Grant Martin Overton.

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end of this chapter. Miss Cooke would be the last
to expect them to be. They are interesting only as
the preparation necessary to write Bambi, particularly
that first chapter. Miss Cooke has always been inter-


ested in social questions, as any one who remembers
Jarvis Jocelyn's experiences in New York will under-
stand. She is a member of the Little Room Club in
Chicago, the Heterodoxy Club and the Women's Uni-
versity Club in New York.

Her books, as distinguished from her printed mono-
logue booklets, began in 1903 with Modern Monologues,
continued in 1905 with Dramatic Episodes and Plays
for Children, marked time in 1907 with More Modern
Monologues and budded with a novel, her first novel,
in 1910 The Girl Who Lived in the Woods. Dr.
David appeared in 1911 ; and there were To a M other f
The Twelfth Christian, a dramatic poem, and three
one-act plays which were produced all before Bambi.

And Miss Cooke will play a Chopin ballade for you
and talk to you with the same lightness, deftness, and
fun that Bambi displays. She has forgotten more about
the art of talking than the authors of all the conver-
sation books ever knew. She is not obtrusive. The
manuscript of her happiest book came to the publishers
quite unheralded just a manuscript in a cardboard
box with a note from Miss Cooke saying she would
like to have Doubleday, Page & Company consider it.
Eugene F. Saxton began it one Sunday afternoon
about 5 o'clock, intending to read until six, then go
for a walk and have dinner uptown somewhere. He
read till seven, looked at the clock, and went on read-
ing. You can eat any day, you know. . . .

Later a telegram went forth : "Bambi is ours. Love
at first sight."

Miss Cooke sat to Mary Green Blumenschein for
the illustrations to her book ; that's why they are what


they ought to be. And you are to picture her just as
you would picture Bambi, say as sitting on a low
couch, her feet tucked in, enthroned among billowy
cushions, that is, of course, if you, the caller, are really
acquainted. It will be sufficient to be acquainted with
Bambi when you call.

What else ? Bambi was followed by Cinderella Jane
and that interesting tale of the studio cleaner who was
married to the painter without love on either side
they made a success of it and were rewarded by be-
coming lovers that tale was succeeded by The Thresh-
old, in which Miss Cooke chose a theme which would
give full and legitimate play to her interest in social
problems. A rich bachelor, Gregory Farwell, employs
Joan Babcock as housekeeper and companion for him-
self and his 1 7-year-old nephew. Farwell's employees
strike; the nephew, inspired by Joan, takes the work-
ers' side. The result is a thoroughly dramatic story
in which the problems of capital and labor, social rela-
tions and the like arise fairly and squarely out of
the action and are not foisted on the reader. Miss
Cooke manages exceedingly difficult material well.

If you go to interview Miss Cooke about her own
beliefs on serious subjects she will answer you out
of the mouths of her people in The Threshold, and
chiefly from the utterances of Joan Babcock which
does not mean that she makes her characters say what
she wants to say to the world at large. No ! It means
merely that she herself has advanced no farther along
the path to an answer to all these questions than Joan
Babcock got. When Miss Cooke started to write The
Threshold she knew, as a good novelist does, exactly


what she wanted to do. She wanted to find out how
a certain type of ardent young American woman feels
about the future and its social and industrial problems.
You ask : why didn't she go out and, finding a woman
of that type, ask her? To do that was to run risks.
You might not find the young woman. She might re-
turn evasive answers or answers either intentionally
or unintentionally misleading so few of us really
know what we think about anything in the future!
There was just one safe and certain way to set about
it, and that was to create a young woman of the
sort Miss Cooke had in mind, put her in the midst
of events, and see what she would say and do, what
she would come to believe about the things ahead.

Miss Cooke's The Clutch of Circumstance, on the
other hand, is just a good mystery yarn about secret
service work and international plots but based on
fact It has a serious defect in that the heroine, some
of whose qualities are plainly exhibited for the read-
er's admiration, is guilty of atrocious treachery, be-
coming, in fact, a German spy!

Miss Cooke? She is going ahead, thank you! She
is going ahead in the wisest way in the world for a
person of her special gifts. What was said in The
Threshold about Joan is the best thing to say about her
author: "The world is thrust forward by such dy-
namic personalities as yours, even by your mistakes.
There is danger in action, but more in tranquil inac-
tion, in feeble acquiescence in the face of injustice and



Modern Monologues, 1903.

Dramatic Episodes, 1905.

Plays for Children, 1905.

More Modern Monologues, 1907.

The Girl Who Lived in the Woods, 1910.

Dr. David, 1911.

Bambi, 1914.

The Dual Alliance, 1915.

Cinderella Jane, 1917.

The Threshold, 1918.

The Clutch of Circumstance, 1918.

The Girl Who Lived in the Woods and Dr. David
are published by A. C. McClurg & Company, Chicago;
Miss Cooke's later novels are published by Doubleday,
Page & Company, New York; but The Clutch of Cir-
cumstance is published by George H. Doran Company,
New York.



WHY do some of Grace S. Richmond's books
sell faster than the books of any other Amer-
ican woman writer ? Because they do ! And
their popularity has no relation whatever to their size.
Some of the littlest On Christmas Day in the Morn-
ing, On Christmas Day in the Evening, and The En-
listing Wife, for instances sell most rapidly. Not
the size ; perhaps it has something to do with the sub-
stance !

No perhaps about it! Mrs. Richmond has, more
perfectly than most of her contemporaries, the gift
for disclosing the simplest and deepest feelings of men
and women everywhere in just those words which
are at the back of our heads and hardly ever on our
lips. They are the words we ache to utter but never
quite bring ourselves to say. She says them for us.
She makes articulate and perfect the full feeling that
is in us. She is our emotional self that part of self
which is a common possession touched with pente-
costal fire. When we read her we have the delight
of self-expression blended with a feeling of grateful-
ness to her for affording it to us.

These are strong words. Gush, some will call them.
Well, among the people of repressed instincts there



is one instinct seldom repressed the instinct to sneer
at those who let themselves go. This is an inconsistency
which will trouble them (we point it out that they may
give themselves over to their favorite delight of self-
torture) but which bothers the rest of us not at all.
We know the rest of us full well that the emotion-
alism of 'which Mrs. Richmond is the most successful
exponent is a cleansing and refreshing exercise. We
read her and come away a little surer of ourselves
and of the world about us. For the essence of that
world is the people in it and there is something in
most people that does not change.

Mrs. Richmond has written many books. The only
exact fact to be stated is that in 1914 and several
of her most successful books have appeared since she
had sold 400,000 copies. The total must be well on to
the million mark by now. Then there are the cheaper
editions of her earlier stories; there are the readers
of her work in the Ladies' Home Journal and other
publications; there are the libraries where copies of
her are always "out" and there are new circles of
readers, each book being much like a stone breaking
the surface of a pond and making its own widening
ripples; no matter. Millions read Mrs. Richmond.
That is enough to know. It is the achievement of a
quiet, country-dwelling woman whose publishers have
a time to get her to be photographed!

She lives in Fredonia, New York, and the sketch of
her life is a bare outline. She was born in Pawtucket,
Rhode Island, the daughter of the Rev. Charles Ed-
wards Smith, D.D., and Catherine A. (Kimball)
Smith. Her father was a Baptist clergyman, the au-


thor of The Baptism of Fire and The World Lighted.
Grace was an only child. While she was still a young
girl the family moved to Syracuse, New York. There
the daughter was educated in the Syracuse High School
and under private tutors, following college courses of
study under their direction. She gave some indica-
tions of the writer's gift before her marriage, in 1887,
to Dr. Nelson Guernsey Richmond of Fredonia. But
the wife of a young physician with a growing practice
has not a great deal of leisure. It was not until 1891
that Mrs. Richmond, whose first work was short stories
for magazines, attracted special attention by a story
which appeared in the Thanksgiving number of the
Ladies' Home Journal.

It had come in as hundreds of other things come in,
had been read by the principal reader and had by him
been handed directly to the editor, who accepted it with-
out delay. The story was called The Flowing Shoe-
String and described the reformation, through love, of
a charmingly untidy little literary genius. Mrs. Rich-
mond remembers it very well! She found herself in
rather notable company Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney,
Frances E. Willard, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the Rev. T.
De Witt Talmage and Russell Sage were other con-
tributors to that Thanksgiving number.

Very, very modest, and very, very busy, Mrs. Rich-
mond did not deluge the editor with other work. In
fact, seven whole years passed before she made her
second appearance in the Ladies' Home Journal, in
1898, with A Silk-Lined Girl. It was the Thanksgiv-
ing number again. The company had changed but
was still notable; Henry M. Stanley, Caroline At-


water Mason and Mary E. Wilkins, now Mary E.
Wilkins Freeman, were on the table of contents.

This second bow was the real introduction to her
audience. Since 1898 Mrs. Richmond has been among
the magazine's most steady and popular contributors.
For twelve years, from 1902 to 1913, not a year went
by when she was not represented in its pages. Her
most successful work has had its first appearance there.
May and June of 1902 brought to the Journal's readers
the first of a series of tales about Juliet which became,
in 1905, a book, The Indifference of Juliet. Juliet's
indifference was toward a young author in relation to
the subject of marriage. Naturally interest in her did
not stop with The Indifference of Juliet and so, in
1907, her further experiences as communicated to the
Journal's readers were published between covers under
the title With Juliet in England.

Mrs. Richmond is a doctor's wife. In 1910 she
created the character for whom she is most widely
known and thanked Redfield Pepper Burns, the gen-
erous, red-haired young doctor of uncertain temper
and humane impulses of whom we haven't heard the
last yet. Red Pepper Burns was followed by Mrs.
Red Pepper and Red Pepper's Patients. But hold on
not so fast. In 1906, between the two Juliet books,
Mrs. Richmond had given us the story of The Second
Violin. In 1908 came Around the Corner in Gay
Street, in 1909 A Court of Inquiry; there were also
the' two Christmas booklets On Christmas Day in
the Morning (1908) and On Christmas Day in the
Evening (1910). Between Red Pepper Burns and
Mrs. Red Pepper appeared Strawberry Acres and a


year after Mrs. Red Pepper was published The Twen-
ty-fourth of June.

But this is becoming a mere catalogue, and the place
for a list of Mrs. Richmond's books is at the end of
this chapter. What we want to do here is to con-
sider her writing, or a few fragments of it as repre-
sentative as may be, and try to see what she does and
how she does it.

Let it be said at the outset that she makes slips
which would be inexcusable if we did not all make the
same slips. In the second chapter of Red Pepper's Pa-
tients Dr. Burns has sheltered a Hungarian violinist
who is now playing for the physician and his wife:
" Warmed and fed, his Latin nature leaping up from
its deep depression to the exaltation of the hour, the
appeal he made to them was intensely pathetic/' The
Hungarians are not a Latin race, but we know what
she means, so why be bothered? "His attitude, as he
stood before his hosts, had the unconscious grace of
the foreigner." Of any foreigner they are all grace-
ful! Hang it! We always think of them as un-
consciously graceful. Why quibble?

Mrs. Richmond can be humorous in the most nat-
ural way. From The Twenty-fourth of June:

RuftlS, 1 said his wife solemnly, following him into
the white-tiled bathroom, 'I want you should look at
those bath-towels. I never in my life set eyes on any-
thing like them. They must have cost I don't know
what they cost I didn't know there were such bath-
towels made !'

" 'I don't want to wrap myself in a blanket,' as-
serted her husband. 'I want to know I've got a towel


in my hand, that I can whisk round me and slap myself
with. Look here, let's get to bed. . . .

1 'Ruth,' said he, with sudden solemnity, 'I forgot
to undress in my dressing-room. Had I better put
my clothes on and go take 'em off again in there ?' '
"""It is funny because it is so exactly what we do say
in such situations. It is naturalism of a very high
order and the more humorous for being entirely un-

In the creation of character Mrs. Richmond is at
her best simply because she differentiates her people
ever so slightly from what, lacking a better word, we
generally call types. Her main triumph is evenly
shared in this field and that other, of which we spoke
at the outset. Red Pepper Burns was a very great suc-
cess as novels go and Redfield Pepper Burns is a very
distinct success as the persons of fiction go; but the
Christmas stories that Mrs. Richmond has written and
such intimate little heart messages as The Enlisting
Wife and The Whistling Mother are just as success-
ful. Take the opening of The Enlisting Wife:

"Judith Taine, who was married to Lieutenant Kirke
Wendell, Junior, just before he sailed for France, is
keeping in a small blue book a little record which he
may see when he returns. It begins with the last
paragraph of a letter from her young husband.

' 'If you hadn't enlisted with me, my Judith, I
shouldn't be half the man I'm beginning to hope I am,
over here in France. If manhood means standing up
straight and strong, facing the future without the old
boyish love of ease and snug corners then well
time will prove me, anyhow. Darling, can you guess


how you are with me, every waking moment and
some of the sleeping ones too, when I'm lucky? My
wife even though I could be with her only those few
hours after Father married us how absolutely she
is that! My enlisting wife, my righting comrade!
O Judith!' '

"I don't cry often not I, Judith Taine Wendell. I
can't afford to cry, there's too much to be done. But
that last paragraph did bring the tears happy ones
and I kissed the dear words again and again before I
tucked the letter away in the warm place where each
one lives, day and night, till the next one comes. O
Kirke! Even you don't know yet how 'absolutely' I
am your wife!"

Such writing is insusceptible of analysis; it admits
only of characterization. We all know how hostile
some of the characterization is likely to be, but the fact
remains that Mrs. Richmond has contrived perfectly
to set down not the things the Judith Wendells and
Kirke Wendells actually say and write but the un-
spoken thought that gives body and coloring to their
actual words. It is what we wish we could say and
write that Mrs. Richmond gives us. She transliterates
the true feeling. Remember, it is not our feeling but
the depth of it that we are habitually ashamed to
show. It is only necessary to make that reflection to
understand Mrs. Richmond's success. She is as popu-
lar with our emotional selves as would be a person who
should write letters for the unfortunate inhabitants of
an illiterate community. Most of us are emotional
illiterates and are likely to remain so. We need Mrs.
Richmond and more like her.



The Indifference of Juliet, 1905.

With Juliet in England, 1907.

Round the Corner in Gay Street, 1908.

Red pepper Burns, 1910.

Strawberry Acres, 1911.

Mrs. Red Pepper, 1913.

The Second Violin, 1906.

A Court of Inquiry, 1909.

On Christmas Day in the Morning, 1908.

On Christmas Day in the Evening, 1910.

The Twenty-fourth of June, 1914.

Under the Country Sky.

Under the Christmas Stars.

The Brown Study.

Red Pepper's Patients, 1917.

The Whistling Mother, 1917.

The Enlisting Wife, 1918.

Brotherly House.

The first six books are published by A. L. Burt Com-
pany, New York; the rest by Doubleday, Page &
Company, New York.



SOME novelists are at their best in their first
novels; others do their best work after a long
apprenticeship in the public eye; a few show
steady growth and a very few show steady and rapid
growth. Of these last is Willa Sibert Gather.

She has written four novels. You pick up Alex-
ander's Bridge and read with discriminating pleasure.
It is a fine piece of work. It is excellent is the word,
yes, excellent and artistically fine all through. The
story is sound and gives a sort of aesthetic delight if
you are susceptible to purely aesthetic delights in
literature. But there is nothing about this very short
tale of a great man who fissured and fell to make a
deep impression. However, some time later you come
upon another book by the same author and start to

Then what a shock; then what reverberations in
your heart as well as your head (for even an empty
head will reverberate and perhaps rather better than a
filled one). Pioneers! is in its way an epic of the
Western plains ; it is wholly epic in its emotional force
and sweeping panorama, though not in rich detail.
The first chapter engages you and the second chapter
enthralls you. Thereafter you are a thorough be-



licver in the literary gift of Willa Sibert Gather. But
though intensely satisfied with O Pioneers! you never
for a moment expect more of her perhaps because
it does not seem as if to expect more would be in any
way reasonable.

A year or so passes. You get hold of a new novel
by her, as much thicker than O Pioneers! as O
Pioneers! was thicker than Alexander's Bridge. It
is called The Song of the Lark. You eye it specula-
tively. You start to read it confidently but not breath-
lessly. And ere you are halfway through you know
that she has excelled herself again.

The Song of the Lark is a much bigger thing than
her second novel in every respect except one it has
not the same peculiar quality of seeming to sum up in
a single life the whole history of a part of America
in the period of that life. But wait think a moment.
Does not this chronicle of Thea Kronberg, the singer,
sum up in a single life the whole emotional history of
thousands of lives? Why, yes; you had not thought
of it but that is so! Thea Kronberg the girl, strug-
gling ahead toward some goal as yet unsuspected ; Thea
Kronberg the woman, fighting with all her force to
gain a goal perceived but hopelessly distant; Thea
Kronberg the great singer, fighting and triumphing for
the sake of the fight what is this but the record of
every superb artist who has ever lived?

From the wonder of those second and third books,
each so much bigger than the one before, we turn
somewhat bewilderedly to the probable wonder of the
woman who could and did write them. But here
no wonder lies. At least, you may read the external


record of Willa Sibert Gather's life and find nothing
that fully, or even adequately, explains her growth
as a novelist. If there were only a hint! But read
through this bit of autobiography and see if you can
find any.

"Willa Sibert Gather was born near Winchester,
Virginia, the daughter of Charles Fectigue Gather and
Virginia Sibert Boak. Though the Siberts were orig-
inally Alsatians, and the Gathers came from County
Tyrone, Ireland, both families had lived in Virginia
for several generations. When Willa Gather was 9
years old her father left Virginia and settled on a
ranch in Nebraska, in a very thinly populated part of
the State where the acreage of cultivated land was
negligible beside the tremendous stretch of raw
prairie. There were very few American families in
that district ; all the near neighbors were Scandinavians,
and ten or twelve miles away there was an entire town-
ship settled by Bohemians.

"For a child accustomed to the quiet and the es-
tablished order behind the Blue Ridge, this change was
very stimulating. There was no school near at hand,
and Miss Gather lived out of doors, winter and sum-
mer. She had a pony and rode about the Norwegian
and Bohemian settlements, talking to the old men and
women and trying to understand them. The first two
years on the ranch were probably more important to
her as a writer than any that came afterward.

"After some preparation in the high school at Red
Cloud, Nebraska, Miss Gather entered the State Uni-
versity of Nebraska, graduated at 19, and immedi-
ately went to Pittsburgh and got a position on the Pitts-


burgh Leader. She was telegraph editor and dramatic
critic on this paper for several years and then gave it
up to take the place of the head of the English depart-
ment in the Allegheny High School.

"While she was teaching in the Allegheny High
School she published her first book of verse, April
Twilights, and her first book of short stories, The Troll
Garden. The latter book attracted a good deal of
attention, and six months after it was published, in
the winter of 1906, Miss Gather went to New York
to accept a position on the staff of McC lure's Maga-
zine. From 1908 until the autumn of 1912 Miss
Gather was managing editor of McClure's Magazine,
and during these four years did no writing at all. In
the fall of 1912 she took a house in Cherry Valley,
New York, and wrote a short novel, Alexander's
Bridge, and a novelette, The Bohemian Girl, both of
which appeared serially in McClure's Magazine. In
the spring of 1913 Miss Gather went for a long stay
in Arizona and New Mexico, penetrating to some of
the many hardly-accessible Cliff Dweller remains and
the remote mesa cities of the Pueblo Indians.

"Miss Gather has an apartment at 5 Bank street in
New York, where she lives in winter. In the summer
she goes abroad or returns to the West. This sum-
mer [1915] she refused a tempting offer to write a
series of articles on the war situation in Europe to
explore the twenty-odd miles of Cliff Dweller remains
that are hidden away in the southwest corner of Colo-
rado, near Mancos and Durango."

Very nice, but it tells you nothing that you need to
know if you are to frame a hypothesis to account for


Miss Gather's astonishingly rapid progress as a novel-
ist. The material for O Pioneers! and The Song of
the Lark, or a good deal of it, was patently gathered
in her impressionable girlhood. The fine chapters of
The Song of the Lark which relate Thea Kronberg's
stay in the Cliff Dweller region with Fred Ottenburg
are outwardly explained by Miss Gather's personal in-
terest in these ruins. What is not made in the least
clear is the secret of her own success. Let us look
into some of the things she has said and see if we can
find a clew to it there.

"I have never found any intellectual excitement
more intense than I used to feel when I spent a morn-
ing with one of these pioneer women at her baking
or buttermaking. I used to ride home in the most un-
reasonable state of excitement; I always felt as if they
told me so much more than they said as if I had
actually got inside another person's skin. If one be-
gins that early it is the story of the man-eating tiger
over again no other adventure ever carries one

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Online LibraryGrant Martin OvertonThe women who make our novels. → online text (page 16 of 23)