Ripping Yarns: Adventure books for boys

This is the first of a series of blogs looking at the history of the popular adventure books for boys that began to appear in the UK around 1840. Before this date, juvenile literature was educational, religious and improving, with the element of excitement and adventure conspicuously lacking. In the 1830s and 1840s this began to change, largely due to the influence of the almost exactly contemporary writers, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) in the USA and Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) in the UK.

As usual, I will be taking a book collecting approach, and will attempt to document the books written and published by the major authors within this genre. I will cover the period 1840 to 1940 and will mainly consider British authors and British editions. All of the books that I will show as examples will be chosen from my personal collection.

For those who would like to read more detailed material on this topic, I can recommend the excellent The Collector’s Book of Boy’s Stories by Eric Quayle (London: Studio Vista, 1973). Eric Quayle (1921-2001) was a lifelong book collector, who wrote four large, well-illustrated books on different aspects of his book collecting interests. Although Quayle’s four books were published nearly 50 years ago, they are still highly regarded and he remains the acknowledged expert reference source on books for boys. The four descriptive books by Quayle are shown in Figure 2 below. In addition to these four books, Eric Quayle also published a life and a separate bibliography of R.M. Ballantyne.

The main authors that I will cover in this series of blogs are:

  • Frederick Marryat
  • Robert Michael Ballantyne
  • William Henry Giles Kingston
  • Thomas Mayne Reid
  • Anna Bowman
  • George Alfred Henty
  • Herbert Strang
  • Frederick Sadlier Brereton
  • Percy Francis Westerman

I will be activating links to each author as I complete the relevant material. I am also preparing bibliographic lists of books for each author. To start this process, the list of books written by F.S. Brereton can be found here. In addition I plan to expand these blogs by considering some of the adventure books of Henry Rider Haggard and Robert Louis Stevenson. I will also cover a few examples from other authors who I think are deserving of note, such as D.H. Parry and G. Manville Fenn, but will not be discussing W.E. Johns, as I have never been either an admirer or a collector of Biggles (or Worrals for that matter.)

I hope you will enjoy this series of blog articles.