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Madeleine Stern, 95; revealed Alcott's steamy murder novels

NEW YORK -- 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.

With her companion and business partner of many years, Leona Rostenberg, Miss 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. A native of Manhattan and graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University, Miss Stern was also a founder of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, held annually since 1960.

In 1942, Rostenberg, following clues sprinkled in Alcott's correspondence and other writings, found evidence that Alcott (1832-88), best known for such novels as "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, Miss 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 Miss Stern.

The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Miss Stern wrote or edited dozens of books, among them "Louisa May Alcott," published in 1950 by the University of Oklahoma Press. (The biography was issued in a new edition by Northeastern University in 1999.) Her other biographies include "Purple Passage: The Life of Mrs. Frank Leslie" (University of Oklahoma, 1953), about the wife of a 19th-century publisher of illustrated periodicals, in which many of Miss Alcott's clandestine works first appeared.

Rostenberg died in 2005, at 96. Miss Stern leaves no immediate survivors.

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