“Alice of Old Vincennes” float, 1929
I know that I promised around the New Year not to buy any more books. I’ve held to that promise, and have been pestering my subject-area librarian at Baa Ram U. with requests, as well as drawing heavily on our in-state library exchange system. It’s been fantastic to read, enjoy, and return the books I’ve been reading!
However, as I warned you, I might make an exception for books I find in used book shops and old junk stores, and I’m afraid that last Sunday I did buy a book, Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson (Indianapolis: The Bowen-Merrell Company, 1900), which was a popular smash and among the top ten best-selling books of 1900 and 1901. I paid all of $4.50 for my first edition copy, although you can pay eight or nine times more for it online. (I love my old junk store haunts here in Northern Colorado!)
Who cares about some musty historical novel from the last century? I bought the book because it is a story built around the capture of Fort Vincennes (now Vincennes, Indiana) from the British in 1779 during the War of the American Revolution. Vincennes was originally a French fort, and the book purports to tell the story of a beautiful but willlful orphaned teenager named Alice who was adopted by a prominent French family at Vincennes. Of course, SPOILER ALERT, she turns out to have been originally an Anglo-American girl who as a child was taken captive by Indians before she was “rescued” by the French family that raised her. In short, it’s a typical turn-of-the-twentieth-century set-piece of Colonial Revival romanticism that portrays the French and Indian presence in the Old Northwest as a charming but doomed relict of the past, and it comes complete with the dashing young Anglo-American military hero ready to sweep Alice off her feet and return her to life among English- speaking Protestants.
Why are you still reading this post? This is a post not so much about Alice of Old Vincennes as it is about the amazing power of the internets to elucidate and explain what otherwise would have been a long-forgotten historical novel that would interest few of us as a literary novel. Continue Reading »