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Sumner Charles Britton

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Sumner Charles Britton (1865 – September 1927) was one of the two founding partners in Reilly & Britton, the Chicago publishing house that published most of the literary work of L. Frank Baum and thirteen of his fourteen Oz books.

Britton was originally from Arkansas, and began as a journalist. He first came to Chicago in 1893, to report on the world's fair of that year, the World's Columbian Exposition, for the Kansas City Star. He was strongly impressed by the city, and moved to Chicago in 1894.

By the start of the twentieth century Britton was the sales manager for the George M. Hill Company, when that firm published the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). When the Hill firm went bankrupt early in 1902, Britton joined with Hill company manager Frank Kennicott Reilly to begin Reilly & Britton.

Baum was close to the former salesman; in his own words, Baum had "affection" for "Brit," but "admiration" for the man he always called "Mr. Reilly." Baum dedicated his seventh Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), to Sumner Hamilton Britton, the publisher's younger son. Both of Britton's sons, Sumner H. and William A. Britton, became involved in publishing or journalism. Britton's wife was Fay Adams Britton (1869–1942); her book Shakespearian Fairy Tales was published by her husband's firm in 1907.

Britton remained with the company until 1919, when he sold his partnership to longtime employee William F. Lee. The firm became Reilly & Lee as a result. After his retirement, Britton moved from Chicago to New York. In December 1926 he had a breakdown, was reported missing by his son William, and was found suffering from amnesia. Britton died within a year.

Dreamy Hollow

In his retirement, Britton became a published author, with his novel Dreamy Hollow: A Long Island Romance (1921). The novel tells the story of Drury Villard, a tycoon who has made his fortune with his Villard Corporation. At the age of 47, Villard withdraws from business affairs to live at Dreamy Hollow, his "big white mansion" on the shore of the Great South Bay of Long Island. There, he begins to receive spiritual messages from the soul of his long-dead fiance, Winifred.

William Perkins, a vice president of Villard Inc., learns of his boss's occult interest, and plans to use the knowledge in a coup that will give him control of the company. The two men also clash over a local girl, the 20-year-old Winifred Barbour. Villard thinks he is spiritually destined to marry her; Perkins tries to kidnap her into a forced elopement, but is prevented by Villard's private detectives. Perkins is ruined in business and society. Villard is shocked when Winifred marries a younger man; he starts to lose his reason.

In the end, Perkins dies a drunkard and a criminal; Villard passes away more gently, to be united with his long-lost love in the afterlife. The book is a strange amalgamation of fictional genres, a plutocratic spiritualist romance detective-story morality tale.

Britton's use of some autobiographical material forces the reader to wonder how much of the book relates to the real man. Britton's wife was named Emily Orpha Adams and went by the name Fay Adams Britton. Whether he thought she was the reincarnation of a lost love is unknown.

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