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The Davenport Writers Project: Alice French

alice french

At the turn-of-the-century, Alice French, who wrote under the pen name “Octave Thanet,” was one of America’s most widely read and highly paid writers. (She made five cents per word!)

She published seven novels, one book of photography, nine short story collections, and more than 50 short stories in the era’s top publications, including Harper’s, Scribner’s and Atlantic Monthly.

Among her most ardent fans was Teddy Roosevelt, who admired her treatment of labor unrest in her novel  "The Man of the Hour. "

In 1910, Alice and her lifelong partner, Jenny Crawford, even hosted the former president at an elaborate brunch held in their Davenport home. 

French showed a deep love and interest in literature from a young age. Her first short story, “Hugo’s Waiting,” was printed in the Davenport Gazette in 1871. Davenport locales and manners as well as female friendships figure prominently in her writing. In the romantic-comedy “The Stout Miss Hopkins’s Bicycle,” two aging, overweight women defy convention to bravely take on the era’s new bicycle fad:

“You need a bike, no less,” says Shuey.

“But I never could ride one!” said Margaret, opening her pretty brown eyes and wrinkling her Grecian forehead.

“You’d ride in six lessons.”

“But how would I look, Cardigan?”

“You’d look noble, ma’am!”

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