Madeleine B. Stern: Bookseller and Sleuth, Dies at 95

Historians in the News

Madeleine B. Stern, a prominent rare-book dealer, biographer and literary sleuth who helped bring to print Louisa May Alcott’s long-lost Gothic tales of murder, sexual subjugation, opium dens and other things simply too dreadful to mention, died on Saturday at her home in Manhattan. She was 95.

Ms. Stern’s executor, Richard Koch, confirmed the death.

With her companion and business partner of many years, Leona Rostenberg, Ms. Stern presided over Rostenberg & Stern Rare Books, run largely from their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For more than half a century, the two women were an institution in the world of antiquarian bookselling, scouring the United States and Europe for printed treasures. Ms. Stern was also a founder of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, held annually since 1960.

In 1942, Ms. Rostenberg, following clues sprinkled in Alcott’s correspondence and other writings, found evidence that Alcott (1832-88), best known for sweet novels like “Little Women,” had also written racy potboilers. Published in popular magazines anonymously or under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard, the stories were the pulp fiction of their day, awash in deceit, depravity and death. “Blood-and-thunder tales,” Alcott dismissively called them.

Starting in the 1970s, Ms. Stern oversaw their publication in assorted volumes. These included “Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott” (Morrow, 1975); “Plots and Counterplots: More Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott” (Morrow, 1976); and “Louisa May Alcott Unmasked: Collected Thrillers” (Northeastern University, 1995), all edited and with introductions by Ms. Stern.
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