Children’s literature of the 1865-1900 period is, in some cases, a literature that is still alive, whereas stories for the young in the antebellum era are now obsolete. To study the art of the earlier period is primarily an antiquarian exercise; but the late nineteenth century represents a new age in the stylistic and structural features of children’s books. All the writers in my postbellum sample could be called modern with the exception of Martha Finley. That is, they wrote in a straightforward, sometimes journalistic, style that would not signal to the reader that the works were of an earlier time. Other aspects of content and form send a similar signal. The heavy use of dialect is the principal device that distinguishes some books as antiques, but even that convention is overlooked by present-day readers of Mark Twain’s novels. Finley, as noted above, is a throwback to an earlier era because she wrote moralizing tracts interwoven with countless biblical quotations and allusions. Her novels represent the flattest kind of evangelical propaganda.
Twain, Harris, Page, and Pyrnelle were, in varying degrees, literary artists. Even when we look at their works as social documents, we need to examine them as artistic objects because a skillful technique has a direct bearing upon persuasiveness.
Finley, Stratemeyer, Henty, and Adams were not literary artists in the same sense, but they did create what could be called publishing phenomena. The characteristics of the phenomenon had a bearing upon the power of the works. For years librarians and teachers evaluated books by these hack writers as failed works of art and therefore as insignificant. They missed the point about the nature and function of popular culture. The meaning of series books of the nine-