for Our Daily News Updates
One hundred and 20 years ago, a political scandal involving a Kentucky congressman became the subject of a salacious paperback in the early decades of American paperbacks. The book is now available in digital format for the first time through the effort of the Lexington Public Library.
Serendipity revealed to the staff of the Library’s Kentucky Room that the last known copy of the book, The Real Madeleine Pollard by Agnes Parker (a pseudonym for Jane Armstrong Tucker), was in their hands. Elizabeth De Wolfe, a history professor at the University of New England researching the life of the book’s author at the Kentucky Historical Society, mentioned the fact to the society’s historian, Patrick Lewis. He later told his wife, Jenny Lewis, who works as a librarian in the Kentucky Room.
This led the Library staff on a months-long project to recreate not only the text, but the design and layout as well, in a digital format that could be checked out by the public as part of the Library’s e-book collection. The original paperback could not be read without causing damage. Furthermore, its pages could not be photographed without destroying the original stapled binding. Transcribing the text was necessary.
“We wanted to preserve the experience of reading the diary entries and letters from that time, so recreating the design and layout was important, too,” Virginia McClure, Kentucky Room manager, said.
The Real Madeleine Pollard tells the story of Rep. W.P.C. Breckinridge’s mistress and the 1894 Breach of Promise lawsuit she brought against him in Washington, D.C. Breckinridge’s attorneys hired Tucker to go undercover to meet Pollard to collect information that would help sway public opinion in favor of the congressman. Pollard had been Breckinridge’s mistress for 10 years, and she sued claiming he had promised to marry her after his wife died. Instead, Breckinridge secretly married another woman, a fact Pollard only discovered after placing engagement announcements in the New York Times and Washington Post.
Tucker succeeded in taking Pollard into her confidence and writing her story as a series of diary entries and letters. However, it was published too late to influence the trial—Breckinridge lost the trial and never again held public office—and those who read it tended to find just as much sympathy for Pollard as blame, McClure said.
The library staff worked from October through April to create the e-book and make it available for checkout, including transcription of the text, design and layout, proofreading, and uploading. De Wolfe wrote a new forward for the edition, explaining the context and the historical importance of the book.
“While it cannot be read as a literal biography of Pollard, the tale does shed light on the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of Breckinridge’s legal team, offers a broad outline of the path from schoolgirl to mistress to spurned lover, and reveals the opportunities and challenges for young women like Pollard and Tucker who wanted something more,” De Wolfe writes.
The Real Madeleine Pollard is the library’s first published e-book. It is available to customers with a Lexington Public Library card at www.lexpublib.org/elibrary. Libraries using Overdrive for their e-book collections may also upload the book to their collections. McClure hopes the project will lead to future publications, including a hard-copy version of the book and further e-books.
“We’re bringing a lost piece of local history back into the light. The library is changing its role a little bit,” she said. “I’m hoping there are more items in our vault that are in the public domain that we can publish in this way.”