As one reviewer of The Peterkin Papers said, "Before Amelia Bedelia and the Stupids there were the Peterkins." Even a relatively simple thing like a Christmas tree shows their incredible lack of sense sure to be the "masterpiece" praised by the New York Times and why Harper's Bazaar said, "The years pass them along to every new generation, with the hint that human nature is about the same everywhere and all the time."
The Peterkin stories began in 1867 and appeared in magazines for nearly a decade, breaking ground by providing amusement for the young rather than the usual uplifting or instructional writing. The subtitle, The Return of the Lady from Philadelphia, mentions a recurring character throughout the stories. The book's title sometimes is given as The Complete Peterkin Papers, but The Last of the Peterkins, offers further tales and has a subtitle of With Others of Their Kin showing how they manage without their Philadelphia friend.
The Peterkin Papers.
It was all I could do to keep information about Lucretia Peabody Hale and her family until after giving the story. Her father, Nathan Hale, was named after his uncle, yes, the Revolutionary hero who reportedly said, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" before being hanged by the British. Lucretia was one of eleven children in a literary family that continued to be important. Her father was a lawyer and editor/owner of the Boston Daily Advertiser, while her mother, also an author, was a sister of Edward Everett, a Unitarian minister and politician. That uncle was both a United States senator and later a president of Harvard. Lucretia's brother, Edward Everett Hale, was yet another Unitarian minister as well as a prominent abolitionist, and prolific author in his own right. She was able to support herself with her own writing and additionally was active in charity and politics. To be elected as the first woman member of the Boston School Committee Lucretia overcame fierce opposition from many including her brother, Charles, yet another literary Hale, who was a journalist and author. As the article in Encyclopaedia Britannica (the first hotlink in this paragraph) notes, she also produced a great many books, but her major reputation was gained from the Peterkin stories.
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain." The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated. I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century. My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them. I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.
At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience. Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week. This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here. (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.) Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection. I recommended it earlier and want to continue to do so. He has just loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so one can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression he likes by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
He also loaded to his server the doctorate thesis of Prof. Dov Noy (Neunan) "Motif-index of Talmudic-Midrahic literature" Indiana University, 1954, as a PDF file.
in the hope that some of you would make use of it.
Have fun discovering even more stories!