Under Twenty — Edited by May Lamberton Becker

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman


From Under Twenty (Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. 1932)

It was in magazines for young people that Mary E. Wilkins made her first appearances in print; St. Nicholas published her poems. Later on, when her genius in her own field had been discovered and she had become swiftly famous here and abroad, she sometimes wrote stories for young people, and sometimes stories about them, especially young girls. Some of these are gathered in her volume “Young Lucretia,” others are to be found here and there in other collections, and wherever choice is made among them for especial praise “The Joy of Youth” is likely to be selected. It is an idyl at once delicate and strong, not so much a love-story as a story about love.

When Mary Wilkins' family moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, from her native state Massachusetts, they came to country so wildly beautiful that it called upon her to create beauty. Her health gained too; she had been a delicate little creature, too frail to go steadily to school and a great reader of good books, and now she began to write. Time passed, her parents died, and her only sister; she went back to Massachusetts and to work at teaching school, sending out also what she now was writing. It was not poetry now; it was prose — but such prose! Harper's Magazine published these first stories, and their quality was so soon recognized that by the time her first volume appeared — “A Humble Romance and Other Stories” (1887) — an appreciative public on both sides of the Atlantic welcomed the book. She wrote a number of novels, among them “Jane Field,” “Pembroke” and “The Portion of Labor,” but it is for certain examples of the short story's art, flawless as one can find, that she will live in our literature.

Her young girls would make a lovable company could one get them all together, New England girls of what we call the old school, not much given to dress and not at all encouraged to be dressy, reticent in speech and reserved in manner, but lovely as arbutus under snow, and like that sturdy flower, sweeter than they look and stronger than you might think.

In the “Collected Poems” of Vachel Lindsay there is one “For All Who Ever Sent Lace Valentines” that seems to go with this story. He says,

… I have seen them with faces
Like books out of Heaven,
With Messages there
The harsh world should read …

This is the look, I think, that one sees upon the face of the young girl in this springtime romance.