As I’m behind in my 2020 reading challenge, I needed to read something quickly, so I went to Horatio Alger and chose Phil the Fiddler. I knew the novel for kids would be formulaic but I also knew I’d learn some history, which I did.
Phil the Fiddler’s hero is 12 year old Filippo, whose father sold him to a padrone, a Fagan type character who exploits his boys. The padrones, like the one in this novel, paid poor Italian families $75 for their children, whom he’d send out into the streets of cities like New York to play for money. These children would work from morning to about 11pm. They were expected to bring $2/day back to the padrone. If they failed, they’d be beaten. The padrone supplied a hovel to sleep in and breakfast and dinner, which consisted of bread and cheese.
Filippo (Phil) has a young friend Giacomo, who’s weaker and never makes enough money. This character shows how often these children met tragic ends.
I didn’t know anything about this history, but I wasn’t surprised as throughout the world, even today, poor people will sell their children into slavery or servitude.
Filippo impresses many of the people he meets and as is usual in these stories does encounter cheats and bullies. Alger provides a happy ending, but also notes that most children like Filippo did not get a happy ending.