At the height of her popularity Isabella’s books were published in several languages and sold all over the world.
She had a large fan base in England, and in the 1890s a British publisher took the unusual step of publishing Isabella’s novels as pamphlets. Today, we’d call them paperback books.
S. W. Partridge & Co. of London advertised the books as “Partridge’s Cheap Pansy Series.” Each edition included a list of the available titles in the series:
The novels measured 7-1/2” by 10-3/4”, making them slightly smaller than the 8-1/2 by 11” standard paper Americans use today. They were only 64 pages long, but thanks to their 2-column layout and small type, each novel was complete and compact enough to fit into a lady’s bag.
In fact, Partridge & Co. published them particularly for women travelers. They were sold at newsstands in railway stations throughout England and cost just four pennies.
Each book featured a beautifully embellished, full-color cover that illustrated a particular scene from the story. Here’s the cover for Chautauqua Girls at Home:
The cover art for Ruth Erskine’s Crosses shows the moment Ruth’s father introduced her to Judge Burnham.
What do you think of the depiction of this important scene? Is that how you pictured Judge Burnham when you first read Ruth Erskine’s Crosses?
The cover for Julia Ried shows the moment Julia went to apply for the bookkeeping job at the box factory.
In addition to the cover, each book had anywhere from five to nine black and white illustrations. This one, in Julia Ried, depicts the moment Dr. Douglass introduced Julia to Mrs. Tyndale.
Mottos were very popular in the 1890s, and this motto appeared at the end of Julia Ried:
It very nicely sums up one of the lessons Julia learned in the story.
Often, mottoes like this one were used as inexpensive sources of artwork. Ladies cut them from the pages of books and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks or framed them to hang on the wall.
Ester Ried Yet Speaking also ends with a motto related to the story:
The cover for Interrupted illustrates the moment Claire Benedict learned her father’s money was gone and the family was bankrupt.
One of the black-and-white illustrations shows the moment Claire suggests to her students that they take on the job of cleaning up the church sanctuary:
It wasn’t uncommon for the titles of Pansy’s novels to be changed when they were published in other countries. One Commonplace Day was one such novel; in England it was renamed Wise toWin:
These paperback books all have some wear and tear, but considering the fact that they’re over 130 years old, they are in remarkably good shape. Perhaps they’ll last another hundred years for a new generation of Pansy readers to enjoy!
There’s a new Isabella Alden Pinterest board for you to view: “Clothes Pansy’s characters might have worn” is a budding collection of clothing, jewelry, hats and shoes from the time period in which Isabella wrote her books.
And this delicate gown may remind you of the gown Flossy Shipley ruined in the rain on her first visit to Chautauqua.
You’ll also see several black gowns that Ruth Burnham might have worn (she never wore any other color) in the book Ruth Erskine’s Crosses.
You’ll find examples of traveling costumes, day dresses, tea gowns, and walking suits, as well as some jewelry, purses, and shoes to help you visualize Isabella’s beloved characters as you read her books. Click here to view Isabella’s Pinterest board now.
In her memoirs, Isabella Alden wrote about the first time her father and mother visited her after she was married. It happened when Isabella’s minister husband was new to his church and was working hard to make the Wednesday prayer meetings a success. He wanted the prayer meeting attendees to participate, so on Sunday mornings he would announce from the pulpit the topic for the Wednesday meeting. He asked everyone to come on Wednesday with a Bible verse that supported or illustrated the topic.
One Tuesday, Isabella’s mother and father arrived unexpectedly for a visit. The next evening Isabella proudly escorted her parents to the church and sat beside her father as her husband, Reverend Alden, led the prayer meeting. But something happened that forced her to make a terrible choice.
Her father had always strongly opposed women speaking in public and that opposition extended to prayer meetings.
Yet Isabella had prepared a Bible verse to recite aloud if necessary to help and support her husband. None of the other attendees were responding to Reverend Alden’s call to participate and an uncomfortable silence stretched on for several minutes. Isabella wrote:
“I sat in distressed silence for several minutes; so did everybody else. Suddenly I looked at my husband. I had promised him, had even talked with him about some of the thoughts that I wanted to present. What must he think of me now?
“Oh, Christ!” I prayed in my heart. “Tell me what to do!”
And the answer came, she said, as plainly as spoken words. She broke the silence and recited aloud the verse she had prepared:
“Thus saith the Lord who created thee: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”
As soon as she finished, others followed in quick succession, and the prayer meeting continued on.
But Isabella was keenly aware that her father never said a word to her about the meeting or the verse.
“He was kind and tender toward me, but graver than usual; I had a feeling that I had hurt him by showing no respect for his opinions.”
Her mother and father left early the next morning and never visited the Alden home again.
That was an experience that stayed with Isabella. In fact, it made such an impression on her that she described that scene—in different ways—in many of her books.
In Workers Together: An Endless Chain, Miss Joy Saunders knew that the church she belonged to “believed in woman’s sphere, and desired her to keep strictly within its limits” and “on no account to let her voice be heard” in its religious meetings.
But when Joy followed her conscience and spoke a simple verse in an otherwise very quiet prayer meeting, she “set in motion forces that are pulsing yet” because the verse she recited touched so many hearts.
Rebecca Harlow, the heroine of Links in Rebecca’s Life, was well aware that people in her church thought women and girls should keep silent when they were at prayer meeting. But after one of those long “awful pauses” in which no one at the meeting said a word, Rebecca spoke up and asked the people to pray for a friend who was in temptation.
That was all she said and though she couldn’t see anything wrong in her words, she knew there were some in the room who “thought it was out of taste.”
And when Ester Ried attended her first prayer meeting in New York, she was astonished by the proceedings:
“Now,” said the leader briskly, “before we pray, let us have requests.” And almost before he had concluded the sentence a young man responded.
“Remember, especially, a boy in my class, who seems disposed to turn every serious word into ridicule.”
“What a queer subject for prayer,” Ester thought.
“Remember my little brother, who is thinking earnestly of those things,” another gentleman said, speaking quickly, as if he realized that he must hasten or lose his chance.
“Pray for everyone of my class. I want them all.” And at this Ester actually started, for the petition came from the lips of the blue-ribboned Fanny in the corner. A lady actually taking part in a prayer meeting when gentlemen were present! How very improper. She glanced around her nervously, but no one else seemed in the least surprised or disturbed; and, indeed, another young lady immediately followed her with a similar request.
In Ruth Erskine’s Crosses, Isabella described the reaction when Ruth’s half-sister spoke up at the weeknight prayer meeting:
The words she uttered were these: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now, if it is your fortune to be a regular attendant at a prayer-meeting where a woman’s voice is never heard, you can appreciate the fact that the mere recitation of a Bible verse, by a “sister” in the church, was a startling, almost a bewildering innovation. Only a few months before, I am not sure but some of the good people would have been utterly overwhelmed by such a proceeding. But they had received many shocks of late. The Spirit of God coming into their midst had swept away many of their former ideas, and therefore they bore this better.
A Happy Ending:
Not long after that Wednesday night prayer meeting when Isabella spoke out in front of her parents, her father became very ill and she traveled to his home to be with him in his final days. One evening she was alone with her father when he said, unexpectedly:
“Thus saith the Lord who created thee.”
He explained to Isabella that he well remembered that Wednesday night prayer meeting and the verse she recited.
“The first time I ever heard it, your beloved voice gave it to me,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you what [those words] are to me now, lying here. ‘Fear not; for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.’”
That was the last private talk Isabella had with her father and she cherished the memory of it.
“I thank the dear Lord,” she later wrote, “that one night He gave me courage to repeat words which brought joy to Father’s heart.”
Click on the “Isabella’s Books” tab at the top of this page to read more about the books mentioned in this post.
How many people have such marked and abiding faith in Christ Jesus, that when we talk of them we say, “I heard that Miss So and So had the most implicit faith in the power of Christ to keep her?” Now wouldn’t that be a strange thing to say?