Metta Fuller Victor and her husband Orville J. Victor had a long and mutually beneficial association with Beadle and Adams, the 19th-century publishing house which popularized the “Dime Novel.” In its various permutations—Beadle & Co., Beadle and Adams, Beadle, Victor & Co., etc.—this firm issued about 25 series of novels, seven magazines, and innumerable handbooks, songbooks, housekeeping guides, biographies, and other works, starting in 1851 and continuing until its demise in 1897. And for most of its life, the industrious Victors were key elements in Beadle and Adams’ success.
Metta Victor began the relationship in 1858 when she became the editor of The Home: A Fireside Companion and Guide for the Wife, the Mother, the Sister and the Daughter. Her husband, Orville J. Victor (1827–1910), would work as the main editor for the Beadle house from 1861 to 1897. He wrote a number of books as well, including biographies and political works.
In 1860, Beadle and Adams published Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Mrs. Anne S. Stephens, the first in their famous series of Dime Novels. The following year Dime Novel No. 33 was Metta Victor’s Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate. This work turned out to be not only financially successful but of historical importance as well. The scholar Charles M. Harvey commented:
Maum Guinea was a tale of slave life, and appeared in the early part of the Civil War. It was spirited and pathetic, and had a good deal of "local color"; its sales exceeded 100,000 copies, and it was translated into several languages. “It is as absorbing as Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the judgment which Lincoln was said to have passed on it. ...[It] circulated by the tens of thousands in England, had a powerful influence in aid of the Union cause at a time when a large part of the people of that country favored the recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. Mr. Victor's own Address to the English People, issued at the same time...was widely distributed in England, and helped to overcome the sentiment which was clamoring for the breaking of the blockade and the purchase of Southern cotton for Lancashire's idle mills.
“My dear fellow,” said Henry Ward Beecher, to Mr. Victor afterward, “your little book and Mrs. Victor’s novel were a telling series of shots in the right spot.” This is testimony which counts. Beecher was a special commissioner from Lincoln to England in 1863, to counteract the hostility to the Union cause in the Palmerston cabinet and among the aristocracy.
—"The Dime Novel in American Life," The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1907, p. 39.
Over the next 25 years until her death in 1885, Metta Victor wrote extensively for Beadle and Adams, contributing cooking guides, humor books, and anti-polygamy tracts as well as, of course, her two mystery novels. Her husband would continue to oversee the editorial side of the house until his departure in 1897, the same year that the firm went out of business.
Most of the information above was gleaned from Albert Johannsen’s The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels, a landmark achievement in American bibliography. Its three volumes contain nearly 300 color and tint reproductions, and portraits of personnel and many authors as well as biographical sketches, checklists of publications, and analytical indices by subject, locality, persons, subtitles, etc. This work is out of print but readily available through antiquarian dealers. It is also published online by the Northern Illinois University Libraries.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #81.