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American Literature:
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 Women Writers

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Women Writers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The popular story, "Little Women" (1868), was an idealized transcript of the author's family life. Never was there a more humorous and pathetic contrast than between the self-sacrificing devotion of the author and her mother and the unworldly wisdom of her unpractical father, "the sage of Concord." Yet family affection united this household in enviable harmony. Louisa May Alcoa (1832-1888), was born at Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), but in infancy was taken to Boston, where her father taught school. From the age of seventeen she was busily occupied in helping to support the family, by teaching, sewing, and writing stories. In 1862 she was a hospital nurse in Washington, and wrote "Hospital Sketches." In 1866 she became editor of a magazine for children, and was thus led to her successful family story. This was followed by "An Old-Fashioned Girl" (1869), and by "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys," as sequels to her "Little Women." For the "No Name" series she wrote "A Modern Mephistopheles." Her popularity brought her fame and comparative wealth, yet for the family's sake she toiled on until she died on the day of her father's funeral. Children of all ages are attracted by the unaffected humor of her books, which teach, by lively examples, the duty of work and loving service of others. The rapidity with which she wrote for support of her family excuses the carelessness of her style. Some of her best work was done before she was in demand as a writer for children.

The mountains of Eastern Tennessee and their peculiar inhabitants have been made familiar to American readers by the genius of Miss Mary Noailles Murfree, who writes under the name Charles Egbert Craddock. She was born at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1850, but on account of ill health, which has rendered her permanently lame, she spent much time in the mountains. When her stories first appeared in the "Atlantic Monthly," they were supposed to come from a man, and the editor was much surprised when, in 1883, she presented herself in person. Her writings are free from expression of the author's feelings, and show full understanding of masculine life. They abound in picturesque descriptions of scenery, grand mountains and romantic streams, brilliant sunshine and variegated clouds, gloomy woods and sylvan glades. Against this back-ground are depicted hardy, taciturn men and lonely re-served women, and the strange phases of their isolated life. "In the Tennessee Mountains" (1884), the first collection of these sketches, proved popular, and was soon followed by "Where the Battle was Fought," and "In the Clouds" (1886). "The Story of Keedon Bluffs" (1887), "The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains" (1888), and "Down the Ravine," are further specimens of her artistic skill in her familiar region.

Under the initials "H. H." an American woman won high regard as a poet, and afterward showed brilliant descriptive power in prose. Later, when her name was fully disclosed, she took up the cause of the Indian and in history and a popular novel pleaded in his behalf with the Government and the people of the United States. Helen Fiske was born in 1831 at Amherst, Massachusetts, where her father was professor in the college. At twenty-one she was married to Captain Edward Hunt of the United States army and wandered with him in different parts of the country. When he was killed by the explasion of a mine and her daughter died, Mrs. Hunt was plunged in the deepest grief. After some time she began to write meditative and descriptive poems which attracted attention by their strong feeling, and vivid fancy. Some-times they took the form of parable or allegory, but they were best when they painted out-door nature. Mrs. Hunt then wrote prose descriptions which were collected under the title "Bits of Travel," and proved attractive to even a wider circle of readers. They abound in humor as well as pathos, and show the delicate insight of women. Other books of the same class followed. Two novels in the "No Name" series are known to have been from her pen—"Mercy Philbrick's Choice," and "Hefty's Strange History." The stories published under the pen-name "Saxe Holm" have also been ascribed to her. After she was married to Mr. William Jackson in Colorado, she became fully aware of the gross wrongs done to the Indians, and exerted herself to secure justice for them from the nation. For this purpose she studied the full history of Government dealings with the red men and summed it up in "A Century of Dishonor," making a passionate appeal for removal of the national disgrace. This was followed by the powerful story "Ramona," written shortly before her death in 1885. This expiring effort of her genius is perhaps its fullest illustration.

Another woman writer who has won popularity is Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. She was born at Andover, Massachusetts, being the daughter of the distinguished professor, Dr. Austin Phelps. Her book, "Gates Ajar" (1868) was an attempt to depict the future life as in many respects resembling the present. This idea was continued in "Beyond the Gates," and "The Gates Between" (1887). In other books, as "The Story of Avis" (1877), and "Doctor Zay" the conflict in woman's nature between love and professional ambition is shown. In 1888 she was married to Herbert D. Ward, and with him she has written some stories and essays. To her "Old Maids' Paradise" (1879) they added a sequel "The Burglars Who Broke into Paradise" (1897) .

Frances Hodgson Burnett is best known by her story, "Little Lord Fauntleroy," in which a boy brought up in poverty in New York brings English aristocratic life into humiliating contrast with democratic equality, when he is restored to his rights as heir to a dukedom. She was born at Manchester, England, in 1849, and lived there till she was sixteen. Then the Hodgson family, having suffered losses, removed to Knoxville, Tennessee. Frances began early to write stories for magazines, but did not reach success till after her marriage to Dr. Burnett, in 1873. With him she settled in Washington in 1875. "That Lass o' Lowrie's" appeared in "Scribner's Magazine" in 1877, and made her name known. Joan Lowrie had been abused since infancy and was compelled to do a man's work as a pit girl in an English coal mine. Her father is a vicious brute, but she develops such noble virtue as to, win the regard and love of Derrick, the educated engineer. The contrast between this pure soul and her grim and repulsive surroundings is dramatically brought out. Other novels sustained the high reputation now awarded the author. Among them were "Haworth's" (1879), "Louisiana" (1881), "Esmeralda" (1882), "A Fair Barbarian" (1882). "Through One Administration" (1883), was a bright picture of Washington society. Then came "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1887), which won greater triumph in a new field. In "The One I Knew Best of All" (1893), Mrs. Burnett sketched her own career. In "A Lady of Quality" (1895), and its sequel "His Grace of Osmonde," she seems to have departed from the high moral tone of her previous works. She has since separated from her husband.

Octave Thanet is the pen-name of Miss Alice French, who has written good short stories of Trans-Mississippi life. She was born at Andover, Massachusetts, about 185o, and was educated there, but her father had settled at Davenport, Iowa. She has a plantation in Arkansas, and her stories generally relate to that State or Iowa. They are marked by strong dramatic quality, truth in dialect, character, and scenery. Some of her collections are "Knitters in the Sun," "Otto, the Knight," "Stories of a Western Town," "Stories of Capital and Labor."

New England life is by no means exhausted as a quarry for the novelist in search of characters and types. Several women writers have done good work in this direction and have brought to light some striking specimens. Among these is Sarah Orne Jewett, born at South Berwick, Maine, in 1849. Her first book, "Deephaven" (1877), was in the form of an autobiography, revealing life in fishing villages. Her chief novel is "A Country Doctor," but most of her work has been in short stories, which Howells has pronounced masterpieces. Among them are "The King of Folly Island" (1888), "The Country of the Pointed Firs" (1896).

Another successful explorer of this field is Mary Eleanor Wilkins, born at Randolph, Massachusetts, about 1855. In her first book, "The Adventure of Ann" (1886), and other collections of short stories, "A Humble Romance," "A New England Nun," and "Young Lucretia," she deals with plain country folk, and especially the old maids. "Giles Corey, Yeoman" (1893) is a play depicting colonial times. In her later novels, "Jane Field" (1893), "Madelon" (1895), and "Jerome, a Poor Man" (1897), there is more attempt to introduce roman ticism. "The Long Arm" (1895) won a prize as a detective story.

Still another who deals with New England life is Mrs. Annie Trumbull Slosson, born in Stonington, Connecticut, of the well-known Trumbull family. She has, however, directed her attention chiefly to peculiar characters, such as are "cracked" or "a little off." Seven of her sketches were collected under the title, "Seven Dreamers" (1891). The best is "Fishin' Jimmy."

Another writer of this class is Mrs. Sarah Pratt (Mc-Lean) Greene, who had the unpleasant experience of being tried for libel for her "Cape Cod Folks" (1881), and had to alter the story. She has since written "Towhead, the Story of a Girl" (1884), and "Lastchance Junction" (1889).

Mrs. Burton Harrison's maiden name was Constance Cary, and she was born at Vancluse, Virginia, the residence of her maternal grandfather, Thomas, ninth Lord Fairfax. She was married to Burton Harrison, who had removed from Virginia to New York after the war. Her first story was "Golden Rod" (1878), relating to Mount Desert. It was followed by "Helen Troy" (1881), a story of New York society and the Berkshire Hills. Then came an "Old-Fashioned Fairy Book" (1884), and Bric-à-Brac Stories" for children. But the work by which she attracted special attention was "The Anglomaniacs" (1889), a brilliant and witty exhibition of certain phases of American society. "A Bachelor Maid" treated of social questions of the day; "An Errant Wooing" (1895), embodies material gathered in a tour in Spain and Italy. Other stories related to the South before and during the war. Among them is "A Son of the Old Dominion" (1897).

Frances C. Tiernan, born at Salisbury, North Carolina, has written, under the pen-name, Christian Reid, a large number of excellent stories. The first was "Valerie Aylmer" (1870) ; others are "A Daughter of Bohemia" (1873), "A Question of Honor" (1875), "Hearts of Steel" (1882). In "The Land of the Sky" (1875) the scene is laid in the Allegheny Mountains.

Mrs. Frances Courtenay Barnum was born in Arkansas in 1848; her maiden name was Baylor. Besides many short stories and essays, she has written "On Both Sides," an international novel, and "Behind the Blue Ridge."

Louise Chandler Moulton, born at Ponfret, Connecticut, in 1835, has been active as a writer of children's stories, poems, sketches, essays, and novels. Among her sketches are "Ourselves and Our Neighbors" (1887), "Some Women's Hearts" (1888).

Blanche Willis Howard, born at Bangor, Maine, in 1847, has by marriage become Mrs. von Teuffel, and lives in Germany. She has published several popular novels, "One Summer" (1875), "One Year Abroad" (1877), "The Open Door" (1889), "No Heroes" (1893)

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