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1930s & Earlier / Horatio Alger Novels
In the late decades of the nineteenth century, one of the best selling authors in America was Horatio Alger, Jr. His series of books, aimed at teenage boys, were widely praised for extolling positive virtues. The stories were formulaic: A poor, downtrodden youth would invariably achieve middle-class respectability through hard work, dedication and frugality. Often the hero's rise was aided by an established older member of society whom the youth had helped. Today, the term 'a Horatio Alger story' refers to any rags-to-riches tale. Alger himself led a checkered life. He abruptly left his position as a minister of a Massachusetts church in 1866 after accusations of pederasty with two male teenage parishoners. (This was not widely known until years later.) Unlike his novel characters who saved their pennies for a rainy day, Alger was a spendthrift who squandered his considerable earnings. He died virtually penniless in the care of his sister in 1899.