the horatio alger myth

This fascinating feature of American cultural history was entirely unknown to me, until The New Prophets of Capital, loc 1051. I wonder how Alger would have faired in an environment saturated by social media?

Horatio Alger, a sensitive Harvard alum, was horrified by the ills of industrial capitalism in New York City during the late nineteenth century. In response, he wrote a hundred inspirational novels about young men who escaped poverty and achieved success, idealizing a time when “honesty, thrift, self- reliance, industry, a cheerful whistle, and an open, manly face” were all it took to achieve the American Dream. The Alger stories had fallen out of favor by the turn of the century, not because they sported titles like Ragged Dick , but because critics like H.L. Mencken thought that Alger was deluded about what it takes to succeed in America. Mark Twain was also not a fan. He wrote an Alger parody about a “good little boy” named Jacob Blivens whose piousness couldn’t save him from being turned into a “human nitro- glycerin rocket,” body parts hurled across four townships. “You never saw a boy scattered so.”

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