Mary Noailles Murfree: Contribution to American Fiction

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      Miss Mary Noailles Murfree, better known as Charles Egbert Craddock, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1850. For fifteen years she spent her summers in the Tennessee mountains among the people of whom she writes. Her pen name of Charles Egbert Craddock deceived her publishers into the belief that she was a man. Both Howells and Thomas Bailey Aldrich accepted her stories for the Atlantic Monthly without suspecting her sex, and Aldrich was a surprised man the day she entered his office and introduced herself as Charles Egbert Craddock.

Mary Noailles Murfree Literary Contribution to American Fiction
Mary Noailles Murfree

      The stories that suggested to her editors a masculine hand are lively recitals of family feuds, moonshiners' raids, circuit court sessions, fights over land grants, discoveries of oil, and many similar incidents, which make up the life of a people separated from the modern world by almost inaccessible mountains. The rifle is used freely by this people, and murder is frequent, but honor and bravery, daring and sacrifice, are not absent, and Craddock finds among the women, as well as the men, examples of magnanimity and heroism that thrill the reader.

      The presence of the mountains is always imminent, and seems to impress the lives of the people in some direct way. To Cynthia Ware, for instance, in the story, Drifting Down Lost Creek, Pine Mountain seems to stand as a bar to all her ambitions and dreams:—

      "Whether the skies are blue or gray, the dark, austere line of its summit limits the horizon. It stands against the west like a barrier. It seems to Cynthia Ware that nothing which went beyond this barrier ever came back again. One by one the days passed over it, and in splendid apotheosis, in purple and crimson and gold, they were received into the heavens and returned no more. She beheld love go hence, and many a hope. Even Lost Creek itself, meandering for miles between the ranges, suddenly sinks into the earth, tunnels an unknown channel beneath the mountain, and is never seen again."

      And, finally, after a tremendous self-sacrifice, when all appears lost and her future looks colorless and hopeless, she fears that the years of her life are "like the floating leaves drifting down Lost Creek, valueless, purposeless, and vaguely vanishing in the mountains." All of the stories are by no means so tragically sad as this one, but all are overshadowed by the mountains. Among the best of the novels, Down the Ravine and The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountain may be mentioned. Craddock shows marked ability in delineating this primitive type of level-headed, independent people, and she tells their story with ease and vigor. The individual characters are not strongly differentiated in her many books, and the heroines bear considerable resemblance to each other, but the entire community of mountain folk, their ideals, hopes, and circumscribed lives are clearly and vividly shown.

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