Grant Martin Overton.

The women who make our novels. online

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"('And no one that I ever heard of so much as sus-
picioned that they had ever kept company!')


"('And do you s'pose she knew Justin was expected
back when she scrubbed his pew a-Friday?')

"('And this explains the empty pulpit vases!')

"('And I always said that Nancy would make a
real handsome couple if she ever got anybody to
couple with!')"

The boastful old man, Tumble Wiley, in Rose o'
the River:

' 'I remember once I was smokin' my pipe when a
jam broke under me. 'Twas a small jam, or what
we call a small jam on the Kennebec, only about
three hundred thousand pine logs. The first thing I
knowed, I was shootin' back an' forth in the b'ilin'
foam, hangin' on t' the end of a log like a spider.
My hands was clasped round the log, and I never lost
control o' my pipe. They said I smoked right along,
jest as cool an' placid as a pond-lily/

! 'Why'd you quit drivin' ?' inquired Ivory.

"'My strength wa'n't ekal to it,' Mr. Wiley re-
sponded sadly. 'I was all skin, bones, an' nerve. . . .

' 'I've tried all kinds o' labor. Some of 'em don't
suit my liver, some disagrees with my stomach, and
the rest of 'em has vibrations.' '

In January, 1911, over 2,000,000 copies of Mrs.
t Wiggin's books had been sold; to-day the total is
| probably approaching 3,000,000. The most popular
of her books is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which
has been likened, in explanation of its popularity, to
Little Women. But no explanation is necessary. Re-
becca is entirely, naturally human. Whether she is
perplexing her aunts or telling Miss Dearborn that


she can't write about nature and slavery, having really
nothing to say about either; whether she is making
her report on the missionaries' children "all born un-
der Syrian skies," or aweing Emma Jane with original
ideas, or helping the Simpsons, with the aid of Mr.
Aladdin, to acquire a wonderful lamp; at all times,
at every moment Rebecca Rowena Randall reminds
us of the youngsters we have known, and perhaps, a
little, of 'the youngsters we were once ourselves.

The triumph of naturalness, the perfect fidelity to
the life of the child; these explain Rebecca and Rebec-
ca's success, signalized less in the selling of hundreds
of thousands of copies, in the acting of the play made
from the book for months and months and months,
than in the joyous recognition with which Mrs. Wig-
gin's heroine was greeted. Rebecca inditing the
couplet :

"When Joy and Duty clash
Let Duty go to smash"

Rebecca playing on the tinkling old piano, "Wild
roved an Indian girl, bright Alfarata," Rebecca doing
this, thinking that, saying the thing that needs to be
said generous, romantic, resourceful and brighter
than her surroundings is a person it does us all good
to know. Copies of the book in libraries are read to
shreds. The world, which can see through any sham,
loves this story. The world is right. To learn, in
the words of one of Conrad's heroes, to live, to love
and to put your trust in life is all that matters. Mrs.
Wiggin shows us how.



The Birds' Christmas Carol, 1886.

The Story of Patsy, 1889.

A Summer in a Canyon, 1889.

Timothy's Quest, 1890.

The Story Hour, 1890. (With Nora A. Smith, her
sister. )

Children's Rights, 1892. (With Nora A. Smith.)

A Cathedral Courtship and Penelope's English Ex-
periences, 1893.

Polly Oliver's Problem, 1893.

The Village Watch-Tower, 1895.

Froebel's Gifts, 1895. (With Nora A. Smith.)

Froebel's Occupations, 1896. (With Nora A.

Kindergarten Principles and Practice, 1896. (With
Nora A. Smith.)

Marm Lisa, 1896.

Nine Love Songs, And A Carol, 1896. (Music by
Mrs. Wiggin to words by Herrick, Sill, and others.)

Penelope's Progress, 1898.

Penelope's Scottish Experiences, 1900.

Penelope's Irish Experiences, 1901.

The Diary of a Goose Girl, 1902.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, 1903.

The Affair at the Inn, 1904. (With Mary and Jane
Findlater and Allan McAulay.)

Rose o' the River, 1905.

New Chronicles of Rebecca, 1907.

Finding a Home, 1907.

The Flag Raising, 1907.


The Old Peabody Pew, 1907.
Susanna and Sue, 1909.

Robinetta, 1911. (With Mary and Jane Findlater
and Allan McAulay.)

Mother Carey's Chickens, 1911.

A Child's Journey With Dickens, 1912.

The Story of Waits till Baxter, 1913.

Penelope's Postscripts, 1915.

The Romance of a Christmas Card, 1916.

Golden Numbers, 1917.

The Posy Ring, 1917.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.



DIDN'T you ever notice, Aunt Lucy," asks
Molly Gary on page 32 of Mary John-
ston's novel, The Long Roll, "how every-
body really belongs in a book?"

It is the very question Mary Johnston herself has
been asking these twenty years, ever since Prisoners
of Hope announced to the world the advent of a new
American writer, a woman, to whom it would be nec-
essary to pay respectful attention, to whom it would
be wise to give that special admiration reserved for
the artist regardless of sex or nativity. Everybody
really does belong in a book, especially Mary John-
ston in a book upon American women novelists! Pre-
pare, then, for a discursive chapter. Prepare to con-
sider literary genius. Miss Johnston has something,
or several things, which no amount of analysis can
entirely label and no consideration of circumstances
wholly account for.

She is the most dramatic of American women writ-
ers. Do you remember the ending of the first chap-
ter of To Have and To Hold? A shipload of maidens,
"fair and chaste, but meanly born," has arrived at
Jamestown, Virginia, in the early days of that set-
tlement. A friend traveling by has told Ralph Percy



about it and counseled him to go to town and get him
a wife. Percy rejects the idea, but his friend passing
on he finds himself alone and lonely in a cheerless
house. He tries to read Master Shakespeare's plays
and cannot. Idly he begins dicing. His mind goes back
to the English manorhouse that had been his home.

"To-morrow would be my thirty-sixth birthday.
All the numbers that I cast were high. 'If I throw
ambs-ace/ I said, with a smile for my own caprice,
'curse me if I do not take Rolfe's advice!'

"I shook the box and clapped it down upon the
table, then lifted it, and stared with a lengthening
face at what it had hidden; which done, I diced no
more, but put out my lights and went soberly to bed."

Still more dramatic because it makes a greater de-
mand upon the reader's imagination, requiring him to
picture for himself the ceaseless self-torture of a mur-
derer, is the ending of Lewis Rand. Rand has killed
Ludwell Gary and has not been found out. At length
he walks into the sheriff's office. When the news gets
abroad "the boy who minded the sheriff's door found
himself a hero, and the words treasured that fell from
his tongue." The last words of the book are as fol-

" 'Fairfax Gary [brother of the slain man] was
in the court room yesterday when he [Rand] was
committed. He [Fairfax Gary] and Lewis Rand
spoke to each other, but no one heard what they said.'

"The boy came to the front again. 'I didn't hear
much that morning before Mr. Garrett [the sheriff]
sent me away, but I heard why he [Rand] gave him-
self up. I thought it wasn't much of a reason *


"The crowd pressed closer, 'What was it, Michael,
what was it?'

" 'It sounds foolish/ answered the boy, 'but I've got
it right. He said he must have sleep/ '

The funeral of Stonewall Jackson in the last pages
of The Long Roll:

"Beneath arching trees, by houses of mellow red
brick, houses of pale gray stucco, by old porches and
ironwork balconies, by wistaria and climbing roses and
magnolias with white chalices, the long procession
bore Stonewall Jackson. By St. Paul's they bore him,
by Washington and the great bronze men in his com-
pany, by Jefferson and Marshall, by Henry and Ma-
son, by Lewis and Nelson. They bore him over the
greensward to the Capitol steps, and there the hearse
stopped. Six generals lifted the coffin, Longstreet
going before. The bells tolled and the Dead March
rang, and all the people on the green slopes of the his-
toric place uncovered their heads and wept. The cof-
fin, high-borne, passed upward and between the great,
white, Doric columns. It passed into the Capitol and
into the Hall of the Lower House. Here it rested
before the Speaker's Chair.

"All day Stonewall Jackson lay in state. Twenty
thousand people, from the President of the Confed-
eracy to the last poor wounded soldier who could
creep hither, passed before the bier, looked upon the
calm face, the flag-enshrouded form, lying among
lilies before the Speaker's Chair, in the Virginia Hall
of Delegates, in the Capitol of the Confederacy. All
day the bells tolled, all day the minute guns were fired.

"A man of the Stonewall Brigade, pausing his mo-


ment before the dead leader, first bent, then lifted his
head. He was a scout, a blonde soldier, tall and
strong, with a quiet, studious face and sea-blue eyes.
He looked now at the vaulted roof as though he saw
instead the sky. He spoke in a controlled, determined
voice. 'What Stonewall Jackson always said was
just this : "Press forward!" ' He passed on.

"Presently in line came a private soldier of A. P.
Hill's, a young man like a beautiful athlete from a
frieze, an athlete who was also a philosopher. 'Hail,
great man of the past !' he said. 'If to-day you consort
with Caesar, tell him we still make war/ He, too,
went on.

"Others passed, and then there came an artillery-
man, a gunner of the Horse Artillery. Gray-eyed,
broad-browed, he stood his moment and gazed upon
the dead soldier among the lilies. 'Hooker yet upon
the Rappahannock,' he said. 'We must have him
across the Potomac, and we must ourselves invade
Pennsylvania/ '

So ends the book with a dramatic height which it is
not in human power to surpass because it ends noth-
ing. We forget rather frequently that it is of the
essence of drama that things go on. A play or a book
which leaves us with the sense of utter completion,
with the feeling that nothing more happens or can
happen, falls short of the highest dramatic effect which
is that of continuity of life and action, with various
events bitter, happy, tragic and glorious marking
so many stages of an unending record. The last words
of The Long Roll are worthy of the greatest of Miss
Johnston's tales.


The sense of the dramatic cannot be acquired. It
must be born in a writer and if he have it he will apply
it unfailingly to all possible material that comes his
way. Miss Johnston's possession of this sense is one
element of her genius perhaps the most important.
The second element is her creative imagination, equal-
ly innate. To have to use terms of this sort is a pity,
but let us see just what her "creative imagination" is.

If you will turn to her book The Wanderers you
will find that it is a series of nineteen chapters, each
unrelated to the others except in the underlying theme,
the relationship of men and women. This relation-
ship is pictured at various times and places in the
world's history, from the period when the human race
knew not the uses of fire to the days of the French
Revolution. Now for the earlier chapters of this
book there were no historical records to which Miss
Johnston could turn for an idea of how men and
women lived in those days; she is dealing with ages
before recorded history began. No doubt she got
what she could out of the scientists, the anthropolo-
gists and others who seek for the truth of the human
race's beginnings. But scientific facts, head measure-
ments, skull conformations, ingenious theories based
on the cave man's drawings, are one thing and a pic-
ture of life as it was lived tens of thousands of years
ago is quite another. How evoke the picture?

Well, we can't tell you how it is done, for if that
could be told the manner could be copied and we
should many of us be able to write such chapters as
open The Wanderers. All we can be certain of is
this, that Miss Johnston was able to place herself in


the surroundings of a primitive woman of the tree-
folk so much was the first imaginative step. And
having taken this first step she was able to create the
moments and hours of that creature's existence, to
imagine her thoughts and her actions with respect to
the things about her. That is what we mean by crea-
tive imagination. There is a good deal less of it in
story-telling than is generally supposed. For the world
has no $ea of the extent to which novels and tales
of all kinds are merely autobiographical, or reminis-
cent of scenes and persons, emotions and traits, once
known. What is recalled is not imagined nor even
invented. A person may be lifelike, wonderfully
clone, convincing, typical, true, and yet not be any-
thing but a patchwork from an actual past. He is
neither imagined nor created and a certain amount
of re-creation involving only a small amount of imag-
ination, or even none at all, is the only actual contri-
bution of his author.

All this is very didactic but inescapable in the con-
sideration of a serious artist like Mary Johnston. She
has the acutely dramatic sense, she has imagination
and a creative imagination at that ; what else has she ?
Nothing that may not be gained by the most patient
striving. These two qualities, these two never-to-be-
acquired gifts, these two born endowments are the sole
attributes of literary genius. All the rest an almost
boundless capacity for study, for digging up detail,
for documenting one's self ; a racy and enriched style ;
a faculty for reading the essentials of character and
putting them sharply on paper ; a knack at humor skill-
fully distilled throughout the pages; a mastery of


poignancy and the art of touching to tears these are
to be had for taking pains, infinite and unresting
pains. It may be said that they will never be gained
without the possession of a conscience scrupulous to
the nth degree and that such a conscience must be
born in one. True, but thousands have it. They be-
come fine artists, we acknowledge them as such; but
confuse them with the geniuses we never do!

Well, but ! exclaims the reader, granted Miss John-
ston's genius, let us see the woman ! At once, at once !
with the preliminary caution that interesting and in-
structive as the picture will be the inexplicable will
be always a part of it. Why, we think we have made
clear. Abandoning further transcendentalism let us
turn our eyes to Virginia.

The Long Roll starts with the reading of the Bote-
tourt Resolutions and it was in Buchanan, a village
of Botetourt county, Virginia, that Mary Johnston,
the daughter of John William Johnston and Elizabeth
Alexander Johnston, was born on November 21, 1870.
The Blue Ridge Mountains shadowed the town, which
had been partly burned some six years earlier, the
home of the Johnstons being one of many destroyed
by the sweep of civil war. Three miles away ran a
railroad. A stage-coach and canal boats joined Bu-
chanan of the '705 to the rest of the State and coun-
try. The village is unrecognizable now. It had a
boom. There are two railroads. The old homes are
in decay. The old families are spread afar.

The girl was frail and had to be educated at home.
Her grandmother, a Scotchwoman, first taught her
and afterward an aunt took her in hand. Major


Johnston had a sizable library in which his daughter
conducted her own explorations. Histories fascinated
her. As she grew older governesses were employed.
She did not go to school until she was sixteen and
then for less than three months. The family had just
moved to Birmingham, Alabama, at the behest of the
father's business and professional interests. Miss
Johnston had been packed off to a finishing school in
Atlantaj Her health could not stand it and she was
brought home where, a year later, her mother died.

Major Johnston, a lawyer and ex-member of the
Virginia Legislature, was interested in Southern rail-
roads and had a hand in the beginnings of some of
the business enterprises which give Birmingham its
present industrial importance. The death of the
mother left him with several children of whom Mary
Johnston was the eldest. Upon her fell the direction
of the household. It has been thought worthy of re-
mark, in view of Miss Johnston's activities as a suf-
fragist, that she can keep house. She has not done so
in later years for the very good reason that she has
not had to. We come to that a little later, however.

Her writing was for some time done at no particu-
lar hour and in no especial place, but a good deal of
it in the open air. Her first novel, Prisoners of Hope,
published when she was twenty-eight, was begun while
she was living at the San Remo in New York; and
she wrote a large part of it in a quiet corner in Cen-
tral Park. To Have and To Hold, appearing two
years later and constituting a great popular success,
was begun in Birmingham and completed mainly at
a small Virginia mountain resort. The first draft was


written with a lead pencil and revised with exceeding
thoroughness, after which it was typewritten.

Major Johnston's death sent his daughter to Rich-
mond, where she made her home at 1 10 East Franklin
street with her sisters, Eloise and Elizabeth Johnston,
as the other members of the household. Miss John-
ston's father indubitably did a great deal to make pos-
sible The Long Roll and Cease Firing, her epics of the
Civil War. Leaving aside the question of inherited
traits and tastes we have to reflect that the father had
served in the Confederate army throughout the whole
war, gaining promotion to major in the artillery
branch. He was wounded many times. He had not
been a fire-eater nor an extreme partisan and it was
not easy to get him to talk about the war. When he
was launched on the subject his excellent military
knowledge and his gift for vivid description enabled
him to tell a wonderful story. He comprehended
strategy and tactics; knew the personal bravery of
the leaders on both sides; had seen nearly every as-
pect of the struggle. His daughter profited.

In Richmond, in the pleasant three-story "city"
house with wistaria over the white porch columns,
with microphylla rose vines, crinkled pink crape-
myrtle, and blossoming magnolias, Miss Johnston
worked in a large, airy room fronting southeast and on
the second floor. It was full of antique mahogany,
books and pictures and not infrequently of friends
come in for tea and grouped about a tea table. These
invasions were possible in the afternoon. In the morn-
ing when the room was sunny Miss Johnston was busy
writing or reading proofs or dictating ; she had begun


to dictate much of her work and afterward, at Warm
Springs, Virginia, where she went to work upon The
Long Roll and Cease Firing, the rattle of typewriters
came to the ears of visitors to the resort like a faint
crackling of musketry, an echo of that conflict which
they were busied to portray.

Miss Johnston began early to travel. She has spent
winters in Egypt, springs in Italy, Southern France;
summers in England and Scotland; Sicily, Switzer-
land and Paris are part of her experience. These jour-
neys have been partly a matter of health. It must
never be forgotten in estimating Miss Johnston's
achievement that, as with Stevenson, it has been a con-
tinual struggle with illness that she has had to go
through. Her will has driven her on. Perhaps, as
where electricity encounters high resistance, the re-
sult has been a brighter, more incandescent flame.

With Richmond as a base the author made many
excursions to Virginia resorts, but chiefly to Warm
Springs. The cottage that she occupied there was at
one time occupied by General Lee. Lewis Rand was
written on its porch; later she worked there on her
Civil War novels. Eventually she built herself a home
called Three Hills on a slope half a mile away from
Warm Springs and above the hollow in which the
settlement lies. Off to the south from Three Hills
curves the road to Hot Springs. Do not confuse
Warm Springs and Hot Springs, known locally as
"The Warm" and "The Hot" and distinguishable be-
cause The Warm is hotter than The Hot! Three Hills
is a witness to a certain recovery of health for its


owner, making it possible for Miss Johnston at last
to have a permanent home.

There are forty-odd acres, mostly left as nature
has disposed them, with here and there a few stone
steps to help you up a slope. The house is large,
roomy, with enclosed porches and sleeping porches,
with segments and adjuncts which make it a large L.
Miss Johnston's study gives upon a formal garden
centered about a sundial and bird bath of carved stone.
Neat brick walks go between hedge plants sent by
friends in Holland. Flowers execute the processional
of the seasons.

Steps and porches of red brick are set almost level
with the grass. The broad hall runs back to the gar-
den and gives upon the study and the sun parlor.
Eloise Johnston is her sister's house director. There
are jam closets, linen closets and a cedar room.
Walled off from the garden are the kitchen and serv-
ants' dining-room. The servants, in the style of the
South, live in their own cottages. The hospitality of
an older South is maintained without abatement.

In a loose cloak, with a stout stick, Miss Johnston
tramps the Virginia hills. It is recreation, perhaps,
but her mind is always at work. When her body is
at work also she sits at a mahogany desk in the study,
a cluttered desk, with an apple within reach of her
free hand. Panes of leaded glass about the room
protect books of every description history, philoso-
phy, science, most of the literature of suffrage and
feminism a battalion, a regiment of volumes. In
one corner two large globes, one terrestrial, the other
astronomical; elsewhere a microscope; on the walls


and mantel shelf copies of favorite pictures and pho-
tographs of many friends. The beautiful old chest
that used to house a grandmother's linen is full of
old magazines and newspapers, ammunition for the

Sooner or later some one will undertake the inter-
esting task of going through Virginia and identify-
ing the sites of Miss Johnston's stories. A beginning
was made by Alice M. Tyler, writing in the Book
News Monthly of March, 1911.

"Prisoners of Hope, To Have and to Hold and
Audrey are full of allusions to people, places and
events that must cause the least impressionable nature
to thrill with patriotic and State pride. Visitors to
Jamestown have a newborn desire to pause beside
the ruins of a dwelling house where a young daughter
of the Jacquelines greeted her guests before going
abroad to keep her birthday fete upon the greensward
in Audrey's day. At Williamsburg is pointed out a
crumbling edifice that in its day represented the earli-
est theater in the United States, the one in which
Audrey played to the gentry who came from the sur-
rounding country with their wives and daughters,
eager to witness the antics of the player folk. In the
same Old World capital is Bruton Church, represent-
ing the scene of another episode in Audrey's life.

"Higher up James River by some miles is West-
over, the home of Audrey's fair rival, Evelyn Byrd,
whose pink brocade ball gown, a treasured heirloom,
recalls to mind the governor's palace in Williamsburg
and the official function at which Audrey beheld the
radiant Evelvn in the full flush of her loveliness.


"Lewis Rand is of a later date. In its pages the
country of the upper James and Richmond come
equally into play. The June moon still streams into
the ballroom at beautiful Monticello, the home of
Thomas Jefferson, as it did when Rand, the untu-
tored, practiced his steps in it, and was admitted to
confidential companionship and wardship by its owner.
The grasses still wave in the yard of old Saint John's
Church, Richmond, where Lewis Rand's wife and her
sister worshiped and saw grouped about them the
quality of the town in what was then its most aristo-
cratic quarter. The site of the coffee-house on Main
Street, where politicians of Rand's party assembled to
hear the news and discuss the issues of the times, can

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Online LibraryGrant Martin OvertonThe women who make our novels. → online text (page 9 of 23)