Welcome to the 8th issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!
When reading stories that are 122 years old, I expect that a few of them will challenge my modern sensibilities. In the first 7 issues of The Black Cat, usually one story a month has had some questionable element, often in the form of a “savage”: a character of Indian, Chinese, or Native American decent who has been written in line with every stereotype that, well, originated in the 1800s. On the feminism end of things, there have been some very traditional female characters, but also a few that were given agency and, you know, things to do.
This month though… Oh, 1896.
“For Fame, Money, or Love?” by R. Ottolengui
Two of the stories this month featured the inconstancy of women, faithless and fickle things that we are. Andrew Manning recreates the rooms of a dead college friend, Kraig, who believed that music could be a purer way of communicating. When Kraig’s fiance forsook him for a man with money (instead of the fame that his weird pipe organ invention will bring), he composes a song of grief and dies. It turns out Manning was the man with money, and he too was spurned by the woman when she left him near the alter for a third man, our narrator, who she is apparently, maybe going to marry for love.
R. (Rodrigues) Ottolengui was a writer of detective fiction and dentist with several novels to his name by the time this story was included in The Black Cat. This is a mildly creepy tale and is, therefore, my favorite of the month. (It was a low bar…)
“A No Account Niggah” by Leonard M. Prince
Yeah, that’s the name of the story. I’m sorry.
I read it. I’d like to say that the title, which is also a refrain in the story, is used with some irony: that the heroic actions of Rafferty—saving a young boy from bandits on the high plains—prove that the people around him are ignorant and prejudiced. It really doesn’t though.
“A Hundred Thousand Dollar Trance” by Eugene Shade Bisbee
Mesmerism was quite the fad in the late 1890s. This story proposes how hypnosis could be used to bilk people out of a lot of money. Rich men are mesmerized during a demonstration and convinced to write large checks. Pretty simple story, not terribly interesting from the guy who gave up a gems encrusted skull last month.
“The Misfit Gown” by Elmer Cook Rice
The Helping Hand Charitable Society is run by the wealthier girls of Brinkdale. Every year a new president of the society is elected. She has to be single and under 30 years-old. Every girl who has been president has ended up married. So, this story is about the rather tedious machinations of woman versus woman in a competition that will lead them to a husband.
If you look up Elmer Cook Rice on Amazon you will find that an author of the same name wrote books about making money by breeding small animals like squabs, hares, and ducks.
“The Shifting Sand” by C. C. Van Orsdall
“I need not tell you that my letter contained a story as old as love itself—the story of woman’s faithlessness.” Thus tells the story of a Southwestern prospector who went off to make his fortune for his fiance only to be spurned. He decides he might as well kill himself (and they call women hysterical…), but can’t decide how he wants to do it. Which leads him to find an Indian burial tomb complete with jars of gold dust. But when he retreats from the tomb during a sudden storm, all that he grabs is a jar of glass beads. And, of course, he can’t find the tomb again.
I’ll admit, by this point I was just rather annoyed by this issue of The Black Cat and didn’t give this story much of a chance. I really hope the June issue won’t be so depressingly old.
Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 8, May 1896
Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project