Looking Forward to June



Monday, March 5, 2012

Mary Wilkins Freeman--Short Story Monday

Thanks to John Munford of The Bookmine Set, I'm still reading short stories on Monday. Actually, I read a number yesterday and today. My favorite of the lot is "Across the Bridge" by Heinrich Boll, translated by Leila Vennewitz, and is the first story in the collection Children are Civilians Too. (That's the English title.) The story creates a stark contrast of crossing the Rhine by train before the war and after. I was so awe-struck by this story. It gave me chills.

Another story I read today is "The Revolt of 'Mother.'" by the New England writer Mary Wilkins Freeman, which was published sometime in the late 1890s, I believe. Freeman was quite popular in her day--writing numerous stories and a number of novels. Like her contemporary and friend Sarah Orne Jewett, Freeman's reputation suffered during most of the 20th century, primarily because predominantly male-dominated American literary experts pigeon-holed Freeman's and Jewett's work as "New England regionalism" or as "local colorists." Yes, women who wrote stories about life in rural New England seemed to defy categorization, so as "regionalists" they were marginalized following the years of their popularity.

Freeman, like Jewett, receives more attention today, especially from women scholars who have tried to resurrect marginalized American women authors.

"The Revolt of 'Mother'" is one of Freeman's best-known stories and was very well- known in her time. It's the story of a middle-aged farm woman who decides for her family that no, her husband's prized new barn will NOT be a barn but will serve as the first decent living space of their married lives, a decision that is a testament to the resiliency and strength of farm women. The historical reality is that most farm women were full partners with their husbands, so it is no overwhelming surprise for anyone, least of all her husband, when, without any fanfare, she ups and moves all the family's household belongings into the new barn.

Supposedly Freeman was very upset when the public pointed to this story as her treatise for women's rights. To her, it was nothing of the sort, and to have the story reduced to a contentious political cause must have been unnerving, especially because she was a social conservative. To her, it was the story of an unusually strong woman and that was that.

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