What I learned from reading Literary Philadelphia and then attending the author’s (Thom Nickels) presentation at the Library Company on Wednesday is that I am either (a) pathetically uneducated or (b) I have some delightful reads to enjoy over the next month.
Here are the Philadelphia literature must-reads I have to catch up on according to the Literati of the Library Company (it’s the first lending library ever so these erudite folks know of what they speak). So let’s put down our People mags (Tom and Lu’s divorce will be waiting for us when we finish our literature), and get to it.
- The Hellfire Club by Daniel P. Mannix – Hellfire documents exclusive clubs for “persons of quality” who wanted to take part in immoral acts. Members were often involved in politics. Think black magic, sexual orgies, screaming girls, red robes, political conspiracies and more. So basically today’s current White House.
- Steps Going Down by John T. McIntyre – Looking to get a better idea of the low-life side of Philadelphia? Look no further. In Steps, two men try to evade the police as they move throughout various poor sections of Philadelphia coming across a variety of characters – crooks, prostitutes, addicts and more. Steps was selected as the U.S. entry in the All-Nations Prize Novel Competition.
- The Quaker City by George Lippard – According to Goodreads, this is a “sensational expose of social corruption, personal debauchery and sexual exploitation of women in antebellum Philadelphia.”
- Pauline’s Peril and Punishment by Louisa May Alcott – Alcott wrote this under a pseudonym due to its lurid and racy nature.
- The Good Earth by Pearl Buck – This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 much to the dismay of her literary “friends” like Hemingway who thought her writing was too low-brow. The novel dramatizes a family living in a Chinese village pre-WWI.
Best Philly Literary Gossip from Thom Nickels’s Literary Philadelphia
Note: All authors mentioned below lived in Philadelphia at some point.
- Ben Franklin wrote under the pseudonym Silence Dogwood, an outspoken female author. She wrote about the mistreatment of women in the colonies and how little respect she had for Harvard. In real life, Franklin had a little Trump in him – calling German immigrants “the Refuse of their People” and referring to black slaves in America as having “a plotting disposition, dark, sullen, malicious, revengeful and cruel.”
- Agnes Repplier was expelled from two Philadelphia-area schools – first, the Convent of the Sacred Heart and then the Agnes Irwin School. She was expelled from Agnes Irwin for refusing to read a required book by throwing it on the floor. Of her time at Eden Hall, Repplier noted that her only accomplishment was learning to smoke.
- Louisa May Alcott was born with very dark hair, a trait associated with Satanism in those days. She was born in Boston and when she moved to Philadelphia she described the houses as “tidy jails” and noted of Philadelphia more generally that “the women seem to do the business, which, perhaps, accounts for its being so well done.”
- Although George Lippard’s “friend”, Edgar Allan Poe, was wildly condescending towards him (“a lesser version of himself”), many readers today feel that Lippard makes Poe look like Mother Goose. We even have Lippard to thank for giving Philadelphia the sobriquet, the “Quaker City”. Lippard also invented a story about how the Liberty Bell got its crack – the signers of the Declaration rang the bell too hard.
- Edgar Allan Poe‘s cause of death was thought to be “mania a potu” or “madness from drinking”.
- Thomas Paine was a corset maker before his business went bust and he became a writer. He was one of the earliest condemners of the slave trade. At the time of his death, he was wildly unpopular, deemed a “rabble rouser”.
There are so many more fun bits of gossip in Literary Philadelphia, I highly recommend you download it to your Kindle (Amazon, $10).
Pop culture enthusiast. Lover of all things Philly. Amateur Chef. Planner of fun date nights.