Carolyn Wells

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File:Argosy 19171229.jpg
Wells's mystery Vicky Van was serialized in The Argosy in 1917-18

Carolyn Wells (June 18, 1862 – March 26, 1942) was an American author and poet. Born in Rahway, New Jersey,[1] she was the daughter of William E. and Anna Wells.[2] She died at the Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City in 1942.[3]

Life and career

Wells had been married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire founded by Bernard Houghton. Wells also had an impressive collection of volumes of poetry by others. She bequeathed her collection of Walt Whitman poetry, said to be one of the most important of its kind for its completeness and rarity, to the Library of Congress.[4][5]

After finishing school she worked as a librarian for the Rahway Library Association. Her first book, At the Sign of the Sphinx (1896), was a collection of charades. Her next publications were The Jingle Book and The Story of Betty (1899), followed by a book of verse entitled Idle Idyls (1900). After 1900, Wells wrote numerous novels and collections of poetry.

Carolyn Wells wrote a total of more than 170 books. During the first ten years of her career, she concentrated on poetry, humor and children's books. According to her autobiography, The Rest of My Life (1937), it was around 1910 that she heard one of Anna Katherine Green's mystery novels being read aloud and was immediately captivated by the unravelling of the puzzle. From that point onward she devoted herself to the mystery genre. Among the most famous of her mystery novels were the Fleming Stone Detective Stories which—according to Allen J. Hubin's Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1749–2000 (2003)—number 61 titles.

In addition to books, Wells also wrote for newspapers.[6] Her poetry accompanies the work of some of the leading lights in illustration and cartooning, often in the form of Sunday magazine cover features that formed continuing narratives from week to week. Her first known illustrated newspaper work is a two part series titled Animal Alphabet, illustrated by William F. Marriner, which appeared in the Sunday comics section of the New York World.[7] Many additional series ensued over the years, including the bizarre classic Adventures of Lovely Lilly (New York Herald, 1906–07).[8] The last series she penned was Flossy Frills Helps Out (American Weekly, 1942),[9] which appeared after her death.

Today, however, she is best known for her light verse, particularly for several classic limericks, including this one:

A canner exceedingly canny
One morning remarked to his granny:
   “A canner can can
   Any thing that he can
But a canner can’t can a can, can he?”


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  1. "CAROLYN WELLS, NOVELIST, DEAD; Noted for Mystery Stories and Nonsense Verse, Also for Children's Works BEGAN WRITING IN RAHWAY Wrote 170 Books by 1937 and 70 Were Mysteries -- Widow of Publisher's Son", The New York Times, March 27, 1942.
  2. John William Leonard, Albert Nelson Marquis (1903). Who's who in America. Marquis.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Washington Post obituary
  4. New York Times, Apr. 16, 1942
  5. The Walt Whitman Collection
  6. "Pebbles". The Independent. Jul 6, 1914. Retrieved August 1, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. [1] Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day: Animal Alphabet, December 29, 2010
  8. [2] Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day: Adventures of Lovely Lilly, August 28, 2009
  9. [3] Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day: Flossy Frills, February 9, 2006
  10. —, Melody. "The Patty Fairfield series". Redeeming Qualities. Retrieved 27 January 2014.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links