time there was some remuneration. With Bradley retiring from the editorship, the character of the Lamp had changed during the 1860s, emerging in 1870 as ‘A Popular Journal of General Literature’ published by Burns, Oates. Thus it is possible that there was some financial reward also when her stories again began to appear in the Catholic weekly for a couple of years from the spring of 1869. This time the tales tended to be longer ones of three to five installments and the signature was that of ‘C.M. Brame’, though her final contributions took the form of a pair of poems in the spring of 1871. More importantly, well before that time Brame’s tales had begun to appear in a non-sectarian journal with a long history and a large readership that paid commercial rates, the Family Herald (1842-1940).
The Herald was the longest-running and most respectable of the Victorian ‘penny-novel-journals’, as they were designated by Wilkie Collins (p. 272), that is, weekly sixteen-page literary miscellanies packed with melodramatic tales and serials for the lower classes. Its early competitors were the London Journal (1845) and Reynolds’s Miscellany (1846), both featuring rather racier fiction and a dramatic woodcut on the front page, and thus associating themselves with the ‘penny bloods’ from the notorious ‘Salisbury Square’ publishers. From the beginning, with its reliance on the appeal of the domestic romance in the leading ‘Story-Teller’ section, and its supplementary diet of seasonal poetry, informative essays, games and puzzles, household hints, and advice to correspondents, the unillustrated Herald itself sought a broader family audience. Following the death in 1859 of the original proprietor James Biggs, and along with new rivals like Bow Bells (1862-97), the Family Herald began to aim principally at a female readership from the respectable working- and lower-middle-classes and rely heavily on contributions from women writers. In addition to the penny weekly paper obtainable from local news agents and tobacconists, it was then available by post in a sixpenny monthly edition with a coloured cover. With subscribers also in Britain’s overseas colonies, the overall circulation seems steadily to have exceeded a quarter of a million copies per issue (Altick, p. 394; Unsigned, ‘Topics of the Day’, p. 3). Regular advertisements began to appear in the columns of the Times, lavishly citing praise from more elevated journals such as the Saturday Review, which had the Herald standing ‘at the head, both in age and popularity, of all the penny serials’ (cited passim in the Times, e.g. 21 December 1866, p. 5f). At the same time, the new owner William Stevens launched a series of supplements, including the Family Herald Extra Numbers listing healthy outdoor pursuits and indoor amusements for both boys and girls, and Family Herald Handy Books of the ‘How To’ variety with cookery to the fore. In the following decade, Stevens moved to exploit further the value of the title by recycling the work of his fiction authors in the Family Herald Supplement and the series of ‘Family Story-Teller’ volumes, the former specializing in original novelettes and the latter full-length novels reprinted from the magazine columns. For this reason, since few contributors to the penny story papers aspired to having their serials reprinted as triple-decker novels for the circulating libraries, Stevens preferred both to purchase absolute copyright of works of fiction rather than serial rights only, and to publish them either anonymously or over initials or a pseudonym.
This was indeed the case with Brame, whose Family Herald stories always appeared above the initials ‘C.M.B.’, and whose financial interest in them ended with their serial publication (see her daughter’s letter in App. A). Nevertheless, throughout her first six years with the Family Herald Brame’s contributions consisted predominantly of short fiction, with only three shorter serial novels and a couple of novelettes, but forty tales, most complete in a single instalment. The short tales – ‘First Violets’ (May 1868) and ‘The Fifth Concert of the Season’ (Feb. 1873) are good examples – tend to be written in the first person, have domestic settings among the middle-class, and, whilst drawing to sentimental conclusions, reveal many touches of comic realism on the way. In these respects they are quite different from the more melodramatic serial novels as represented by Dora Thorne (Sep. to Dec. 1871), Brame’s most frequently cited and reprinted work. This centres on aristocratic society and depicts the consequences of two cases of cross-class romance (mésalliance is the term preferred in the narrative) in successive generations of the titled Earle family. No poetry by Brame seems to have appeared in the Family Herald, though her main rival as fiction supplier,
Mary Cecil Hay – typically appearing under the pseudonym ‘Markham Howard’ – was also a regular contributor of seasonal stanzas (see Law 2011, p. 341). We can only surmise whether this was because Brame felt herself unable to divorce her verse from sacred subjects, or because the rate of remuneration rendered such labour uneconomic.
Altogether, though, while she was establishing herself as a professional author in the late 1860s and early 1870s, her contributions to the Family Herald represented only around a third of her output. Leaving aside the material in the Lamp, she also contributed during this period to three further story papers. The first was Edward Harrison’s Young Ladies’ Journal (1864-1920), which, as the title might suggest, was a more up-market affair. It sold at ninepence a month or twopence a week, generously illustrated with engravings of fashion and fancy-work as well as a scene from the leading romantic serial, and featuring coloured plates and dress patterns as regular supplements. To this, Brame submitted seventeen short tales and a couple of short serial novels between autumn 1869 and the end of 1873, all again signed ‘C.M.B.’. These were along similar lines to her contributions to the Herald, though the tales are not so prone to comic flourishes and the serials slightly less melodramatic. The second was Bow Bells, a penny weekly paper with a feminine touch founded in the early 1860s by John Dicks as an alternative to the more robust Reynolds’ Miscellany, which he also published for George Reynolds until its demise in 1869. Unlike the Family Herald,
though it targeted a similar audience, Bow Bells was illustrated and regularly offered needle-work designs, crochet patterns and sheet music as attractions as well as sentimental fiction in quantity. To this paper, Brame contributed two shorter novels, which ran between mid-1871 and early 1873, both on a par with her earlier serials for the Family Herald. Neither was signed, but the first was soon reprinted under the signature ‘Charlotte M. Braeme’ (presumably a simple mistake) as No. 15 in the sixpenny double-column paperback series of ‘Dicks’ English Novels’, while the second appeared in Bow Bells as ‘By the Author of “Lord Lisle’s Daughter”’, the title of the first. This work, we should note, was the first of only sixteen of her novels to appear in volume form in Britain during her own lifetime.
The Family Reader, the last journal to which Brame began to contribute in August 1871, was the most significant, in both the short and long term equalling the Family Herald in importance in Brame’s career. Though again an illustrated penny weekly story paper, the Family Reader was both newer and, to start with at least, more eclectic than Bow Bells. Indeed, there seems to have been a good deal of uncertainty about its beginnings. First issues of the new title were announced in the popular press by Henry Lea, known as a publisher of ‘penny bloods’ in parts, both in early November 1870 (see Illustrated Police News, 5 Nov. 1870) and in mid-January 1871 (see Reynolds’ News, 15 Jan. 1871), with different and increasingly lurid opening serials – ‘The Dark Secret’ being succeeded by ‘The Brand on the Shoulder; or, the Poisoner’s Wife’. At least a few issues must have been printed, though the series seems to have been aborted quickly since no copies are preserved in the copyright libraries. The title re-emerged in a ‘New Series’ from 5 April 1871, this time published by F. Farrah on the opposite side of the Strand, and led off with a rag-bag of fictional genres by authors from both sides of the Atlantic. Moreover, in only a couple of years Farrah was in turn replaced by J.B. Coleman from yet another Strand address, with the day of issue also shifting from Thursday to Saturday. In the meantime, the focus seems to have settled on domestic matters and a female audience, marked by the appearance of the Canadian author May Agnes Fleming’s romantic serial Magdalene’s Vow under an otherwise unknown signature, ‘Grace Barrington’, followed by an unbroken run of similar stories signed ‘C.M.B.’, beginning with The Heiress of Hatton. It is not known how Brame was first introduced to the Family Reader, though she must by then already have been gaining a reputation for the reliability and popularity of her fiction among London editors, and her regular submissions must have proved the salvation of what was clearly a precarious new story paper. Within less than three years, she contributed eleven lengthy serial novels, plus sixteen short tales and a couple of novelettes, representing almost half of her output during this early phase of her professional career. As we shall see later, while these stories followed the broad romantic patterns of those produced by Brame for other penny story papers, like Magdelene’s Vow itself, her Reader contributions often reveal a tendency towards psychological realism and social criticism that is not apparent in the Herald stories.
We can thus conclude that, during this early professional phase of her career, Brame must have learned not only to juggle deadlines and write more than one story at a time, but also to tailor the character of her stories to the demands of the target journal and its audience. We have searched in vain through other likely story papers such as the London Journal and London Reader for further signed work by Brame. Altogether then during this early six-year phase of her professional career as an author, in a total of five periodicals Brame seems to have published a couple of poems, four novelettes, eighteen serial novels of which over half matched the length of a triple-decker, and just over eighty short tales. While it remains possible that her work also appeared unsigned in the periodicals to which she is known to have contributed, in all honesty this represents a more than ample literary output for a woman with onerous domestic responsibilities.
In 1874-5, towards the beginning of what we have termed the mature professional phase of Brame’s career as a writer, the bibliographical record suggests a number of significant changes.
First, the output of complete tales falls off and that of long serials increases markedly, presumably reflecting both her growing reputation in the British popular fiction market and the relatively low level of remuneration for short stories. Second, her contributions are limited to only two story papers, the Herald and the Reader, with the balance of production soon more or less level. Third, the pattern of signature shifts disconcertingly, with the initials ‘C.M.B.’ appearing more regularly than ever in the Herald, but disappearing entirely from the columns of the Reader from mid-1874. This change must be related to Brame’s signing a long-term agreement with William Stevens at the Herald. Writing more than fifty years after an event that occurred when she was still a little girl, the author’s only surviving child Marie Louise (May) Brame (1866-1941) recalls that, ‘because of its [Dora Thorne’s] success, the editor offered my mother a post on the permanent staff of the paper, & for many years she wrote three long novels, the Sea-side and Christmas number for him’ (see App. A). Clearly, since the Brame family were based in Manchester from around 1870-76, such a post is not likely to have involved editorial work for a busy weekly with its incessant circulation of copy and proofs; rather, as May clarifies, it must have concerned writing a determined quantity of fiction for a fixed salary. Yet, though May links this arrangement to the success of Dora Thorne, which ended its serial run in the second week of December 1871, the pattern of publication she mentions – three serial novels plus two novelettes for the holiday numbers – does not emerge until 1875. Indeed, the special Family Herald Seaside and Christmas issues take on a new, independent format from that year. Given the need for some advance planning, this suggests that Brame’s agreement with Stevens might have been signed around the middle of 1874, coinciding with the appearance of At War with Herself, Brame’s first serial novel for the Herald in nearly three years.
The final appearance of the initials ‘C.M.B.’ in the Family Reader is found under the complete tale ‘Not Proven’ on 6 June 1874. For a couple of years before that, beginning with Lady Wyverne’s Ring in July 1872, quite a number of Brame serials had appeared without her initials directly attached, but as ‘By the Author of ’ works that had previously appeared above that signature. (Some serials appeared with both assurances of authorial identity, and ‘Dora Thorne’ was among the titles listed in several cases including Lady Wyverne’s Ring, thus alerting readers to the fact that the author was also a key contributor to the Herald.) After the disappearance of the initials, A Struggle for Love appeared from August 1874 as AO ‘Lord Elesmere’s Wife’, an assured Brame title, while Thrown on the World was issued from December 1874 as AO ‘Magdalen’s Vow’. This we take to be simply a slip for the assured Brame title A True Magdalen which ran in the Reader from July 1873, rather than a misspelled reference to the early serial from May Agnes Fleming. And, only the week after Thrown on the World began to appear, the Christmas tale ‘The Cost of a Kiss’ appeared under the signature ‘Helen Heathcote’, representing the middle names of Brame’s six-year-old niece which itself incorporated her mother’s maiden name. This in turn was soon followed by a series of other stories under the initials ‘H.H.’, beginning with the full-length novel Lady Evelyn’s Folly from September 1875. In between came another novel entirely without indications of authorship, A Woman’s Temptation beginning in July 1875. There are two reasons why we are confident that Thrown on the World, Lady Evelyn’s Folly, and A Woman’s Temptation alike, plus other serials issued thereafter in similar fashion, are indeed Brame’s work: first, because they appear in May Brame’s listing of her mother’s writings (see App. A), and second, because they form part of a long, virtually unbroken series of reprinted serials from Brame’s pen to reappear in the columns of the Family Reader after her demise. This began in the autumn of 1885 and continued until at least the end of the century. Two possible reasons for the disappearance of the ‘C.M.B.’ signature from the columns of the Reader after mid-1874 can be considered: first, that Brame’s arrangements with Stevens prevented her from contributing to any journal other than the Herald, but that she continued to do so surreptitiously with the cooperation of the proprietors of the Reader; and, second, that the agreement with Stevens allowed her to continue writing for other journals only on condition that her work appeared without her standard signature. The first can be discounted not only on the grounds that Brame’s religious convictions would have prevented her from breaking the eighth commandment in such a considered and consistent manner, but also because Stevens would hardy have been likely not to notice such a deception over the course of a decade or so. The second we then take to be the most likely explanation.
Overall during the mature phase of her career Brame’s writings may be balanced evenly between contributions to the Herald and Reader, but a more detailed view reveals significant differences in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Since the Family Reader did not go in for special holiday numbers, it is not surprising that we find fewer stories of novelette length compared to the Family Herald. But it remains uncertain whether what is a marked difference in mean length of Brame’s serial novels in the two papers from 1874 onwards should be put down to editorial policy or authorial choice. On average, her novels in the Herald consist of under fifty chapters and run for less than four months, whereas the equivalent figures for the Reader are over sixty chapters and more than five months. Moreover, this statistical disparity goes along with a perceptible gap in both the generic form and ideological content of the novels found in the two papers. Generic subtitles reflecting an impulse towards social realism, as in A Struggle for Love: A Story of Real Life (Family Reader, 8 August 1874-), are found much more frequently in Brame’s serials for the Reader than those for the Herald. At the same time, dark themes, tragic outcomes, and explicitly Christian perspectives seem rather more common in the latter paper. The greater length of the Reader novels seems to encourage Brame to develop subplots between the ravelling and unravelling of the heroine’s romantic dilemma which encourage a critical consciousness of social and moral problems, with Thrown on the World offering a good example. This novel recounts the trials and tribulations of a woman of humble birth tricked into a false marriage with an aristocrat in disguise, who brutally abandons both her and their young child and blithely proceeds to wed a woman of his own class. Before her rehabilitation at the dénouement, the discarded wife is forced to undertake a series of positions as companion or governess which repeatedly expose the hollowness at the heart of high society, leading her to cry out bitterly against the prevailing sexual double standard: ‘“Is there one law for women … and another for men? Is a man’s sin to be smiled at, glossed over, made little of, excused in every way, while a woman, for the same sin, must forfeit everything she holds dear on earth, and meet with nothing but scorn and contempt?”’ To this, the narrator replies sternly and unequivocally: ‘No; men may think it is so, but the grand, immutable laws of God were made for soul, and not for sex.’ (ch. 46). Such anger and frustration at the wrongs suffered by women is a far cry from the patriarchal values more typically affirmed in Brame’s stories for the Herald, which itself maintained a conservative line on class and gender roles. A few months before Brame’s first serial Lord Lynne’s Choice began to appear in its columns, for example, the paper carried a resoundingly negative review of J.S. Mill’s recent exposure of The Subjection of Women (10 July 1869). In Dora Thorne, to take the best-known instance, the assertions that marriage beneath one’s station entails ‘the sin of … wanton disobedience’ against the will of the father (ch. 42), and that ‘woman’s rights are all fancy and nonsense; loving, gentle submission is the fairest ornament of woman’ (ch. 19), are both roundly endorsed in the novel’s conclusion. Sally Mitchell has shown convincingly how, in the popular romances of high life found in British popular story papers of the later Victorian period, the ‘overt moral is often at odds with the emotional effect’ (p. 152), and this is also true of Brame novels such as Dora Thorne where, though the narrator explicitly warns against the transgression of social boundaries, the narrative itself, like the author’s own endeavours as a writer, seems contradictorily to celebrate the spirit of enterprise. But, in Brame’s case, the ideological tensions seem to be mapped not only within each work of fiction, but also between the works submitted to the two journals to which she was committed.
Altogether then in the third and final phase of Brame’s career, our bibliographical principles leave us with eight tales, nineteen novelettes, and twenty-four rather shorter novels in the Family Herald, as against four tales, four novelettes, and twenty-seven rather longer novels in the Family Reader, a roughly equal division of labour spread evenly over a period of little more than ten years. Even if we leave out of the account the author ’s domestic duties and difficulties, this represents a consistently monstrous literary output, so that there seems little reason to seek importunately for yet more stories from Brame’s pen. Nevertheless, we should at this point draw attention to both a grey zone in our bibliographical discriminations and to one borderline case. Both May Brame’s list of her mother’s work and the consecutive series of Brame titles reprinted in the Family Reader after the author’s death, consist only of longer serial stories. Thus the only shorter tales in the Family Reader from later 1874 onwards to be included in our canon of authentic Brame titles are two Christmas stories appearing at the of 1874 and the beginning of 1876, and signed respectively ‘Helen Heathcote’ and ‘H.H.’. It thus remains possible that other Brame tales appeared entirely anonymously in the Reader during the period 1875-85, though, as Apps. C-D suggest, there seems little reason to trust the judgement of William Benners in this regard. (We shall return to this issue.) The borderline case in question is that of the fifty-three chapter novel Lady Alden’s Vow: A Romance, which opens with the discovery of the drowned body of Lady Clarice Alden, and which ran as an unsigned serial in the Family Reader from 16 May to 15 August 1874. This work does not appear in May Brame’s 1926 list, but might be considered to have been later authenticated by her because reprinted between the wars as a Brame title by both Hutchinson and their affiliate Stanley Paul in series that probably had Brame family approval (see App. N). Yet these represent uncertainties as against bibliographical givens: that is, Lady Alden’s Vow appeared unsigned in the Family Reader at a time when other Brame works were still securely identified – ‘Not Proven’ was signed ‘C.M.B.’ on 6 June 1874, and A Struggle for Love ran from 8 August 1874 linked to an assured Brame title – and was not reprinted in the paper after Brame’s death. Thus, after due consideration, we have excluded the title from our bibliographical list. On the other hand, we have retained the handful of serials that continued to run in the columns of both the Herald and Reader in the months following the author’s death, concluding from the state of the texts in question that it is more likely that a substantial stock of stories was supplied in advance to the two journals, rather that these works were either composed in their entirety, or completed, by other hands.
Though no documentary evidence seems to remain concerning how much money Brame earned from her pen, it does seem possible to conjecture concerning her remuneration during the mature professional phase. The author Alice Diehl, looking back in her autobiography on her first contributions to the Family Herald in the early 1880s, states that William Stevens was happy to offer her £250 for the serials rights alone of each novel, with an extra £50 if volume rights were included. It thus seems unlikely that, around the same period, Stevens’ agreement with one of his star authors for absolute copyright of three novels and two novelettes could have amounted to much less that £1000 per annum. It should be remembered that Stevens’ returns on this investment included not only annual subscriptions to the Family Herald itself, but also the long-term sales of Brame’s fiction reprinted in the volumes of the ‘Family Story-Teller’ series. This began in 1877 with Dora Thorne, and by 1893, almost a decade after the writer’s death, included a further 31 titles from her pen, comprising twenty-four novels and seven collections of stories (see App. B). Despite the fact that her contributions to the two papers were of roughly equal substance, since the readership of the Family Reader is likely to have been a good deal lower than that of the Herald and Brame seems in this case to have parted with serial rights only (see May Brame’s letter in App. A), we should probably estimate Brame’s income from the former to be not much more than half that of the latter. Nevertheless, this leads us to a sum of not less than £1500 per annum at the height of her career, or what amounts to a very substantial middle-class income. Even if this figure is an inflated one, it is surprising to learn that the author’s wealth at death amounted to only £1030 (Drozdz 2004). We can only assume that the charitable giving for which Brame was renowned in Hinckley, the heavy medical bills, the fairly frequent moves around the country, and, above all, Phillip Brame’s debts and dissipations, left the family with not much more than enough to get by.
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Large as the readership of Brame’s fiction must have been in Britain and its colonies, during the last ten years of her life, and for at least a quarter of a century afterwards, the American audience for her work seems to have been many times greater. On the other hand, in all probability she received no remuneration whatever from the sales of her published work in the US marketplace. The main factor explaining this situation is patently the absence of any reciprocal copyright agreement between Britain and America before the passage by Congress of the International Copyright (Chace) Act in March 1891. This enabled aliens not resident in the USA for the first time to acquire copyright on condition that their own government offered similar protection to American citizens, and that their works were set up in type within America’s borders (see Law & Morita for an extended discussion of the issues involved). In the case of such British subjects, this was activated by presidential proclamation from July of the same year, though it should be noted that works published before that date, including of course all Brame’s writings, remained entirely without protection. The long delay in the passage of such legislation, first proposed as early as 1837 when similar agreements between European powers were in the offing, was controversial in both countries, with a Times leader famously describing it as ‘the Schleswig-Holstein Question of agreement based on the obligation to provide authors with adequate rewards, and in the United States to oppose legislation based on the needs of the people for cheap books. In both countries, however, publishing houses often took stands based on blatant self-interest, with new British reprint houses like Routledge firmly against in order to continue thriving on the lack of protection of popular US authors such as James Fennimore Cooper and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and with traditional American houses like Nahum Capen in Boston or G.P. Putnam in New York strongly in favour in order to preserve their interest in eminent British authors.
As this might suggest, it was far from the case that no British author received a penny from American publishers before the Chace Act. Traditional houses like Capen and Putnam tried to nurture the concept of ‘trade courtesy’, whereby rival publishers would agree to respect the privileges of a house gaining precedence in the issuing of a particular work or series of works by a foreign author, thus discouraging cut-throat competition and creating a form of quasi-copyright. The mechanism sustaining this arrangement was the sale of ‘advance sheets’, that is, the transatlantic mailing of passed proofs by the British author, or a publisher or agent, frequently involving periodical instalments rather than complete volumes. The purpose was to ensure simultaneous publication in the United Kingdom and the United States, and thus to give the authorized American publisher a significant start over potential rivals, who would have to wait to receive copies of the published work a month or so later. Both the supply of advance sheets and the practice of trade courtesy were rather unstable, the latter particularly so at times of crisis or transition, notably during the American trade depression of the late 1830s and early 1840s, and from the mid-1870s on, when, regardless of trade conventions, brash new operators flooded the market with popular novels in cheap serial formats. Though as yet incomplete (see Apps. E-M), the existing bibliographic record suggests strongly that, as an author without an established public authorial identity at home whose work came to American attention at the height of the reprint boom, Brame’s work was likely never sent across the Atlantic in the form of advance sheets and rarely if ever accorded the benefits of trade courtesy by houses in the United States. It should also be noted that the absence of an Anglo-American copyright agreement often resulted not only in the degradation of an author’s literary property but also in damage to literary reputation: according to an 1837 petition to Congress by a group of British authors, writing published without permission and supervision was liable to ‘mutilation and alteration’, so that authors might ‘be made responsible for works which they no longer recognise as their own’ (24th Cong. II. 1837, S. Doc. 134). Arguably, Brame suffered more greatly in the American market with regard to those interests now enshrined in British and American law as ‘moral right’.
As reflected in App. L, all the available evidence suggests that the potential in the American marketplace of Brame’s romantic serials from both the Herald and the Reader was first picked up in the weekly New York story papers. With circulations in the hundreds of thousands, the best-selling papers during Brame’s career were: Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger (1855-), Street & Smith’s New York Weekly (1859-), Frank Leslie’s Chimney Corner (1865-), George Munro’s Fireside Companion (1867-), Beadle & Adam’s Saturday Journal (1870-), and Norman L. Munro’s New York Family Story Paper (1873-). The scramble began in the mid-1870s, and before the end of the decade the story papers of Frank Leslie and both Munro brothers were in fierce competition for the latest ‘C.M.B.’ serial from the columns of the Family Herald, typically reprinted as ‘By the author of “Dora Thorne”’. The gap of several weeks between London and New York publication in all cases where details are known, suggests that the rights owner, William Stevens, was not selling advance sheets to any of the three proprietors in question. The reprinting of A Bride from the Sea (Herald, 21 July 1877) in Leslie’s Chimney Corner, for example, was announced for August 18 at the beginning of that month, but in the event there was a week’s delay, perhaps due to storms at sea or the illness of the illustrator; George Munro’s Fireside Companion, though, often claimed against the evidence to be printing ‘from early sheets in advance of all competitors’ (see, e.g., advertisement for A Golden Heart’s second installment, New York Herald, 10 Jan. 1882, p.7). The fiction indices available show that neither Bonner nor Beadle & Adams carried any Brame serials during the period in question, though the latter house did reprint Lord Lisle’s Daughter from the ‘Dicks’ English Novels’ edition in four installments in its Fireside Library from April 1877, thus introducing the misspelling ‘Charlotte M. Braeme’ to the American public.
Street & Smith were undoubtedly in the lead in recognizing the potential of the run of romances appearing in the Family Reader with or without the initials ‘C.M.B.’ attached, and indeed may well also have been the first house to spot the appearance of serials by the same author in the Family Herald. A back-to-back run of Reader serials was reprinted in the New York Weekly for well over a decade beginning with Thrown on the World from early 1875, when, according to the proprietors, the circulation of the paper surged by 30,000 copies in a single week (see, e.g., advertisement in the (New York) Daily Graphic, 8 December 1876, p. 255). And occasionally during this run the odd CMB title from the Herald was thrown in for good measure, beginning with Wife in Name Only from Christmas Day 1876, which may represent the first American reprinting of a Brame serial novel from that paper, though Leslie’s Chimney Corner probably had the honour of issuing the first Brame short story in the United States, with her 1874 Herald Christmas tale ‘The Mystery of the Holly Tree’. (This suggests, of course, that Dora Thorne was by no means the first Brame novel to attract attention in the United States.) To begin with the Brame stories in the New York Weekly – Moore (p. 11) counts twenty-six by the time of the author’s death – were issued under a mixture of authorial identities, most typically as ‘by the author of’ the previous title in the series, but also under various pseudonyms, notably ‘Mrs. Florice Norton’ (with no precedent in the English papers), ‘Caroline M. Barton’ (from Brame’s initials) and ‘Bertha M. Clay’ (with the initials reversed). By around 1877, Street & Smith had settled on this last form as their house signature for the English writer. A number of twentieth-century American sources have suggested that Brame authorized these goings-on, and was paid generously by Street & Smith under a long-term agreement. Quentin Reynolds, in his swash-buckling record of the house, states that Smith & Street ‘lured the popular English writer, Charlotte M. Brame, away from the Ledger by offering her twice as much money as she had been getting’ (Fiction Factory, p. 38), but this cannot be true since Bonner never published any Brame stories. Albert Johannsen, in his far more reliable history of The House of Beadle & Adams (II pp. 40-1), echoing claims in the New York Weekly itself as we shall see, writes that Street & Smith ‘published her stories under a special contract from advance sheets for ten years’. Yet, this also must be wide of the mark, because the serials in question appeared regularly in the New York Weekly several weeks behind the Family Reader in London.
If the first wave of reprintings of Brame’s novels in the United States was in the weekly story papers, this was soon followed by a veritable tsunami of editions in countless dime novel series and libraries, with George Munro’s ‘Seaside Library’ and ‘Lovell’s Library’ in the vanguard, both deriving most if not all of their early titles from the Family Herald (see Apps. E & G). Though the proprietors of the New York Weekly did not begin to issue dime novel libraries under their own imprint until the later 1880s, they were nevertheless again first off the mark in issuing Brame’s Family Reader titles in volume form. This they did through the New York house of G.W. Carleton, who published on behalf of Street & Smith a ‘New York Weekly’ series of thirteen such titles in cloth-bound 12mo hardback at $1.50, beginning with Thrown on the World in late 1876 and concluding with Put Asunder (as Lady Castlemaine’s Divorce had been renamed) in 1886. All of these had been serialized first in the story paper, and appeared under the signature ‘Bertha M. Clay’ – Wife in Name Only was not included. Indeed, Johannsen argues that it was the appearance of Thrown on the World in hardback that introduced the signature (II p. 41). The next generation of cheap libraries – including J.S. Ogilvie’s ‘People’s Library’, again under the borrowed pseudonym ‘Bertha M. Clay’, and Lupton’s ‘Chimney Corner Series’, as by ‘Charlotte M. Braeme’ (see App. M) – was much more eclectic in its search for Brame-like material. Ogilvie and Lupton freely plundered titles not only from rival houses (in the process often retitling them to make old look like new, and occasionally even rewriting the opening chapters along more melodramatic lines to complete the disguise) but also from other nameless British authors contributing to the Herald, the Reader, and other journals of similar character, including the Young Ladies’ Journal. George Munro felt himself obliged to pursue a similar course in his new series, the long-running ‘Seaside Library Pocket Edition’ (App. F), and was soon being aped in his brother’s Norman’s ‘Munro’s Library Pocket Edition’ (see App. M), with neither now afraid to use the name ‘Bertha M. Clay’ when there was any advantage in doing so. Clearly there was little in the way of ‘courtesy of the trade’ in this publishing sector, and no conception of the ‘moral right’ of an alien author. At the turn of the century Charlotte’s brother-in-law George Brame, then apparently resident in Canada, complained to the press that the authoress ‘never used, or knew that her writings were ever published under the nom de plume of “Bertha M. Clay”, but since her death, scores of trashy volumes have been attributed to her, which bear on the title page both her proper and her assumed name, not one of which she ever did or could write’ (letter to (Toronto) Daily Mail and Empire, 4 August 1900).
Street & Smith did make at least one concerted, but eventually unsuccessful public attempt to bring some order to this chaotic commercial situation by attempting to assert their ownership of the nom de plume ‘Bertha M. Clay’. From the mid-1870s, the proprietors of the New York Weekly had registered the Brame serials reprinted from the Family Reader under that name at the Library of Congress in Washington under the 1790 US Copyright Act. Throughout October 1884, just a few weeks before Brame’s premature death, they waged a campaign in the columns of the New York Weekly centring on a hand-written letter, reproduced in large-scale facsimile in the issue of 20 October, purporting to be addressed from London and signed by ‘Bertha M. Clay’. This committed that fictitious lady to writing ‘exclusively for the NEW YORK WEEKLY’, with the proprietors threatening that ‘all infringements will be rigidly prosecuted’ (6 Oct. 1884, p. 4). Three months after the real author’s demise there appeared in the paper an obituary stating that Bertha M. Clay was the pen name of Charlotte M. Brame, née Low [sic] in 1836 at Hinckley, Leicestershire, and asserting that Street & Smith had published her stories ‘[f]or ten years … from advance sheets under a special contract’; with some justification, they accused unscrupulous rivals of issuing ‘spurious romances purporting to have been written by Bertha M. Clay’, asserting that ‘No other paper in the United States had or has a right to use the name of Bertha M. Clay. The NEW YORK WEEKLY originated the name, and by liberal, systematic and long-continued advertising has made it famous.’ and promising to ‘test the matter in the courts’ (23 Feb. 1885, p. 4). During the same period the firm must have been putting legal pressure on rival houses persistently making use of the name ‘Bertha M. Clay’, notably J.S. Ogilvie and John W. Lovell. Ogilvie clearly capitulated, striking out the name from the plate of an advert for the first three monthly numbers of Ogilvie’s Popular Reading in early 1885 (see Plate 6), and thereafter shifting by stages to the use of ‘Author of “Dora Thorne”’, then ‘Charlotte M. Brame’, and finally ‘Lotte Brame’. Lovell, on the other hand stood firm, and a suit was filed in the New York courts around March 1885 by Street & Smith to restrain the rival house from publishing new books under the name of Bertha M. Clay, since it was their own trade mark protected by copyright law. However, on 16 April 1885 the suit was withdrawn by Birdseye, Cloyd & Bayliss on behalf of the plaintiffs when, according to the account in the Washington Law Reporter, ‘the defendants undertook to show that the author, by sending advance sheets to Street & Smith, was breaking her agreement with a London house, and that the case could have no standing in a court of equity’ (vol. 13, 30 May 1885, p. 346). This statement at first seems puzzling, since, as we have seen, the bibliographic record suggests unmistakably that the New York Weekly relied overwhelmingly on material from the Family Reader and was not reprinting from advance sheets, while Brame’s long-term agreement was with William Stevens at the Family Herald. Therefore, we take the statement to mean that Lovell’s lawyer Roger Foster intended to prove NOT that Brame had indeed broken her London publishing contract BUT rather that Street & Smith’s claim of a special long-term contract with the British author was itself fictitious. If nothing else, the publicity generated by the reporting of this affair in the popular press (see, for example, ‘Two Names for the Author of “Dora Thorne”’ in the New York Sun, 17 April 1885, p. 3), finally brought the name Charlotte M. Brame into the public domain in the United States.
However, J.S. Ogilvie was really the only publisher to make consistent use of it. From around the mid-1880s the dime novel libraries became not only more numerous but also more specialized, separating works out not only broadly by genre – ‘Clover’, ‘Heart’, ‘Primrose’, ‘Sweetheart’, and ‘Violet’, were among the epithets used to denote romance libraries aimed at female readers – but also narrowly by sub-genre. Yet, to denote the particular style of romance associated with an upper-class English setting, there were at least four series named for Bertha Clay but none for Charlotte Brame. By then also, Brame’s short stories were no longer safe from such exploitation, being utilized not only in series specializing in short fiction like Lupton’s ‘Leisure Hour Library’ (see App. M), but to add variety to the story papers and other literary periodicals, and even to pad out many an over-slim volume. From the later 1880s, with the Chace Act about to protect the latest works by British authors, and the stock of original Brame titles as yet unexploited in the US market almost exhausted, Street & Smith seem to have pioneered a new strategy. They began to pay local male staff writers to provide English-style romances under the signature ‘Bertha M. Clay’ for serialization in the New York Weekly, with paperback issue following in new cheap libraries like the ‘Clover’ and ‘Select’ Series. The first such recruit seems to have been John R. Coryell (1851-1924), cousin of the publisher Ormond G. Smith, who was initially commissioned to produce titles such as Marjorie Deane and Gladys Greye by extensively reworking unsigned stories from English papers like the Family Reader. But there were complaints that the revisions did not go far enough to conceal the originals, so that, beginning with Violet Lisle in mid-1890, Coryell soon began to create his own romantic plots from scratch (Cox 2012). Since these stories were entirely of local American origin, Street & Smith were apparently able to increase their profits by arranging parallel publication in Great Britain, in the story papers of James Henderson of Lion Red Square. The American boom in English-style romances kindled by Charlotte M. Brame was to survive the First World War. Fittingly, it was Street & Smith who outlasted their rivals and finally asserted the supremacy of the Clay brand over the name of Brame, this through the monumental ‘Bertha Clay’ and ‘New Bertha Clay’ Libraries which together ran between 1900 and 1932. As Appendices J & K reveal, along the way these two series amassed well over five hundred separate titles, accumulated from here, there, and everywhere, but with a large majority deriving from works by women issued in Britain prior to the Chace Act, including around a hundred stories written by our author.
To put a little flesh on the bones of this general account of the reprinting of Brame’s work in the United States, it is useful to turn to the particular and peculiar role of William J. Benners, Jnr (1863-1940), who, in addition to writing a number of his own romantic serials, appointed himself American agent of Charlotte M. Brame less than a decade after the author’s death. However, he was also something of a traveler, and seems to have visited Britain on more than one occasion around the turn of the twentieth century, making contact with May Brame and other surviving relatives of the author. As described in more detail in Apps. C and D, which relate to documents surviving from Benners’ agency work now archived in New York and California, the Philadelphian was a fan and historian of pulp fiction, amassing a vast amount of information concerning dime novels, their authors and publishing venues, but apparently never even starting to write a planned encyclopedia of ‘Popular Writers’ (Adimari, p. 124). App. C concerns an annotated listing by Benners of stories in the Family Reader during the first decade of its existence, which seems to have been used as an aid to the marketing in the United States of English-style romances as by Clay/Braeme regardless of actual authorship, with the name of Charles Garvice (1850-1920) to the fore. App D. concerns what purports to be a collection of over forty original story manuscripts in Brame’s hand, but which in fact prove to be long-hand copies made in the United States for Benners of already published stories that were to be sold to American publishers as new material. However, the documents that shed the coldest light on Benners’ activities are the Street & Smith side, clearly not complete, of the correspondence between Benners and the publishers over a decade from the mid-1890s (Benners Papers 2/6-8). There, we get an all too clear picture of the negotiations concerning the supply of English-style romances for both the columns of the New York Weekly and for the publishers’ dime novel series like the ‘Eagle’ and the ‘Bertha Clay Library’. In 1897-8, for example, we see Benners receiving $300 dollars each for two Brame serials in manuscript, both in fact retitled stories from the Family Reader, ‘How Will it End?’ (=At the Eleventh Hour) and ‘A Hand Without a Wedding Ring’ (=Helen Raeburn’s Marriage). This before setting up a long-term deal for six more at the same rate, while selling his own original Lady Ona’s Sin for $250, as a stop-gap to be issued under the ‘Bertha M. Clay’ label. Old titles by Charles Garvice, still of course very much alive and now protected by the Chace Act, are also frequently on the agenda at this time, for use either under his own name or in the Clay series, with the publishers anxious that the stories must not only be authentic but also published in Britain prior to July 1891; Benners supplies them with ‘His Perfect Trust’, probably for $100, though the work seems subsequently to have been repudiated by Garvice himself. Ralph Adimari, who worked on Benners’ surviving papers to produce a biographical sketch for the Dime Novel Round-Up (p. 123), thus estimates that his income from selling Brame stories in this way ‘may have reached higher than $10,000’.
Yet Adimari also assumes that Benners received the consent of the Brame family ‘to his selling all her serials and short stories published in forgotten periodicals of the past’ and thus made regular remissions back to England (p. 123). However, the only evidence found in support of this is in business correspondence dating from December 1902, where, in response to what Benners describes as a ‘piteous appeal for help’ from the author’s daughter, Street & Smith write: ‘… we can use the Valentine story at your price of $75, the proceeds being forwarded, as we understand it, to Miss Braeme. It is certainly very kind on your part to think of her and we shall be glad to cooperate with you from time to time in the good work.’ (Benners Papers 2/7 & 2/18). Whether such remissions, clearly seen here as charitable donations rather than as the settling of accounts between agent and client, ever took place seems open to question. Certainly, H. J. Francis in his comments on Charlotte M. Brame based on communications with May Brame and other family members (see App. A), speaks unequivocally of the author’s works being ‘shamelessly pirated’ in both America and Britain, singling out only Charles Garvice, who, as we shall see, became the proprietor of the Family Reader early in the twentieth century, for honourable mention as having ‘advertised for Mrs. Brame’s descendants’ and reached ‘a working arrangement’ to their financial benefit.
Further, a file of unsourced clippings from US newspapers during and after the First World War also found among the Benners materials (Adimari Papers 3/3A), including a number obviously based on interviews with Benners himself, demonstrate that the man was given to telling tall stories in public places. In one headed ‘The Bertha M. Clay Mystery Cleared Up’, in fact from the (Philadelphia) Evening Star of 19 April 1917, Benners claims not only to have been the principal composer of works in the Bertha M. Clay series, but also to have personally written such Brame novels as ‘How Will it End?’ and ‘The Hand Without a Wedding Ring’, though as we have seen, he was responsible only for the alternative titles and fake manuscripts. In another entitled ‘Claims He’s Bertha Clay’, signed Alma Whitaker, which proves to come from the Los Angeles Times of 18 June 1922, in addition to repeating these claims, Benners gives the distinct impression that he was intimately acquainted with Charlotte Brame. He describes her husband as a ‘handsome dog’ who ‘served as inspiration for her beautiful heroes’, and states categorically not only that Brame broke her agreement with William Stevens in agreeing to write under the name ‘Florence Norton [sic]’ for rival publisher John Conway (who only took over the Family Reader a few weeks before her death), but also that she died of shame when ‘Stevens discovered that he had been deceived and brought suit’, although there is no record of any such action before a British court. Overall, William Benners comes across as not far short of a confidence trickster, whose activities have done much to muddy the waters when scholars have tried to see to the bottom of the mystery of Bertha M. Clay.
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Finally, in case there should be any suspicion that our account lays charges of dishonourable dealing exclusively on American soil, we come to the question of the reprinting of Brame’s work in the wider world and back in Britain itself. Though it is not a topic that we have as yet researched in any detail, it is evident that the cheap dime novel series travelled far beyond the borders of the United States, so that translations of works by ‘Bertha M. Clay’ soon appeared in Spanish, Arabic, Polish, Japanese, and doubtless many other languages. Mary Noel, for example, reports an unnamed Clay novel being turned first into Spanish and then Arabic in the port city of Buenos Aires (Villains Galore, p. 187), while the British Library holds an 1886 Polish version from a Warsaw house of Which Loved Him Best? authored by ‘Berty Maryi Clay’ and translated by Maryi Dz. From as early as 1890 with Dora ‘por Carlota M. Braemé’, the venerable New York publishers D. Appleton & Co. began to issue Spanish versions of a series of at least five Brame titles for the benefit of the Hispanic community not only in the United States, but also throughout Latin America, judging from the warning against fraudulent reproduction in other countries on the title page verso. In Japan, where the collapse of the rigid feudal caste system following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 stimulated a fear of, and fascination with romance across classes, and which did not yet enjoy reciprocal copyright arrangements with the United States, two separate adaptations of Dora Thorne (clearly both from American reprints ‘by Bertha M. Clay’) had appeared by the beginning of the twentieth century, the first of 1888 attracting the approbation of the Meiji empress herself (Ito, p. 358). More recently, Keiko Hori has shown that Konjiki Yakusha (‘The Golden Demon’), a highly regarded novel of the later nineteenth century by Koyo Ozaki, is adapted from Brame’s Weaker than a Woman, with the author undoubtedly working from an American dime novel version by ‘Bertha M. Clay’. If under the term ‘piracy’ we wish to include the unauthorized reproduction of foreign literary works in jurisdictions where there was no law to prohibit it, then piracy was rife towards the end of the nineteenth century not only in the United States but throughout much of the world.
Also in the English-speaking colonies, where in theory British copyright law still held firm, it is easy to find examples of the illegal penetration of American reprints of Brame’s work, with the long porous border with Canada obviously creating an open invitation. But even in distant New Zealand things were not too different. Thanks to the superb ‘Papers Past’ website operated by the National Library of New Zealand, it is easy to see that the monthly editions of not only Stevens’s Family Herald, but also the Family Reader: For at Home and Abroad, regularly took the long sea journey from London via the Suez Canal to the Antipodes, making all of Brame’s latest tales and novels available to the colonists. Yet, that does not seem to have been sufficient, for a number of local papers also reprinted the ‘Bertha M. Clay’ serials from the New York Weekly with a time lag of around three months, most notably the Budget, or Taranaki Weekly Herald, with a sequence of around fifty titles over nearly thirty years beginning with His Wife’s Judgment in mid-1878.
As App. N shows, even in Britain itself, many ‘Bertha M. Clay’ titles were reprinted from American sources from before the turn of the twentieth century, whether with or without authorization. James Henderson (as we have seen) and Aldine Publishing, both of Red Lion Court off Fleet Street, look to have had some sort of arrangement with Street & Smith in New York, and clearly tried to avoid reprinting material first published in Britain, though the former presumably slipped up in issuing in its ‘Budget Story Book’ series A Hand Without a Wedding Ring, that is, Helen Raeburn’s Marriage as retitled by Benners, where volume copyright rested with the Brame family. On the other hand, Milner & Co. of Halifax, Yorkshire seem to have blatantly disregarded both domestic law and the Anglo-American copyright agreement in issuing in the mid-1890s a rag-bag of ‘Bertha M. Clay’ titles, mixing Brame novels originally published in both the Herald and the Reader, in addition to at least one original US publication from Street & Smith’s ‘Clover Series’. Many if not all of the Clay titles from Milner were reprinted after the turn of the century by W. Nicholson & Sons of Wakefield, and then in the 1920s by Robert Hayes in his half-crown ‘Sandringham Library’. It was presumably mainly these houses that H.J. Francis had in mind when he claimed in late 1926 that ‘pirated editions had also appeared in England’ (see App. A).
But as Francis also mentions, well before that, Charles Garvice, then ‘the most successful novelist in England’ in the words of Arnold Bennett (cited in Waller), had purchased the Family Reader from John Conway, in part with a view to acquiring the serials rights not only of his own early romances but also of many of those of Charlotte M. Brame. By arrangement with the Brame family, and beginning around 1911, many of the authentic titles from the Reader were reprinted in both hardback and paperback as by Charlotte M. Brame, first by Hodder & Stoughton and then by Hutchinson or its affiliates, Stanley Paul and Selwyn & Blount. A list for the Hutchinson hardback ‘Blue Star Library’ dating from around 1928 suggests that Thrown on the World was its best-selling Brame title with nearly 110,000 sold. Since May Brame cites the titles of several of her mother ’s works in the changed forms first issued in the series of double-column paperbacks by C. Arthur Pearson during and after the First World War (see App. A), which must have sold even more widely, we must assume that these editions also had family approval. It should be noted, however, that the Pearson series included: stories originally issued in the Family Herald, severely abridged versions of Brame’s work, inauthentic titles as by ‘Charlotte M. Brame’, and ‘Bertha M. Clay’ titles of doubtful provenance. As the rights holder, William Stevens Ltd. seems to have kept the ‘Family Story-Teller’ volumes in print until well after the First World War, but, with copyright in all of the works published during Brame’s life running out in 1934, fifty years after her death, the firm seems to have leased many if not all of the titles to houses like Jarrolds and Wright & Brown shortly before the expiry. In the laissez-faire period after 1934, it was the latter house that became the most prolific publisher in the field, eventually issuing not far short of a hundred titles by either Clay or Brame. The provenance of the Clay titles remains uncertain, while the Brame titles included a mélange of inauthentic and authentic material, with a dominance of titles from the Herald over those from the Reader. In sum, the history of the republication of Brame’s work in the home market from the turn of the new century reveals not only incidences of disrespect for intellectual property rights, but also a general disregard for authorial integrity and reputation.
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It could be argued that, since millions of common readers in Britain, America, and beyond, could not tell the difference between English-style romances written by Brame and those from a host of other authors, all this does not matter very much. In Mechanic Accents, Michael Denning’s fine sociological study of ‘Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America’, to cite its sub-title, he argues that, given the mass production of popular fiction under factory conditions, ‘dime novels are best considered as an essentially anonymous, “unauthored” discourse, not unlike journalism’ (p. 24). To this end, without worrying too much about the details, Denning is content to accept the myth that the bulk of the ‘Bertha M. Clay’ oeuvre was ground out by male staff writers in New York, more typically assigned to masculine genres like the detective thriller, but versatile enough to fool a flock of female readers. Yet, as we have seen, most of the English-style romances associated with the Clay brand were in fact woven on fiction looms in the family homes of a lot of hard-working women. It thus seems to us important, in justice to Brame and to her many industrious sisters, to try to recover wherever possible who wrote what and for whom. Since, with access to the relevant bibliographic information, it is not too difficult to spot the differences between Brame’s short tales written for the Lamp and those for the Family Herald, or between her novel-length serials for the Herald and for the Family Reader, it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility to distinguish romances composed by the Hinckley woman from those written by others.
One of the unfortunate results of the situation described in detail in this introduction is a good deal of bibliographic chaos. Many research library cataloguers, including those at the British Library and the Library of Congress, in recent years have laudably tried to weed out authorial entries for the non-existent persons Bertha M. Clay and Charlotte Monica Braeme, and instead treat these names uniformly as pseudonyms adopted by the real Charlotte M. Brame. Yet this unfortunately results in assigning to the Hinckley woman a forest of titles that she herself would not have recognized, not least because many were written after her death. It seems especially important to try to sort out these complex problems left over from the print era as we enter a revolutionary new age of the digital distribution of texts, with its inspiring prospects for the democratization of reading and research. At the time of writing, with new digital and print-on-demand editions associated with our author appearing every week, over half of the Project Gutenburg digital texts associated with her name are not in fact written by Charlotte M. Brame, and the same is true of four out of twenty-five books available in searchable digital facsimile through the Hathi Trust. We hope that this addition to the series of Victorian Fiction Research Guides, available in searchable format to all on the World Wide Web, will prove useful not only to librarians but also to non-specialists thinking of reading Brame’s work by downloading the latest digital edition or ordering a time-worn volume from the likes of AbeBooks.
It seems fitting to end with a wry evocation of the mystery of the anonymous female author of romantic fiction in the age of the steam train. This is from Agnes Repplier, the Philadelphia essayist, who discovers during a visit to London in the early 1890s the seductive pleasures of ‘English Railway Fiction’ as represented by William Stevens’ ‘Family Story-Teller’ series:
… I noticed at the Waterloo station three shilling novels, – ‘Weaker than a Woman,’ ‘Lady Hutton’s Ward’, and ‘Diana’s Discipline’, all advertised conspicuously as being by the author of ‘Dora Thorne’. Feeling that my ignorance of Dora Thorne herself was a matter for regret and enlightenment, I asked for her at once, to be told that she was not in stock, but I might, if I liked, have ‘Lady Gwendoline’s Dream’ by the same writer. I declined ‘Lady Gwendoline’s Dream’, and at the next station once more demanded ‘Dora Thorne’. In vain! The young man in attendance glanced over his volumes, shook his head, and offered me ‘Diana’s Discipline’, and a fresh book, ‘The Fatal Lillies’, also by the author of ‘Dora Thorne’. Another stall at another station had all five of these novels, and a sixth one in addition, ‘A Golden Heart’, by the author of ‘Dora Thorne’, but still no ‘Dora’. Elsewhere I encountered ‘Her Martyrdom’ and ‘Which Loved Him Best’, both stamped with the cabalistic words ‘By the author of “Dora Thorne”’; and so it continued to the end. New stories without number, all from the same pen, and all countersigned ‘By the author of “Dora Thorne”’, but never ‘Dora’. From first to last she remained elusive, invisible, unattainable … (Points of View, pp. 233-4)
Repplier seems to have remained blissfully unaware that the real ‘author of “Dora Thorne”’ had already died at Hinckley, been resurrected in New York as ‘Bertha M. Clay’, and was then likely the most widely read British author in the United States, while ‘Dora Thorne’ herself was to become a mainstay of the popular American theatre and even make it on to the silver screen.