"The Girl Next Door"
by Augusta Huiell Seaman (1879-1950)
illustrated by C. M. Relyea
New York: The Century Co., 1917.
The dedication to Augusta Huiell Seaman's young adult mystery,
"The Girl Next Door", is itself a small mystery. It reads:
(Margaret Gillespie Fagg)
AND TO THE MEMORY OF
(John Gerardus Fagg, D.D.)
THIS BOOK IS
I have no idea how Rev. John Gerardus and Margaret Gillespie Fagg knew Augusta Seaman. One of the themes of the book is girlhood friendship, so I like to imagine Augusta and Margaret meeting as girls on the New Jersey beaches. Or perhaps they were introduced as adults at an afternoon tea or a public lecture. However they met, Augusta cared enough about the Faggs to dedicate her book to them after John's death in 1917. Surely they must have been in her mind often while she wrote this particular book, since the work of Chinese missionaries is significant in the solution of her mystery.
I was able to find out a few details about the real missionaries of her dedication, but I would love to know more.
"The Reverend J. G. Fagg of the Amoy Mission was married at Tokohama, Japan, on September 25, to Miss Margaret W. Gillespie, formerly of Jersey City, N. J. Miss Gillespie left New York early in August. Those who have seen and heard her at missionary meetings in this neighborhood, will follow her with deep interest and anticipate for her a life of great usefulness. Mr. and Mrs. Fagg will make their home at Chiang-Chiu." The Mission Field of the Reformed Church in America, New York, January 1889.
Margaret Gillespie Fagg served as a "missionary assistant" in China with her husband, the Reverend John Gerardus Fagg, from 1889 to 1894. After their return from China, John Fagg became pastor of the reformed church in New Paltz, New York for a year, and then in 1895 became pastor of the Middle Collegiate Church, New York City. From 1910 to 1915, Margaret Fagg served as chairman of the Missionary Candidate committee. Her husband died at age 57 on May 3, 1917. Margaret continued to work with the Women's Board of Foreign Missions in various capacities until her death on July 1, 1955.
"The Girl Next Door" is not one of Seaman's strongest works, but it is still enjoyable. The portrayal of the young girls in the book is sympathetic: curiosity about their mysterious neighbors is balanced by concern that they may be intrusive, and a desire to to the right thing. They long to find and solve a mystery, but they do not want to spy. Happily luck favors them!
One warning: There is some anti-Asian sentiment in the book. That one girl (who is blond and blue-eyed) might be the granddaughter of a Chinese mandarin is a source of distress for other characters: "I somehow dislike to think of little Cecily as a mixture of Chinese and English. In fact, it 's almost impossible to think of her as such." Although it was tempting to edit what I was proofing, I've left Augusta Seaman's work as originally published, to stand or fall on its own merits.
Read and Enjoy,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom