Foote, Mary Hallock
Mary Hallock Foote 1847–-1938
American shortstory writer, novelist, diarist, and illustrator.
A local-color writer as well known in her day for her illustrations as for her prose, Foote was often grouped with other Western writers such as Owen Wister and Bret Harte and was well received by reviewers and the public. Her work was largely ignored by later critics, however, until 1971, when Wallace Stegner used Foote's sources for his novel Angle of Repose, precipitating a revival in Foote criticism. Novels by Foote such as The Led-Horse Claim (1883) and The Desert and the Sown (1902) and stories like “In Exile” (1881) and “A Cloud on the Mountain” (1885) emphasize women's reactions to the Western experience.
Mary Hallock was born on a farm near Milton, New York, on November 19, 1847, a daughter of Quaker parents. Her later writing was influenced by the relative seclusion in which her dissenting family lived. A talented artist, Mary was educated at the Cooper Institute School of Design for Women in New York City. There she broadened both her knowledge and her social connections, forming a particularly useful friendship with Richard Watson Gilder, editor of Scribner's Monthly and later Century Illustrated Magazine. Gilder helped her to publish her first illustrations and writings and remained her most important mentor for many years to come. In 1876, she married Arthur De Wint Foote, a mining engineer who took her West with him to California, South Dakota, Colorado, and Idaho. Mary turned to writing as a respite from frequent domestic upheavals and Arthur's unpredictable income, finding an eager audience among easterners for the new literature of the West. Foote wrote a number of stories and novels during the 1880s but slowed her literary production late in the decade in order to cope with a growing family and Arthur's alcohol abuse. After one of many of Arthur's business failures, she again began producing what she called “potboilers” in the 1890s in order to supplement the family's income. When Arthur finally settled into a more prosperous period in California, she turned again to more serious novel-writing. After enjoying considerable popularity during her lifetime, Mary died on 25 June 1938 at the age of ninety-one, leaving a considerable legacy of writings which explored her own unique vision of America and the West in her time.
Although Foote was influenced by Western writer Owen Wister, she did not share his idealized version of the Western past. In one of her first short stories, “In Exile” Foote explores one of her frequent themes, the ways in which both marriage and the West itself prove confining to women. Serialized in Century Magazine, her first novel, The Led-Horse Claim, is romantic in its plot structure but presents a realistic picture of life in a frontier mining town, a frequently used Foote setting. She also used a frontier setting for her novels John Bodewin's Testimony (1886), The Chosen Valley (1892), and Coeur d'Alene (1894). Her short story “A Cloud on the Mountain” melodramatically explores the tragic possibilities of the Western experience. A number of her stories, such as “The Rapture of Hetty” (1891) and “The Watchman” (1893), were transparent attempts to make money in a hurry. Her own frustrations with the circumscribed life she led in the West were mirrored in her 1902 novel The Desert and the Sown. After producing another novel, The Prodigal, and two short story collections in the early 1900s, she was too grief-stricken to write for several years after her daughter's death in 1904. In two later novels, The Royal Americans (1910) and A Picked Company (1912), she switches from strictly local-color writing to more sweeping historical romance. In Edith Bonham (1917), Foote pays tribute to her friend Helena de Kay Gilder, wife of Richard Watson Gilder. Foote's autobiography did not appear until 1972, when it was published under the title A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, after being used as a source by Stegner.
Early critics received Foote enthusiastically as one of several new chroniclers of the Western experience. Although Foote never reached the status of other local—color and realistic writers such as Mark Twain and Sarah Orne Jewett, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries she was quite popular, partly because of her own illustrations of her work and also because her work was most often serialized in popular magazines. After a long period of neglect, Foote's writing again gained attention when Stegner used a great deal of her unpublished material for Angle of Repose in 1971. Many critics failed to note Stegner's debt to Foote, but his novel did reawaken interest in her work. Foote's Victorian Gentlewoman and several monographs and full-length, biographical-critical studies of Foote were produced during the 1970s and 1980s. Critics in this period emphasized her realistic portraits of the West, despite her flair for plot twists and melodrama, as well as her sophisticated treatment of themes associated with Westward migration. Later critics pointed to Foote's important analyses of women's reactions to the West and praised her subtlety in portraying the ambivalences inherent in the Western experience.
The Led-Horse Claim: A Romance of a Mining Camp (novel) 1883
John Bodewin's Testimony (novel) 1886
The Last Assembly Ball: and, The Fate of a Voice (novel and short story) 1889
The Chosen Valley (novel) 1892
Coeur d'Alene (novel) 1894
In Exile, and Other Stories (short stories) 1894
The Cup of Trembling, and Other Stories (short stories) 1895
The Little Fig-Tree Stories (juvenilia) 1899
The Prodigal (novel) 1900
The Desert and the Sown (novel) 1902
A Touch of Sun and Other Stories (short stories) 1903
The Royal Americans (novel) 1910
A Picked Company (novel) 1912
The Valley Road (novel) 1915
Edith Bonham (novel) 1917
The Ground-Swell (novel) 1919
A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote (reminiscences) 1972
The Idaho Stories and Far West Illustrations of Mary Hallock Foote (short stories and illustrations) 1988
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SOURCE: “Mary Hallock Foote: How the Pump Stopped at the Morning Watch,” in Selected American Prose, 1841-1900: The Realistic Movement, edited by Wallace Stegner, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1958, pp. 116-19.
[In the following essay from his collection of American realistic stories, Stegner provides an introduction to Foote's short story, “How the Pump Stopped at the Morning Watch,” with particular attention to Foote's sources.]
Editor's Note: Mary Hallock Foote was both writer and illustrator, and the fact that her husband, Arthur Foote, was a mining engineer gave her unprecedented opportunities to observe at first hand the life of a series of mining camps in the West: New Almaden, in California; Leadville, in Colorado; Boise and Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho; and finally Grass Valley, in the Sierra Nevada. Her writings reflect all of them—the only serious writing after Bret Harte to deal with mining-camp society, and virtually the only serious fiction which has dealt with the camps from intimate knowledge.
The present story was published in Century Magazine in June, 1899, but I saw it first in a typed, hand-sewn, and hand-bound copy which Mrs. Foote had made as an intimate childhood gift for her granddaughter, Mrs. Tyler Micoleau of Grass Valley. It was written sometime between October, 1896, and its publication date in 1899, and is included in this collection partly...
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SOURCE: A review of A Victorian Gentlewomen in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote, in Western American Literature, 1972, pp. 81-3.
[In the following essay, Maguire reviews Rodman W. Paul's edited version of Foote's reminiscences, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.]
Most of us hope that the writers of our region can find some way to escape from the burden of all the debased myths of the West created and nurtured in pulp fiction, on T.V., and in the movies. Perhaps unconsciously we fear that the myths might be true, that the early West might have been after all that land of good guys and bad guys, of Injuns and cowboys, of melodrama and bathos which appears every time we turn on the tube. Such fears may explain the considerable attention given recently to Mary Hallock Foote, an early writer of the American West. Her life served as the model, in part, for Wallace Stegner's Angel of Repose (1971); last spring Richard W. Etulain's bibliographical essay on Mrs. Foote appeared in American Literary Realism; and my own study of her life and work was issued last fall as the second pamphlet in BSC's Western Writers Series. Now, Rodman W. Paul's superb new edition of Mrs. Foote's reminiscences makes clear the reason that this woman and her work suddenly seem important subjects for consideration.
In his introduction, Paul explains why this renewed...
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SOURCE: “Apprenticeship: New Almaden and Santa Cruz,” in Mary Hallock Foote, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 27-37, 49-55, 79-84, 117-23, 155-58.
[In the following excerpts from her full-length biographical and critical study of Foote, Johnson discusses the ways in which Foote's life in the West influenced her early writing; evaluates her first novel The Led-Horse Claim, her more mature novels The Chosen Valley and The Desert and the Sown, and her historical romance The Royal Americans; and provides an overall assessment of Foote's importance in American literary history.]
FOOTE'S EARLY WESTERN WRITINGS
Frontier is a beautiful word, full of history and romance. To the young men of all the generations it has been a challenge and a lure. The East was East, in my time, and the West was the Far West; and the frontier meant placer gold and lumber and wheat and of course land—all you could grasp and hold. It meant “go West, young man.” The young man lead and the woman followed—around the horn, across the Isthmus, by the covered wagon trail.1
Thus wrote Mary Hallock Foote when she was nearing eighty years old, romancing the long journey thousands of easterners had taken during the latter half of the nineteenth century. As the twenty-eight-year-old bride of a California engineer, she had...
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SOURCE: “Angle of Repose and the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote: A Source Study,” in Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner, edited by Anthony Arthur, G. K. Hall & Co., 1982, pp. 184-209.
[In the following essay, Walsh attempts to clarify to what extent Wallace Stegner borrowed material from Foote for his 1971 novel Angle of Repose and examines the ways in which Foote's actual life was distorted by its fictional representation in Stegner's book.]
In Angle of Repose, Lyman Ward sits at his desk in Grass Valley, California, surrounded by the papers of his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward, using the papers to write a kind of biography of Susan and her marriage to Oliver Ward. The papers include hundreds of letters Susan had written to her friend, Augusta, an unpublished reminiscence written late in Susan's life, copies of her published and unpublished essays, stories, novels, and illustrations, and numerous photographs of Susan and members of her family. As Wallace Stegner wrote Angle of Repose, he sat at a desk surrounded by the papers of Mary Hallock Foote, a nineteenth-century writer and illustrator, renowned in her day for her portrayal of the Western American experience in both her prose and her drawings. Foote's papers included hundreds of letters she had written to her friend, Helena DeKay Gilder; an unpublished reminiscence Foote wrote in the early 1920s; copies of...
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SOURCE: “The Illustrator as Writer: Mary Hallock Foote and the Myth of the West,” in Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature, edited by Barbara Howard Meldrum, The Whitston Publishing Company, 1985, pp. 151-66.
[In the following essay, Armitage draws on Richard Slotkin's concept of subliterary myth-making to show how Foote's stories of the West grew from her realistic illustrations of the region and explored the ambiguities inherent in Western life, especially for women.]
In Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860, Richard Slotkin reasserts the idea that the genesis of myth is essentially “low-brow,” that is, it originates in shared, popular experience:
True myths are generated on a subliterary level by the historical experience of a people and thus constitute part of that inner reality which the work of the artist draws on, illuminates, and explains. In American mythogenesis, the founding fathers were not these eighteenth-century gentlemen who composed a nation in Philadelphia. Rather, they were those who … tore violently a nation from the implacable and opulent wilderness—the rogues, traders, missionaries, explorers, and hunters who killed and were killed until they had mastered the wilderness; the settlers who came after, suffering hardships and Indian warfare for the sake of a...
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SOURCE: “Mining the West: Bret Harte and Mary Hallock Foote,” in Soft Canons: American Women Writers and Masculine Tradition, edited by Karen L. Kilcup, University of Iowa Press, 1999, pp. 202-18.
[In the following essay, Floyd places both Foote and Bret Harte in the context of newer critical perspectives which question old stereotypes about the way writers have dealt with the tug-and-pull between East and West.]
The category “Western writing” is a slippery one, and the exercise of forming and reforming a Western canon has become relatively obscure in the larger context of recent critical considerations of regionalism. Yet, even against a background where Western writers' status is liable to shift, Bret Harte occupies a peculiarly insecure position not only in relation to the tradition of frontier narratives traced from Cooper but even within literary histories of Western literature, where his work is rarely described. Mary Hallock Foote has disappeared in a more complex way from “Western writing,” in a manner predictable to the feminist literary historian, only to reappear as a quite distinct figure within the various spheres of 1970s historical writing. Here she is constructed as a writer who is, in some absolute sense, in the wrong place. This is certainly the assumption of Rodman W. Paul, whose edition of Foote's unpublished reminiscences, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West...
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Etulain, Richard W. “Mary Hallock Foote: A Checklist.” Western American Literature 10 (May 1975): 59-65.
The first complete bibliography (to 1975) of Foote's works and criticism about Foote.
Johnson, Lee Ann. “Selected Bibliography.” In Mary Hallock Foote, pp. 172-76. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
Selected primary and secondary sources by and about Foote (to 1980).
Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novel based on Foote's memoirs, whose publication spurred a revival in Foote criticism; also adapted into an opera in 1976.
Bickford-Swarthout. Mary Hallock Foote: Pioneer Woman Illustrator. Deansboro, NY: Berry Hill Press, 1996.
Biography which emphasizes Foote as an artist.
Benn, Mary Lou. “Mary Hallock Foote: Early Leadville Writer.” Colorado Magazine 33 (April 1956): 93-108.
Essay emphasizing Foote's writings about Colorado.
———. “Mary Hallock Foote in Idaho.” University of Wyoming Publications 10 (15 July 1956): 157-78.
Essay outlining the influence of Foote's Idaho experience on her...
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