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A Bedtime Story With a Nice Side of Guilt

Bedtime Stories cover

Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories
1964 (original copyright 1928)

An alert reader of this blog was so excited to share this book. She remembered being fascinated as a child by these somewhat gruesome, guilt inducing stories. This was a multi-volume set of bedtime stories originally published in the 1920s by Arthur Maxwell.  Most of them with an object lesson that was downright shameless manipulation. Didn’t help with dishes? Your mom probably will die. Didn’t help with chores? Dad will probably die. Selfish and greedy? Someone will die. Given the rather gruesome lessons, I can see many parents and children wanting this type of material. (Uncle Arthur has been brought into the 21st century with a modern website!)

I have included one of these fine stories. Can someone say Story Time?


Mother Love

house on fire

burning house

37 Responses to A Bedtime Story With a Nice Side of Guilt

  • I love that story. I think I’m going to read to my kids every night, lol!

    • I know these stories and it takes real evil not to give the complete story. Some very twisted in the heart to try and portray them as a horror book to children. Have the guts to show it all hey!!

  • I notice they say they found the child clasped tightly in her mother’s arms, but they don’t say that either of them was actually still alive.

    Way to make the brothers Grimm seem cute and charming by comparison.

    • Nothing like a good scary lesson to make your kids go right to sleep. Do the dishes because your mother might not be able to save you when your house burns down. Maybe she’ll be too tired from washing all those dishes. Can you say nightmare?

    • No, they were not alive. That is the gruesome point. Ugh.

      • So… do the dishes or mom won’t love you enough to burn to death with you. Sleep tight kiddies!

        Yeah, that’s not a real fear for kids.

  • Them Australians certainly know how to frighten the kids to sleep!

  • Was this the “stories of guilt and shame” a contributor mentioned in the post about “Triumph of God’s Love”? And I notice it’s British: the “village fire brigade” with their funny hats is definitely a Commonwealth thing.

  • On the website it says that the books come with a ” Section with practical fun activities to help reinforce the values taught in the stories.”
    So, perhaps this one would end with a dish washing lesson.

    Where is the more important lesson of “Moms, don’t leave your babies alone in the home.”
    Or, even better, “Don’t leave burning lamps unattended.”

    THOSE are the valuable lessons to come away from. That mother would be in jail if it happened now. I really thought the story would end comparing a mother’s love with god’s love.

  • These aren’t cheap books either. They tried to sell them to our church library. The books are sold on those “buy one and you’re signed up for life” deals as they sell the books one a year. You have to say ahead of time if don’t want a book and the books are more than $100 each. They also have anti-evolution stories.

  • “…clasped tightly in her mother’s arms. Oh and there’s no afterlife. G’Night!”

  • I have looked at the Wikipedia entry for Maxwell and the updated Uncle Arthur website, and I have to say, I am creeped out. The stories remind me of the Cautionary Tales verse of Hilaire Belloc (“Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion” and “Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death” — courtesy Wikipedia) but those were intended as humorous! Why would anyone want these books?!

  • Yikes! My auntie used to take me to the Seventh Day Adventist Church when I was little and I was brought up on these. I’ve still Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories, given to me when I was 3 for Christmas 1954! The Bedtime Stories are long gone, but I loved them so probably read the book to death. I was also reared on Victorian parlour poetry – Billy’s dead and gone to glory, so has Billy’s sister Nell – and Just for the Sake of Society, in which Mother goes off to a party and little daughter falls into the fire and burns to death. I used to relish this sort of thing…

  • I remember reading these books at my grandparents’ house. I can remember reading one in particular about a boy who was going to visit a farm for the very first time. He thought he was going to see eggs growing on plants (eggplants). I remember reading the story thinking he had to be the dumbest kid ever because everyone knew that eggs came from chickens and that there was no such thing as eggplants!

    It wasn’t until years later that I learned there really was such a thing as eggplants…

  • The children on the cover look downright gleeful. Maybe Uncle Arthur is telling them a story.

  • These books are still in my library. Volumes 1-10.

    • Rachel, how well do they circ?

      • Once a year at best. Most haven’t been taken out since we got our new system about two years ago. A couple were checked out by the same patron a little over a year ago. She must have liked them because she renewed them!

        • Or, maybe she hadn’t gotten around to reading them yet? That’s why I usually renew something…I am curious, however — a religiously inspired work like this, would it be identified as such in your collection?

  • Being an Arrested Development fan, all I can think of is J. Walter Weatherman, the one-armed man.

  • I kept waiting for the dingo to come into the story. That’s all that was missing.

  • OMG I remember this book from my childhood!
    I seem to recall that this story had me very worried about whether the cat had burned up too.

  • Moral: don’t keep a cat.

    In real life, though, between oil lamps, fireplaces, and candles, the rate of people burning to death was frightful, especially farther back when women’s clothes were long and voluminous.

  • Any one else think Uncle Arthur’s got a few unresolved issues here?

  • I grew up in the 80s and I had a whole set of these! I remember my grandfather refusing to read the end of one, saying ‘you don’t want to hear all this guff’. I’d actually already been read it before, and knew it was a whole pile of stuff about the Bible. He was highly religious himself, but wasn’t big on cramming it down other people’s throats.

    • Love your Grandfather! Couldn’t really align the story with what he wanted you learn about religion!

  • The story is a non-starter. Small Australian towns didn’t have late-night markets (or any late-opening shops) back when this was written/meant to be set – and many still don’t. I’m pretty sure Aussie firemen where never all about eighty years old or wore silly hats, either.

    I’m surprised that none of the other comments here have picked up on the racism here: the implication that Australian mothers are negligent baby- and cat-burning wastrels.

  • My Dentist had these in his office for some reason – maybe one of those setups where salespeople leave a bunch of sample books in waiting rooms for purchase (like an earlier poster said, buy one now, get the whole series for the low, low price of…).

    I vaguely remember flipping through them as a kid and thinking they were pretty dark. Plus, they almost always preceded a mouth full of novocaine and scary pointy instruments. Good times.

  • @ Bandicoot – I’m from New Zealand, same here, no shops open after 5pm in the middle of nowhere round our way!
    I think mother has a “job on the side” if you know what I mean…

  • Oh, I remember that story. My grandparents had a set at their house and I read them all. I was 11 maybe. I loved gruesome stories at the time, so I was annoyed by the warning that it might make me cry. I was disappointed it came with a lecture and no ghosts haunting the property afterward. There’s another story in the book about a girl who believes she wouldn’t be beautiful unless she wore make-up. I don’t remember the moral or if anyone died though. My grandparents are long gone, so I bet those books are too.

  • My library has several copies of books in this series, and they all seem to have circulated relatively recently. I wondered, “Who in the world is checking out these books? And are they actually reading them to their children?” My question was answered for me when I read some Amazon reviews of these books. There are, apparently, plenty of folks out there for whom these are “good, moral books.” I would’ve been seriously scared out of my mind if my parents had read this sort of story to me when I was a child. I actually took the whole, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back” thing seriously at a certain point in my life. Reading these stories to me during that period would’ve been a really horrible thing.

  • I was raised on these books and as a child of the 60’s and 70’s I don’t recall being scared, frightened or guilt-ed by these books. Seriously folks, this was typical fair of the morality of that time. Think of the anti-smoking, drinking and sex-before-marriage campaigns and you’ll find similar literary styles. It’s so easy to judge the morality of another time by current moral standards. And by the way, I lost my best friend Larry and his mom to a senario very similar to the one in this story. After that loss I don’t find this story has “horrible” as the rest of you.

  • I was raised on Uncle Aurthor bedtime stories as well. I read them to my daughters. I loved them. I was raised with guilt, and his stories just reminded me of my own household..My mother used the guilt trip instead of spanking or punishment. I wad read..the Two Carolines..often. I don’t think harm was done to me by the books..but more by teachers and adults of the time..I survived..and life goes on..My girls loved the books too..but I did not read..The Two Carolines…I doubt I will read them to my grandkids..when I have them..I am writing my own stories..

  • I enjoyed this so much that I ran straight to eBay and searched for Uncle Arthur books.

    I probably would have liked these when I was little — I adored reading moral tales. (Must have been a right little prig!) I still have a Unitarian storybook that my grandmother gave me when I was about five. The stories aren’t nearly as scary or exciting as this one, but they all have a little lesson attached, usually about how you should obey your parents.

  • We had several of these as kids. I LOVED them. No, I am not twisted! They are a product of their times and, even as a kid, I realized that styles had changed. FWIW, I read copies from the 1930s. also, YES, we have these in the library where I work and YES, they get circulated.