December 10, 2011

Everything you have heard, seen, or done

I suppose it seems to you as it does to me that everything you have heard, seen, or done, since you opened your eyes on the world, is coming back to you sooner or later, to go into stories.

Thus wrote Mary Wilkins Freeman on December 10, 1889 to her friend and fellow writer Sarah Orne Jewett. In the preceding decade, the Halloween-born Freeman had become a prolific author – the beginning of her long career. Both Freeman and Jewett were soon to publish their most famous works: A New England Nun And Other Stories (1892) and The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), respectively.

Freeman was 37 years old when she wrote her letter to Jewett and, by then, had published over 50 short stories in about six years. It is unclear if any of them were as autobiographical as her quote suggests. Certainly, her work reflected her life in New England and following the traditions of that region. Inspired by the new realism literary movement, her writing paints pictures of ordinary people: editor Horace Scudder complimented her "truthfulness," and another critic praised her ability to show the "pathos and beauty of simple lives."

Years later in 1921, she wrote a short autobiographical essay about her first published work, "A Shadow Family." After winning a $50 prize with it, she indulged herself by buying new clothes (ashamedly admitting she only gave away one-tenth of it):

However, I give myself the tardy credit of being perfectly conscious, whether or not I have succeeded, in caring more in my heart for the art of my work than for anything else.

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