Classic Crime: Talma Gordon

Today: the second Lizzie Borden-inspired crime tale, and of the earliest (possibly the first) published mysteries by a black author. “Talma Gordon” appeared in the October 1900 issue of Colored American Magazine, an early literary and cultural journal for African-American readers. The author of “Talma Gordon,” Pauline Hopkins, was also the magazine’s editor, and one of its most profilic contributors.

Pauline Hopkins
Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930). Source: coloredamerican.org

I wrote about Pauline Hopkins for my Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic series, so I’ll quote what I said about “Talma Gordon” there:

Lovely golden-haired Talma Gordon is accused of the grisly murder of her wealthy father Jonathan Gordon, her stepmother, and her infant half-brother. During the investigation it comes out that Talma did not get along with her stepmother, that her father had forbidden Talma’s marriage to struggling artist Edward Turner — and that Gordon had been planning to leave the bulk of his wealth to his son, with only a small annuity to each of the two daughters of his first wife. Talma is acquitted legally, but not necessarily in the court of public opinion. What really happened?

You can read “Talma Gordon” here.

If you’ve read Hopkins’ fiction before, you’ll recognize the themes in “Talma Gordon.” On the plus side, it’s a crisp and engaging crime tale, and if there had been an American equivalent of The Strand Magazine at the time, “Talma Gordon” would have been right at home. On the other hand, I do have to give it a point off for a Deux ex machina ending, and some aspects of the story haven’t aged well—because some of the cultural attitudes of the time are, thankfully, no longer acceptable.

All in all, if you’re looking for a unique take on the Lizzie Borden story, as well as an interesting piece of literary and African-American history, do check out “Talma Gordon.” I hope you enjoy it!

This and That, Stuff to Read

As promised, I’ve been meaning to write a post specifically about the Philippines-related articles in the October, 1900 issue of Colored American Magazine (the issue with the Pauline Hopkins’ short story “Talma Gordon” in it).

Filipino Business Woman, from Colored American Magazine, October 1900
“A Typical Filipino Business Woman”
Printed in Colored American Magazine, October 1900. It was apparently sent to the magazine from Manila by a clergyman(?) C.S., who wrote a brief (and somewhat patronizing) note entitled “Filipino Women”

But in the end, I can’t think of anything to say, except: read the articles for a view of what some contemporary Black American writers had to say about U.S. expansionist policies at the time, and about their various perspectives on the world in general. Read multiple issues from The Digital Colored American Archive, for that matter. I’ll just quote a passage that caught my eye, from the article “Negro and Filipino,” which was reprinted in the October 1900 issue from the Lewiston Journal (author unknown):

Political demagogues who cry upon the corners for liberty to the Tagalogs and the Sulus shut their eyes and ears to the disfranchisement of this people whom Lincoln freed.

Anti-imperialists who sweat blood because McKinley, in obedience to the Senate, assumes to place the flag in Manila and to defend it there, are silent over the act that Louisiana and Mississippi pass laws that admit the vote to white men who cannot read or write and deny it to black men because they cannot read or write.

The fact is, that here in this nation the very sins which they wrongfully impute to the Republican party in the Philippines, they cultivate and promote within the body politic of the states of the nation that hate the Negro and seek to relegate him to ignorance and superstition in order to perpetuate his servility and his dependence.

What else?

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Pauline E. Hopkins

Today’s featured author is Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930): writer, journalist, editor, poet and playwright. From approximately 1902 to 1904, she was the editor of Colored American Magazine, one of the earliest literary and cultural journals aimed at an African-American readership (“a magazine Of the Race, By the Race, For the Race“). She was also the magazine’s most prolific contributor, serializing several novels within its pages, and often writing pieces for the magazine, both fiction and non-fiction, under various pen names.

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930). Source: coloredamerican.org

I’m featuring her today for her gothic adventure-romance Of One Blood; or The Hidden Self, which was serialized over eleven issues of Colored American Magazine. However, she is also a germinal figure in one of my other favorite genres: detective fiction. Her short story “Talma Gordon,” published in the October 1900 issue of the magazine, is said to be the first published mystery by a black author [citation]. Her novel Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice is “the earliest-known African American novel to feature a black detective” (two of them, actually) [citation, but see note1 below]. I’ll talk about all three of these works (with links to read them!) in this post.

Hopkins is an important figure in Black American literature, but for a long time she was obscured by other black literary figures of her era. A 1972 Phylon article brought her back to public (or at least academic) notice. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of Hopkins scholarship. I’ll also point you to some interesting articles from that literature stream, as well.

But now, on to the stories!

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