January 24, 2011

Birth of Murfree/Craddock

Outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Mary Noailles Murfree was born on January 24, 1850 (the town was named after her great-grandfather; her birthplace is now marked). After some time in Nashville, the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, before returning to Tennessee. Writing about her home state made her name well-known. Well, not exactly her name.

Murfree chose to write under the guise of a male writer, using the pseudonym Charles Egbert Craddock. Though many knew the name a false one, none apparently knew her gender. She earned a wide national reputation before surprising her editors that she was really a woman. She collected her short stories in 1884 under the title In the Tennessee Mountains. The collection included her first published tale, "The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove" (1878):

An early moon was riding, clear and full, over this wild spur of the Alleghanies; the stars were few and very faint; even the great Scorpio lurked, vaguely outlined, above the wooded ranges; and the white mist, that filled the long, deep, narrow valley between the parallel lines of mountains, shimmered with opalescent gleams.

This type of local color story was extremely popular in the late 19th century. Recognized as the first significant writer of the Appalachians, Murfree/Craddock also helped establish stereotypes of that region, including family rivalries. Her story portrays two types of people, an elite group and the more rustic. The author took great pains to represent the vernacular of the latter group:

But I'll tell ye one thing, parson," he added... "ye 're a mighty queer preacher, ye air, a-sittin' up an' lookin' at sinners dance an' then gittin' in a fight that don't consarn ye, — ye 're a mighty queer preacher! Ye ought ter be in my gang, that's whar ye ought ter be," he exclaimed with a guffaw, as he put his foot in the stirrup; "ye've got a damned deal too much grit fur a preacher."

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