The Realistic Movement

From American Poetry and Prose Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman (1862-1930)

Introduction to “On the Walpole Road”

Puritan in ancestry, Mary E. Wilkins was born in the village of Randolph, Massachusetts, and lived there and in Brattleboro, Vermont, until her marriage in 1902. She contributed stories of New England life to Harpers and collected some of them in A Humble Romance and Other Stories (1887). There followed A New England Nun and Other Stories (1891), Pembroke, a Novel (1894), and many other volumes.

“Her conceptions of living were as lyric of texture as Emily Dickinson's,” says F. L. Pattee (The New American Literature, 240). … “Her theme the New England decline, repressed lives, personalities in some way warped by their inheritance or their environment, lives compelled by Puritanic standards, lives cheated by a sinister Nemesis that held them, as Egdon Heath did in Hardy's ‘Return of the Native’: maidens held to an iron home régime until withered by age. Always repression; passion and passions held in check by stoic pride until repression no longer was possible, and then the flood, like a Vermont river on the rampage for the first time in a generation, destroying all landmarks. And the style was completely in harmony: staccato, Saxon of diction, unadjectived, unconnected.”

The Best Stories of Mary E. Wilkins were edited by H. W. Lanier, 1927. For studies of her work see Pattee, American Literature Since 1870, 235-42; Development of the American Short Story, 317-23. Professor Pattee has also written an interesting longer study: “On the Terminal Moraine of New England Puritanism,” in Side-Lights on American Literature, 1922.