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Making Virtue Interesting When Writing a Book

We live in a time when virtue is not considered very interesting. Once upon a time in America, though, virtue was viewed very differently.

In the mid- to late(ish)-19th century, wrote a series of novels centered around young men who were the embodiment of American virtue. They weren’t gentlemen by lineage, they were gentleman by character. In his series of bestsellers, Alger churned out seemingly endless stories about teenagers, or even boys of 10 or 11, who were hard-working, honest, kind, courageous, and invariably willing to take a stand when it come to doing the right thing, no matter the temptations to do the wrong thing.

For the boys and young men across America who couldn’t get enough of Alger’s books, it didn’t matter at all that the plots were cut from the same template or that the heroes were interchangeable. What mattered was that Alger promised a payout on the American dream: If you work hard, are honest, cultivate virtue, and seize opportunity when it offers itself, then you too can make the journey from shoeshine or newspaper boy to a well-paid office clerk with a straight shot to being president of the company one day.