Horatio Alger

Today is Horatio Alger‘s birthday (1832-1899).  Frye was an avid reader of Alger as a boy and could apparenty recite whole passages as an adult.  Not surprisingly, however, he was also somewhat sardonic about it: “The Horatio Alger books are wonderful propaganda for the capitalist system.  They always end with the hero making five dollars a week—with a chance for advancement.”   (Interview in The Telegram, 25 March 1950)

Here he is in Anatomy of Criticism citing Alger to remind us that there’s a difference between a sociological and literary study of literature:

There is no reason why a sociologist should not work exclusively on literary material, but if he does he should pay no attention to literary values. In his field Horatio Alger and the writer of the Elsie books are more important than Hawthorne or Melville, and a single issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal is worth all of Henry James. The literary critic using sociological data is similarly under no obligation to respect sociological values.  (CW 21, 66)

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