Biography after “A Gala Dress”

by Blanche Colton Williams, Ph. D.

From A Book of Short Stories (D. Appleton and Company, New York: 1918)

As the name of Hawthorne is associated with earlier New England so that of Mary Wilkins Freeman calls up pictures of the same section in our own day. Born in Randolph, Massachusetts, in 1862, Mary Eleanor Wilkins lived there and at Brattleboro, Vermont, until the time of her marriage in 1902, to Dr. C. M. Freeman, of Metuchen, New Jersey. Since her stories, “An Honest Soul” and “A Gatherer of Simples” appeared (in 1884) in Harper's Magazine she has been regarded as one of the chief interpreters of New England life. For thirty years she has turned out story after story, and volume after volume, reflecting the life of village and farm. In the latter part of this period, she has also written charming stories about children in a seemingly new environment, such an environment, one would guess, as is found in Metuchen. These narratives, though possessing interest in their reflection of present-day life, add little to her fame, which was secure after the appearance of her first volumes, “A New England Nun,” and “A Humble Romance.” Other important works are “Silence,” “The Love of Parson Lord,” “The Givers,” “The Winning Lady,” and “The Copy-Cat.” The first-named takes its title from the story, “Silence,” which is similar to Hawthorne's tales of colonial days. “The Copy-Cat,” a collection of stories about children in general, emphasizes her departure from earlier subject matter and manner.

In her New England stories, Mrs. Freeman (Miss Wilkins she was when she wrote them) exploits the hardened farmer, his patient wife, and his meek children. Grandmothers and grandfathers, old ladies and old men who fear the poor-house, and old maids of the aristocracy, as well as of the humbler classes, who strain to “make both ends meet,” are also among her favorites. “A Village Lear” indicates by its title that New England no less than Britain and Russia can tell its tale of daughters who neglect their father; “A Taste of Honey” presents the drama of a farmer's daughter who having promised “to pay off the mortgage” does so at the cost of losing her chance for happiness; “Gentian” recounts the separation and reunion of a pair in their dotage, after forty years of married life. “A Humble Romance” depicts the pathos in the life of the poor child who “lives out” and “works for her keep.” “A Gala Dress” celebrates three of her numerous old maids. So brief a summary will illustrate the fact that Mrs. Freeman is a literary historian of her own time and locality, — chiefly Massachusetts and Vermont in the late nineteenth century.

Other Stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman:

“A Humble Romance,” “Gentian,” “An Independent Thinker” (In “A Humble Romance”).
“A Church Mouse,” “A New England Nun,” “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” (In “A New England Nun”).
“Young Lucretia” (In “Young Lucretia”).
“Silence,” “Evelina's Garden” (In “Silence”).
“The Winning Lady,” “Old Woman Magoun” (In “The Winning Lady and Others”).
“The Gold” (In “The Fair Lavinia”).
“Big Sister Solly,” “The Cock of the Walk,” “The Copy-Cat” (In “The Copy-Cat”).
“The Shadows on the Wall: A Ghost Story” (In “The Wind in the Rosebush”).

Read, in connection with “A Gala Dress”: “Lady Eleanore's Mantle,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (In “Twice-Told Tales”).