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Constance Fenimore Woolson

Constance Fenimore Woolson

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Constance Fenimore Woolson (March 5, 1840 – January 24, 1894) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

ist and short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer. She was a grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo...

, and is best known for fictions about the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 region, the American South, and American expatriates in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

.

In America: the story-writer


Woolson was born in Claremont
Claremont, New Hampshire
There were 5,685 households out of which 27.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.5% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.7% were non-families. 32.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.7% had...

, New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

, but her family soon moved to Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in the state. The city is located in northeastern Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie, approximately west of the Pennsylvania border...

, Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, after the deaths of three of her sisters from scarlet fever. Woolson was educated at the Cleveland Female Seminary and a boarding school in New York. She traveled extensively through the midwestern and northeastern regions of the U.S. during her childhood and young adulthood.

Woolson’s father died in 1869, and in the following year she began to publish fiction and essays in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly
The Atlantic Monthly
The Atlantic is an American magazine founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1857. It was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine. It quickly achieved a national reputation, which it held for more than a century. It was important for recognizing and publishing new writers and poets,...

and Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

. Her first full-length publication was a children’s book, The Old Stone House (1873), and in 1875 she published her first volume of short stories, Castle Nowhere: Lake-Country Sketches, based on her experiences in the Great Lakes region, especially Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is an island and resort area covering in land area, part of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to a Native American settlement before European...

.

From 1873 to 1879 Woolson wintered with her mother in St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is a city in the northeast section of Florida and the county seat of St. Johns County, Florida, United States. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer and admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, it is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United...

. During these winter visits she traveled widely in the South, which gave her material for her next collection of short stories, Rodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches (1880). After her mother’s death in 1879 she went to Europe, staying at a succession of hotels in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

.

In Europe: the novelist


In 1880 she met Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, and the relationship between the two writers has prompted much speculation by biographers, especially Lyndall Gordon
Lyndall Gordon
Lyndall Gordon is a South African writer and academic, known for her literary biographies. Born in Cape Town, she was an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town, then a doctoral student at Columbia University...

 in her 1998 book, A Private Life of Henry James. Woolson’s most famous story, Miss Grief, has been read as a fictionalization of their friendship, though she had not yet met James when she wrote it. Recent novels such as Emma Tennant's
Emma Tennant
Emma Christina Tennant FRSL is a British novelist and editor. She is known for a postmodern approach to her fiction, which is often imbued with fantasy or magic. Several of her novels give a feminist or dreamlike twist to classic stories, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr....

 Felony (2002), David Lodge
David Lodge (author)
David John Lodge CBE, is an English author.In his novels, Lodge often satirises academia in general and the humanities in particular. He was brought up Catholic and has described himself as an "agnostic Catholic". Many of his characters are Catholic and their Catholicism is a major theme...

's Author, Author
Author, Author (novel)
Author, Author is a novel by David Lodge, written in 2004. The book is based on the life of the author Henry James. It was released at about the same time as The Master by Colm Tóibín and other books about James, and Lodge wrote The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel about this...

(2004) and Colm Toibin's
Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín is a multi-award-winning Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and, most recently, poet.Tóibín is Leonard Milberg Lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton University in New Jersey and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the...

 The Master
The Master (novel)
The Master is a novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It is his fifth novel and it was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize and received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year Award and, in France, Le prix du meilleur livre...

(2004) have treated the still unclear relationship between Woolson and James.

Woolson published her first novel Anne in 1880, followed by three others: East Angels (1886), Jupiter Lights (1889) and Horace Chase
Horace Chase
Horace B. Chase was an American politician who served as mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.Chase was born in Vermont, on Christmas Day of 1810 and lived near Derby, Vermont. One of Milwaukee's pioneers, he first arrived in Milwaukee in December 1834, left for Chicago, and returned to settle in...

(1894). In 1883 she published the novella For the Major, a story of the postwar South that has become one of her most respected fictions. In the winter of 1889–1890 she traveled to Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 and Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, which resulted in a collection of travel sketches, Mentone, Cairo and Corfu (published posthumously in 1896).

In 1893 Woolson rented an elegant apartment on the Grand Canal of Venice
Grand Canal of Venice
The Grand Canal is a canal in Venice, Italy. It forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city...

. Suffering from influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

 and depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

, she either jumped or fell to her death from a window in the apartment in January 1894. Two volumes of her short stories appeared after her death: The Front Yard and Other Italian Stories (1895) and Dorothy and Other Italian Stories (1896). She is buried in the Protestant Cemetery
Protestant Cemetery, Rome
The Protestant Cemetery , now officially called the Cimitero acattolico and often referred to as the Cimitero degli Inglesi is a cemetery in Rome, located near Porta San Paolo alongside the Pyramid of Cestius, a small-scale Egyptian-style pyramid built in 30 BC as a tomb and later incorporated...

 in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

.

Critical evaluation


Woolson’s short stories are regarded today as competent and readable examples of local color. Her novels have suffered somewhat in comparison, though they also reflect her ability to paint impressive backgrounds for her fiction.

Her story "Jeannette" is a fine example of her first period of Great Lakes fiction, with an ending that plays against conventional romance. "Rodman the Keeper" represents her second period of Southern-based fiction, and shows sympathy for both Northern and Southern cultures and worldviews. "In Sloane Street", from Woolson’s final European period, shows genuine insight into the problems of an unmarried woman writer who is staying with a married couple.

External links