The Daughter of Anderson Crow experienced popularity at the time of, and months after, its publication in September of 1907. It was ranked in the top five from September through the end of the year (Publishers' Weekly September-December 1907). Its final standing for the year 1907 was seventh (Hackett 103). Strangely, afterward, this book which had previously been profusely advertised, disappears altogether. The fame of McCutcheon's novel sank because it cannot stand on its own merit. The Daughter of Anderson Crow owed its success not to its literary quality, but to the fame of its author and to the romantic and liberal interests of its reading public.
George Barr McCutcheon began his career of fame with Graustark (Tebbel 1975). He sold the manuscript of the novel to the Chicago publisher H. S. Stone and Company who published the book in 1901. Graustark quickly became a part of bestseller lists (Mott 1947). When Stone and Company folded, McCutcheon took his best-selling novel to Dodd, Mead and Company. The novel ultimately sold over 3,500,000 copies and paved the road to McCutcheon's fame as a popular novelist. He became so popular; critics accused him relying of solely on his name for the sale of his books. To prove them wrong, he wrote Brewster's Millions under the pen name Richard Greaves. However, once his identity was found out, it only increased his popularity and his ability to sell books on the basis of his name alone. His success continued. Between 1895 to 1926 his books were included on twelve bestseller lists, ranking first eight times (Tebbel 1975). His critic's accusations were not unfounded. His popularity was partly responsible, if not fully, for the large volume of sales his novels experienced. One critic accuses,
(block quote) matter how many per year he writes, a goodly portion of the reading public evidently likes his particular band of fiction. And since the pursuit of literature, on the part of both authors and publishers, has transmuted itself from the desire to do something to do something worthwhile into the endeavor to hit the bull's eye of popular taste, that fact is perhaps justification for Mr. McCutcheon's numerous books. Otherwise it is impossible to understand why they should be either written or published. (New York Times Oct. 12, 1907)(/block quote)
He openly accuses McCutcheon of sacrificing literary quality in an attempt to cater to the reading public's taste. He uses McCutcheon, as the prime example of the novelists of that time period who he believed would, first, discover what the reading public wanted and gives it to them, sacrificing literary merit for entertainment. He also implies that the publishing industry has become nothing more than a money-grubbing business, no longer interested in literary pursuits. In this critic's opinion, The Daughter of Anderson Crow is printed merely to entertain and increase the wealth of its author and publisher. The reason for McCutcheon's large quantity of publications is to use his popularity and the desires of the public to sell as many books as he can while he can.
In addition to McCutcheon's fame, the subject of the novel also works to the advantage of the best-selling novel.
(block quote) One fact emerges from the mass whenever one pauses to contemplate the phenomena of popularity in fiction, that 'all the world loves a lover, or, at least a love story.' The number of books which have achieved any measurable degree of popularity in which the love interest is not either predominant or important is negligible. Next in order to and usually coupled with the love interest is that of action. (Publishers Weekly February 5, 1927). (/block quote)
Between the years of 1905 to 1908, the list of best sellers indicates readers enjoyed romantic fiction that, in particular, showed the growing sentimentalism of women. Most the novels in this time span were pure and simple, full of idealism and gaiety. Most of the representations of love were so idealized they gave a distorted view of male/female relationships. These stories of love and adventure were used solely for entertainment and had very little literary value (Knight 129).
McCutcheon's, The Daughter of Anderson Crow fits the formula of a romance and adventure novel, the necessary ingredients for a bestseller at the time. From the start of the novel, McCutcheon seeks to evoke a feminine, sentimental emotion from his readers and a sense of mystery. A baby is been left on Anderson Crow's doorstep. In the middle of the night, a woman in a black veil comes to the home of Anderson Crow and begs to see the child that was abandoned on the doorstep. When Anderson Crow grants her request, a scene that begs the reader to feel pity for the mother ensues:
(block quote) There, with Anderson Crow and his wife looking on from a remote corner of the room, the tall woman in black knelt beside the crib that had housed a generation of Crows. The sleeping Rosalie did not know of the soft kisses that swept her little cheek. She did not feel the tears that fell when the visitor lifted her veil, nor did she hear the whispering that rose to the woman's lips. (McCutcheon 73). (/block quote)
The scene appeals to the love between mothers and their children, in particular daughters, a relationship many of his readers would relate to. No mother can imagine the emotional pain a mother feels when forced to leave her child in a stranger's home. In the way of romance, there are plenty of examples as well. The novel opens with the story of two star-crossed lovers. A couple, erroneously pursued by the detective Anderson Crow, flee their families in hopes to get married despite their parents wishes. The strength of their love and their willingness to sacrifice the comfort of their families and homes for it is unbelievably ideal, and their situation, unbelievably romantic.
One critic sarcastically demonstrates the romantic predictability of the Daughter of Anderson Crow and this genre. He says, "But the reader can see with half an eye all the time that nothing less than wealth, nobility and social position can explain her" (New York Times October 12, 1907). It's quite obvious from the start that Rosalie is not of nor meant to remain in the small and insignificant town Tinkletown. Whenever she returned home from school in New York, the "sun seemed brighter the birds sang more blithely, the flowers took on a new fragrance and the village spruced up as if Sunday was the only day in the week" (McCutcheon, 84). Rosalie is endowed with characteristics associated with the rich even though she grew up in the less prosperous Tinkletown. She has an innate upper-class and noble air that fits the mold of the perfect female character in romantic fiction.
Another literary subject popular betweeen 1905 and 1909 was the "place of the New Woman in the new century" (Knight 149). In the United States women became less and less dependent on men. They began to enter the world of business, start professional careers, and work in mills all over New England and the Middle Atlantic. The fight for equality was intensified (Knight 150). Part of the Daughter of Anderson Crow's popularity lies in its address of this issue. Rosalie grows up in the schools of the New England states where she picks up feminist ideas. After returning home, she challenges the established roles of males and females by rejecting all proposals of marriage and by insisting on having a career as a teacher even though she has plenty of money to support herself. She is the perfect example of the rising prominence of the independent woman.
McCutcheon seemed to know of his popularity and exactly what his audiences wanted, resulting in a large volume of publications, many of which landed on best seller lists for nothing more than his name their entertainment value. Only two of his 25 books, Graustark and Nedra, published between 1907 and 1913 are listed in the top 100 (Publishers' Weekly February 21, 1925). His books outside of his Graustrakian novels, Brewster's Millions, and Nedra, have long since been forgotten, the Daughter of Anderson Crow among them. The popularity of these novels relied on name-based and entertainment-based publishing as evidenced by their brief moment in the spotlight and the complete ignorance of their existence today. Their popularity comes from the popularity of the subject matter. The novel gives the reading public exactly what it wants during that time period: books about romance and adventure, and women and equality. The subject of the novel McCutcheon's own popularity makes the equation that produces the best-selling novel, The Daughter of Anderson Crow.
Hackett, Alice Payne. 70 Years of Best Sellers. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1967.
Mott, Frank Luther. Golden Multitudes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947.
Publishers Weekly February 5, 1927.
Publisher's Weekly July 1907 to December 1907.
Publishers' Weekly February 21, 1925.
New York Times October 12, 1907.
Knight, Grant C. The Strenuous Age in American Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,1954.
Tebbel, John. A History of Publishing in the United States. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975.