Literary Notes

by Laurence Hutton

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 83 Issue 498 (November 1891)

There has been a great deal of newspaper conjecture lately in regard to the nature and the authorship of “The Novel of the Future.” That the American story of the immediate present — whether it be the short story or the long story — is generally from the pen of a woman and usually dialect in character, there can be little question. Miss Wilkins, Miss Murfree, Miss Jewett, Mrs. Slosson, and now Miss Pool, are rapidly coming to the front in this country as producers of native fiction; and Dally,3 by this last lady, is worthy almost to take her place among the best of recent creations, by the side of “Fishin' Jimmy,” of the “New England Nun,” or of any of “The Stranger People” of Tennessee. Dally is described by her guardian as “a critter brought up in White Crow Mounting down in Caroliny,” and she is a very remarkable mixture of good and evil — the former innate, the latter acquired. She is introduced to us as a beautiful child of fourteen, with a sweet voice, a divinely innocent face, lovely pink lips, soft white skin, light hair, and brown eyes; and she turns out to be a veritable “imp of Satan.” She swears with her sweet voice; she lies and she steals; she drinks whiskey, raw and undiluted, through her lovely pink lips; her innocent face is rarely clean; she heaves rocks and carving-knives at her enemies; she is affectionate; she is sensitive; she is conscientious; she does almost everything she ought not to do; she leaves undone nearly everything she ought to do; and she never neglects to do the proper thing when she is made to understand what the proper thing is. Naturally, she astonishes an entire community in New England by her ignorance of the mixing of doughnuts, by preferring cornbread to “light bread,” by calling tomatoes “poma-toes,” harness “gears,” going to meeting “gwine ter preachin',” and by wanting to know where persons and objects are “at.” How much the New England community astonished Dally it is hardly necessary to say. Like most little girls who are blessed with golden curls, there is no happy medium about Dally's conduct; nevertheless, she proves the exception to the general rule by making herself irresistible even when she is horrid.

While Dally is perhaps an abnormal creation, “the widow ladies” and “the widower gentlemen,” and all the folk of Ransom, Massachusetts, among whom Miss Pool places her, are very true to the life. Miss Pool knows the Yankees thoroughly, and she knows how to reproduce them in print in a very natural way. Her dialect is simple to the eye, and it will come trippingly to the tongue of those who attempt to read it aloud, and her bits of philosophy and humor, that which Mr. Lowell called “wit and gumption and shrewd Yankee sense,” are as natural and as characteristic as are any of the “mosses on an old stone fence.” The calico pantalettes of Marietta Winslow, who had to wear such things because her mother wore them when she was a girl, and her father's blue overalls, “much faded from frequent washings, and held upon his portly form by one strap of the same material going up from the left front over his shoulder to the right back,” are familiar to all the citizens of the great commonwealth over which young Governor Russell rules. And Ransom is not alone in the possession of a Widow 'Bijah, who attends every service held in the Congregational church; who is always present at the “preparatory lecture” in the Sunday-school; who even goes to hear the “sopranos try to toss their voices entirely out of reach of the bass and the alto singers” at choir meetings; who buys a ticket every time there is “an apron party” or “a necktie party” in the vestry, to eke out the minister's salary; and who enjoys as much as anybody hearing three or four “fellers and girls” try to speak a dialogue which they have imperfectly learned, and in which they invariably “giggle in the wrong place.” If Dally had done nothing else, she would deserve permanent recognition for having introduced the Widow 'Bijah and the Winslows to the admirers of “Butterneggs,” and to the large circle of readers who are in such hearty sympathy with “The Revolt of Mother.”

3 Dally. A Novel. By Maria Louise Pool. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 25. New York: Harper & Brothers.