Thomas Bailey Aldrich Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

ph_0111207178-Aldrich.jpg Thomas Bailey Aldrich. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, popular poet and essayist and editor for nine years of The Atlantic Monthly (1881-1890), contributed three prose volumes of major interest to readers of detective and mystery fiction: Out of His Head: A Romance (1862), Marjorie Daw and Other People (1873), and The Stillwater Tragedy (1880). An astute literary critic and a diligent student of Edgar Allan Poe ;and Thomas Bailey Aldrich[Aldrich]}, Aldrich was attracted to a detective fiction cloaked most often in moods of the fantastic or the supernatural. A prolific poet in the Romantic style, Aldrich inclined in his fiction to the melodramatic and fanciful, and although he sometimes endeavored to portray local-color backgrounds and to sketch realistic social conditions, his Brahmin aloofness and reserved, patrician attitudes often rendered such efforts artificial and unconvincing. Comparable to the creative strategies of Poe, Aldrich’s forays into areas of mystery were generally more successful than his occasional excursions into realism, although in The Stillwater Tragedy he employed the conventions of the detective novel to mix the gothic with the realistic. Tone and atmosphere were Aldrich’s prime concerns, and his stories and novels with themes of detection and mystery, though few in number, hold a significant place in the evolution of the genre.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to short stories, Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote poems, essays, and novels. His best-known novel is The Story of a Bad Boy (1869). He was one of the most prominent men of letters in America in the 1880’s, serving as editor of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly from 1881 to 1890.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A great popular success during his lifetime, with his collected poems being published in a highly respected series while he was still in his late twenties, Thomas Bailey Aldrich was one of the most influential editors and men of letters of late nineteenth century America. His short story “Marjorie Daw” was one of the most famous stories of his era, earning him an international reputation.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

During his prolific literary career, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (AWL-drihch) published short stories, poems, essays, and verse plays. Many of his letters are included in Ferris Greenslet’s The Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1908).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Thomas Bailey Aldrich was one of the best-known literary figures in the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century. As a poet, he was already a popular success in 1855—at age nineteen. Ten years later, after having his more mature and less sentimental poetry praised by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson,James Russell Lowell, andOliver Wendell Holmes, he was considered worthy enough to be included in the prestigious Blue and Gold Series of verse published by Ticknor & Fields. He further enhanced his reputation when he turned to fiction in the late 1860’s. The Story of a Bad Boy was enormously popular, and Aldrich’s short stories soon were a consistent feature of The Atlantic. For the rest of his career, this magazine was his favorite place of publication, for its predominantly genteel audience enjoyed his serialized novels and his clever, well-crafted short stories with surprise endings.

Aldrich’s stature as a major writer, strengthened during his successful tenure as editor of The Atlantic, was certainly apparent in 1884 when The Critic, a New York literary magazine, asked readers to name the forty most important American writers. Aldrich finished seventh, outpolling Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Bret Harte. Twenty years later his importance was again strikingly affirmed when he was one of the first fifteen artists named to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Aldrich’s reputation plummeted after his death, however. Critics such as H. L. Mencken, C. Hartley Grattan, and Vernon Louis Parrington denigrated his accomplishments, dismissing him as shallowly optimistic, blindly conservative, and uninteresting. They believed that he had nothing to say to the modern, post-World War I reader. Aldrich’s stock has never recovered, and now he is interesting primarily to those who study the relationship between the genteel tradition and the growth of realism, particularly how his poetry possibly foreshadows the Imagists; how his The Story of a Bad Boy broke ground for Twain’s “boys’ books”; how his female characters reflect his age’s literary treatment of women; and how The Stillwater Tragedy fits into the history of the American economic novel.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Aldrich, Mrs. Thomas Bailey. Crowding Memories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920. Written after Aldrich’s death, this biography by his wife presents a noncritical view of the author. Interesting for its anecdotal stories about Aldrich and illustrations of the author, his residences, and his friends.

Bellman, Samuel I. “Riding on Wishes: Ritual Make-Believe Patterns in Three Nineteenth-Century American Authors—Aldrich, Hale, Bunner.” In Ritual in the United States: Acts and Representations. Tampa, Fla.: American Studies Press, 1985. Discusses Aldrich’s creation of an imaginary individual in three stories, “A Struggle for Life,” “Marjorie Daw,” and “Miss Mehetabel’s Son.” Argues that “things are not what they seem” is the principle of these three stories, which are presented ritualistically in the form of a hoax or tall tale intended to trap the unwary.

Canby, Henry Seidel. The Short Story in English. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909. Canby discusses Aldrich, Frank R. Stockton, and H. C. Brunner as the masters of the type of short story of the “absurd situation” and incongruity. Calls Aldrich a stylist who infused his personality into tales of trivia and made them delightful. Says that in “Marjorie Daw” he was the first American to duplicate the French conte of Guy de Maupassant.

Cohoon, Lorinda B. “Necessary Badness: Reconstructing Post-bellum Boyhood Citizenships in Our Young Folks and The Story Of a Bad Boy.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 29 (Spring, 2004): 5-31. Analyzes Aldrich’s novel The Story of a Bad Boy and Our Young Folks, a nineteenth century children’s magazine, to demonstrate how post-Civil War children’s literature began promoting the idea that American boyhood was a time when boys rebelled and rejected contemporary concepts of citizenship by engaging in pranks or taking trips into the wilderness.

Cowie, Alexander. The Rise of the American Novel. New York: American Book Company, 1948. Classic work provides analysis of Aldrich’s narrative style and other aspects of his novels. Cowie calls Aldrich a vital writer whose contribution to American...

(The entire section is 968 words.)