Literary Notes

by Laurence Hutton

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 82 Issue 492 (May 1891)

Nothing can show more clearly the vast extent of territory covered by these United States than the marked contrasts, sanitary, social, and climatic, between the New Italy of Mr. Warner and the New England of Miss Wilkins. The first is a district of almost eternal sunshine; the last is a country upon which, for many months of the year, and for many hours of the day, the sun hardly shines at all; a country in which, during certain seasons, most of the sunshine is distilled — to use Mr. Warner's own words — from a wood fire and a back-log. While Mr. Warner tells how strawberries grow all the year round in his Paradise, and how there is never frost enough in southern California to disturb the delicate heliotrope, Miss Wilkins is picturing people who live on dried-apple pie in Massachusetts, and who consider themselves more than successful horticulturists when they can see seven calla-lilies and two buds on a single plant in their sitting-room window.

Miss Wilkins is said to have denied the statements made by certain “literary journals” that her stories are founded on fact, and that her characters are drawn from life. The “Gala Dress” may be purely a work of the imagination, and “Christmas Jenny” may be only a type, but the one is as real and as possible as is the new almshouse with the mansard-roof in the bare, sandy lot, or as is the soldiers' monument on the common, which every New England village possesses; and the other is no more “a type” than is the real country minister, or the real tin peddler, or even the real young woman who plays the real parlor organ — always out of tune — in every village between the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, and the sea. Ever since Miss Mary L. Booth first printed “A Humble Romance” in the columns of Harper's Bazar, a few years ago, Miss Wilkins's short stories of simple, common-place, every-day Yankee existence have touched more hearts among her own country folk than have all of the tales of imported chivalry put together. Her latest collection2 contains “A New-England Nun” — which gives its title to the volume — “A Wayfaring Couple,” “Sister Liddy,” “The Scent of the Roses,” and other tales about the hewers of wood and the drawers of water among whom her own life has surely been spent, and whom she depicts with so much fidelity and so much sympathy. Her men and women are more than types; they are a realization of all that “human natur',” of all that innate “cussedness” and innate honesty, of all that stony-heartedness, that “nearness,” that original humor, that carefully concealed tenderness, that shamefaced sentiment, so characteristic of the race.

2 A New England Nun, and Other Stories. By Mary E. Wilkins, Author of “A Humble Romance, and Other Stories,” etc. 16mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 25. New York: Harper and Brothers.