Horatio Alger Background: Horatio Alger, Jr

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Horatio Alger

Horatio Alger, Jr. (1834-99) was a prolific writer of dime novel stories for boys. From the debut of his first novel, Ragged Dick, in 1867, Alger was instrumental in establishing a new genre of dime novels known as the 'city story.' The genre arose out of the wide-spread urbanization that followed the Civil War and paralleled the rise of industrialism. Alger's stories heroicized the young street urchins living in poverty among large, urban centers such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. With uncommon courage and moral fortitude, Alger's youths struggle against adversity to achieve great wealth and acclaim. These rags to riches stories were enormously popular with the public and flourished in the decades from 1870 to 1890.

Alger's stories continued to be reprinted well after his death, as evidenced by this 1911 issue of Boy's Home Weekly. Alger's name appears twice on the cover, its prominence pointing to the author's continued popularity and the importance of a famous writer's reputation for increasing a publication's circulation.

Q:Think about what do they teach people? What do his characters represent? How do they achieve success? Can you make any connections to our readings on 'work'.

His work is usually talking about how poor child become rich and famous through their hard working and being honest. They grow up in a He was the most popular writer in the end of 19th. Graduated from Harvard and he is a gay.

And his work spirit American young people’s to fighting , work hard

American have a Horatio Alger Association. And have Horatio Alger Award.

Works: “The Cash Boy”

Horatio Alger Background:

Horatio Alger, Jr. (January 13, 1832 – July 18, 1899) was a prolific 19th-century American author, best known for his many formulaic juvenile novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. His writings were characterized by the "rags-to-riches" narrative, which had a formative effect on America during the Gilded Age. Alger's name is often invoked incorrectly as though he himself rose from rags to riches, but that arc applied to his characters, not to the author. Essentially, all of Alger's novels are the same: a young boy struggles through hard work to escape poverty. Critics, however, are quick to point out that it is not the hard work itself that rescues the boy from his fate, but rather some extraordinary act of bravery or honesty, which brings him into contact with a wealthy elder gentleman, who takes the boy in as a ward. The boy might return a large sum of money that was lost or rescue someone from an overturned carriage, bringing the boy--and his plight--to the attention of some wealthy individual. It has been suggested that this reflects Alger's own patronizing attitude to the boys he tried to help.

Alger secured his literary niche in 1868 with the publication of his fourth book Ragged Dick, the story of a poor bootblack's rise to middle-class respectability, which was a huge success. His many books that followed were essentially variations on Ragged Dick and featured a cast of stock characters: the valiant hard-working, honest youth (who knew more Latin than the villain), the noble, mysterious stranger (whom the poor boy rescued and by whom he got rewarded), the snobbish youth (cousin), and the evil squire (uncle).

In the 1870s, Alger took a trip to California to gather material for future books, but the trip had little influence on his writing. In the last decades of the 19th century, boys' tastes changed, and Alger's moral tone coarsened accordingly. The Puritan ethic had loosened its grip on America, and violence, murder, and other sensational themes entered Alger's works. Public librarians questioned whether his books should be made available to the young. By the time he died in 1899, he had published around a hundred volumes.

First Novel: Ragged Dick, or Street Life.

The first novel Alger wrote in New York, Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks, 1868, was to be his most popular juvenile adventure. Indeed, it was continuously in print for the next forty years. The eponymous hero, Ragged Dick, leads the reader on a tour of mid-nineteenth century New York City. He humorously claims acquaintance with Peter Cooper, Horace Greeley, and other worthies: "Me and Peter Cooper used to go to school together" and "My friend Horace Greeley told me the other day that he'd get me to take his place now and then when he was off makin' speeches if my edication hadn't been neglected." Far from being tainted by his surroundings, Dick displays a natural goodness that blesses the lives of others he meets. "He had lived without a knowledge of God and of religious things," but "he was so far good that he could appreciate goodness in others."

Ragged Dick's plot and character development set the pattern Alger followed in more than one hundred additional novels, including Fame and Fortune, 1869 (a sequel with the same character); Rough and Ready, 1869; Ben, the Luggage Boy, 1870; Paul, the Peddlar, 1871; Tattered Tom, 1871; and Strive and Succeed, 1871. The structure was simple: a poor but able youngster with no prospects, due to his own efforts and with help from kind and good adults, dramatically improves his station in society.


The Alger canon is described by Carl Bode of the University of Maryland as "bouncy little books for boys" that promote "the merits of honesty, hard work, and cheerfulness in adversity." Alger "emblematized those qualities" in his heroes, he writes, and his tales are not so much about rags to riches "but, more sensibly, rags to respectability". With a moral thrust entrenched in the Protestant ethic, Alger novels emphasized that honesty, especially of the fiscal sort, was not only the best policy but the morally right policy, and temperance and smoking were to be abjured. Alger knew he wasn't writing great literature, Bode explains, but he was providing boys with the sort of material they enjoyed reading: formulaic novels "whose aim was to teach young boys how to succeed by being good" and which featured "active and enterprising" boy heroes sustained by "an endearing sense of humor" even in the most trying of situations. Dialogue was "brisk" in the Alger novel and "when good disputed with evil, good always won." Generally, a "malicious young snob" and a "middle-aged rascal" schemed to hurt the hero's rise, and a "mysterious stranger" and a "wordly but warmhearted patron" were at hand to assure his success. Violence was kept at arm's length in the Alger novel, the tone remained "optimistic and positive", suspense was never "of the nail-biting sort", and the Alger universe was "basically benign". Bode points out that the problems of upward mobility in the Alger novel were never "insoluble", and, although luck was a major element in the Alger plot, it was never luck alone that brought the hero success but luck combined with "pluck".[1]

Gary Scharnhorst detects six major themes in Alger's 100 plus boys' books, and decides that the major theme of Ragged Dick is the Rise to Respectability. Scharnhorst points out that Dick himself states he intends to change his way of life and "become 'spectable". Early in the book, Mr. Whitney "replaces Dick's suit with a neat one, signaling the beginning of the transformation from Ragged Dick into Richard Hunter, Esq." Scharnhorst follows Dick's progress through the tale to the moment when Dick is rewarded with a clerical position and notes that "The status of respectability, not a high salary, completes his transition from Ragged Dick to Richard Hunter." Scharnhorst writes "The recurrence in Alger's fiction of the theme of the Rise to Respectability underscores the inaccuracy of the widespread opinion that his heroes rise from rags to riches. Indeed, insofar as Alger's heroes prosper at all, they do so because they deserve prosperity, because they happily earn it with their virtue ... Alger's heroes always merit their good fortune – an idea which, like respectability, is associated only tangentially to wealth."[2]

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