Murfree, Mary N.
Murfree, Mary N. 1850-1922
(Full name Mary Noailles Murfree; wrote under the pseudonyms Charles Egbert Craddock and R. Emmet Dembry) American short story writer and novelist.
Murfree was one of America's foremost "local color" writers of the nineteenth century. Although she wrote about many themes, including the Civil War, Southern society, and colonial history, her reputation rests primarily on her unique stories of life in the mountains of Tennessee. In such works as the acclaimed collection of stories In the Tennessee Mountains and the novel The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains, Murfree used elaborately detailed descriptions and distinctive dialect in the speech of her characters to vividly evoke the singularity of her remote settings and their inhabitants. In her day Murfree was hailed as a highly original writer who brought to life a little known but characteristically American milieu.
Murfree was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, into the prominent family after which the town was named. Both her father, lawyer William Law Murfree, and her mother, Fanny Priscilla Dickinson Murfree, were devoted patrons of the arts, and Murfree grew up in a cultured atmosphere that nurtured her literary interests. Throughout her childhood Murfree and her family spent the summer months at a resort in the Cumberland Mountains; there she encountered the rural life that would figure prominently in her later writings. In 1857 Murfree's family moved to Nashville, where Murfree attended the Nashville Female Academy. At seventeen she was admitted to the Chegary Institute in Philadelphia, a finishing school for girls. During her two-year attendance there she developed a passion for music and began to write poetry. She returned to Nashville in 1869, and three years later moved back into the family home in Murfreesboro which had been rebuilt after being destroyed during the Civil War. Murfree began writing in earnest in 1872 and published her first story two years later in Lippincott's magazine. Her first volume of stories, In the Tennessee Mountains, was published in 1884. Between that year and 1914, Murfree produced twenty-five books: eighteen novels and seven story collections. In 1922, the year in which she received an honorary degree from the University of the South, Murfree fell ill and was confined to a wheelchair. She died in July of that year.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In the Tennessee Mountains is widely regarded as Murfree's finest volume of short stories. Featuring eight stories, including "The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove" and "The 'Harnt' That Walks Chilhowee," this collection was her greatest popular and critical success. Her first book, In the Tennessee Mountains established the themes, character types, moods, settings, and style that Murfree would employ in many of her novels and later stories. The pieces in the collection typically present a portrait of mountain life, providing closely observed descriptions of the circumscribed lives of the rustic men and women who inhabit the remote hill country of Tennessee. Confined to a narrow sphere of experience, Murfree's characters are governed principally by their relations to the natural world and the traditional modes of behavior they have inherited. As a result of their circumscribed situations, Murfree's figures are often simple stereotypes rather than fully realized individuals; nevertheless the author does infuse some of them with a certain dignity. This quality is evident, for instance, in Murfree's crediting the "sympathetic heart of the multitude, so quick to respond to a noble impulse" for Rufus Chadd's electoral victory in "Electioneerin' on Big Injun Mounting." Also characteristic of the short stories in In the Tennessee Mountains is Murfree's intense focus on describing the mountain scenery. Her elaborate, often poetic descriptions of the mountains; the sun, moon, and stars; and other natural phenomena in effect render nature one of the major characters in the stories. Moreover, Murfree often used nature imagery and juxtapositions with natural elements as devices to characterize her human figures. As William Malone Baskervill has pointed out, "the scenery of the mountains is essential to the comprehension of the gloom of the religion, the sternness of life, the uncouthness of the dialect, and the harshness of the characters presented in her stories."
In the Tennessee Mountains was the basis for Murfree's reputation as an important local colorisi. Baskervill has stated that when the book was released, "it was at once recognized that another Southern writer of uncommon art, originality, and power had entered into a field altogether new and perfectly fresh." Many reviewers admired the apparent authenticity of Murfree's sympathetic depictions of the ordinary lives of mountaineers with their exotic yet uniquely American dialect and traditions. However, as Murfree repeatedly returned in her novels and short stories to the limited world she had created, reviewers became disaffected and her popularity declined. Today her works are regarded as of historical interest only, important merely as a part of the local color movement at its height.
In the Tennessee Mountains 1884
The Phantoms of the Foot-Bridge and Other Stories 1895
The Mystery of Witch-Face Mountain and Other Stories 1895
The Young Mountaineers 1897
The Bushwhackers and Other Stories 1899
The Frontiersmen 1904
The Raid of the Guerilla and Other Stories 1912
Other Major Works
Where the Battle Was Fought (novel) 1884
Down the Ravine (novel) 1885
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains (novel) 1885
In the Clouds (novel) 1886
The Story of Keedon Bluffs (novel) 1887
The Despot of Brooms edge Cove (novel) 1888
In the "Stranger People's" Country (novel) 1891
His Vanished Star (novel) 1894
The Juggler (novel) 1897
The Story of Old Fort Loudon (novel) 1899
The Champion (novel) 1902
A Spectre of Power (novel) 1904
The Storm Centre (novel) 1905
The Amulet (novel) 1906
The Windfall (novel) 1907
The Fair Mississippian (novel) 1908...
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SOURCE: "Charles Egbert Craddock," in Southern Writers: Biographical and Critical Studies, Vol. I, M. E. Church, 1897, pp. 357-404.
[In the following excerpt, Baskervill surveys Murfree 's work, noting influences on her writng, and commenting on her characterizations, descriptions, use of humor, and literary style in general]
[Murfree perceived the] elemental qualities of our common humanity, but also the sturdy independence, integrity, strength of character, and finer feelings always found in the English race, however disguised by rugged exterior or hindered by harsh environment. Their honesty, their patriotism, their respect for law, their gloomy Calvinistic religion, their hospitality were in spite of the most curious modifications the salient points of a striking individuality and unique character. The mountains seemed to impart to them something of their own dignity, solemnity and silence. . . .
No phase of [their] unique life escaped the keen eye and powerful imagination of the most robust of Southern writers in this most impressible period of her life.
The growth of Craddock's art can not now be traced with certainty, though it is known that she served an apprenticeship of nearly ten years before her stories began to make any stir in the world. The general belief, therefore, that her literary career began with the "Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove," which...
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SOURCE: "Miss Murfree's New Book," in The New York Times Book Review, July 29, 1899, p. 499.
[The anonymous critic, evaluating The Bushwhackers and Other Stories, finds the volume stylistically weaker and less interesting oveall than Murfree's previous work.]
Charles Egbert Craddock is the pen name of a lady who writes many interesting stories, and it is only fair to say that most of them are more interesting than those which go to make up [The Bushwhackers and Other Stories]. Nevertheless these are a fairly good lot, as the auctioneers would put it. The title of the volume is taken from a story in which it must be said that the "Bushwhackers" do not play a very conspicuous part. Perhaps the author has been going to the theatre and has learned that the name of a play is not always indissolubly associated with the subject matter. This acceptance of a side issue as a suggestion for a title is, however, more frequently met with in the profession which always has the billboard in mind than in that which has only the newspaper advertisement to consider.
"The Bushwhackers" is a dialect story. The author having made a reputation as a writer of tales of the Tennessee mountains, must perforce remain forever among those who say "we-uns" and "you-uns." The hero of this little tale talks in a manner which will delight all those who find no comfort in plain English. He would probably...
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SOURCE: "Charles Egbert Craddock," in Little Pilgrimages among the Women Who Have Written Famous Books, L. C. Page & Company, 1902, pp. 75-90.
[In the following excerpt, the critics recount Murfree's association with the Atlantic Monthly magazine.]
It was in May, 1878, during the administration of Mr. Howells, that the readers of the Atlantic were treated to a most delightful, a most refreshing surprise, a story of the Tennessee Mountains, called "The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove," by a new author, Charles Egbert Craddock.
The quaint and unprecedented strain was noticeable in the first colloquial sentence:
"'Fur ye see, Mis' Darley, them Harrison folks over yander ter the cove hev' determinated on a dancin' party.'"
Mr. Howells was pleased with his discovery; the Atlantic readers—then the most critical literary company in America—hailed the coming of a promising author; the professional critics hesitated at first and then echoed the popular applause.
Time passed, and Mr. Aldrich took Mr. Howells's chair in the Atlantic office, and one of the first official acts of the new editor was to write to Charles Egbert Craddock inviting more contributions. Then, pending an answer, he ordered in two Craddock stories that had been left over by reason of a superabundance of somewhat more important...
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SOURCE: "With the Pioneers," in The New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1904, p. 359.
[In the following essay, the reviewer provides a favorable evaluation of The Frontiersmen.]
With a large class of novel readers there is always a keen sympathy with the men and women who blazed the trail on the frontier; those who defended their homesteads and stockades against fierce American Indians. . . . These readers prefer reminiscences of homely and adventurous life to the conventional society novel. Among such, Charles Egbert Craddock has made the pioneers in the frontier region that is now Tennessee a field peculiarly her own. Her newest book [The Frontiersmen] deals with persons and scenes with which all her readers are familiar in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Lick Springs. There are eight stories about them in their log cabins, buckskin clothes and primitive forts. Each story holds the genuinely American flavor of the soil and the native wilds.
"The Linguister" is the first and the main story in the volume. The heroine of it is Peninnah Penelope Anne Mivane. No one, except her sweetheart, Ralph Emsden, ever thought of shortening it; for the wits of Blue Lick Station declared it had been given to her in the hope of adding something to her fairylike stature. Her father had been a victim to the crafty Cherokees, consequently the daughter had spent most of her girlhood in...
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SOURCE: "Mary Noailles Murfree," in Library of Southern Literature, Vol. VIII, Madison-Murfree, edited by Edwin Anderson Alderman and Joel Chandler Harris, The Martin and Hoyt Company, 1907, pp. 3721-745.
[In the following excerpt, Baskette judges Murfree's mountain stories fresh and unique, and believes they constitute her strongest claim to a lasting place in Southern literature.]
In general, it may be said that Miss Murfree's writings are marked by an originality of style and method that places her among the creative authors of America as distinguished from many other writers of fiction who have attained reputation and popularity. This is especially true in reference to her stories of mountain life, which comprise her most noteworthy work and constitute the strongest claim to recognition of her genius and to the permanency of her place in literature. These stories are unique in their freshness of literary atmosphere, in their charm of description, and in their compass of a hitherto undeveloped and unrevealed theater of human interest. In this field the gifted author has in many respects wrought with a strikingly realistic accuracy and yet with an investment of idealism and poetic fancy that appeal very strongly to the imagination of the reader. Skilfully and wonderfully she has depicted the mountain scenery in its varying shades and aspects. With fine narrative art, with intense dramatic power,...
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SOURCE: "Charles Egbert Craddock," in Social Historians, The Gorham Press, 1911, pp. 59-97.
[In the following excerpt, Toulmin assesses Murfree's role as social historian. ]
Nowhere have more notable expositions been presented of the character and scenes in any particular locality, than those in the volumes of Charles Egbert Craddock dealing with the Tennessee Mountain folk. The inhabitants of the Great Smoky Mountains entered their forest homes with ideas and equipment modern a century ago. To-day, they maintain virtually the same aspect and the identical implements of their forefathers barely modified by the marvels of outside invention. It is scant wonder that the delineation of such characters in the accurate and precise manner of Craddock proved of intense literary interest.
Miss Murfree attacked her intricate problem with a scientific spirit. The mountaineer's nature was an unexplored tract in the studies of social psychology. She applied a keen intelligence and an active imagination to the analysis of this reticent, uncouth and backward division of society until she faithfully unravelled the subtle mass of customs, unwritten laws, childish prejudices, and superstitions. In her record of this effort she has embodied a faithful reproduction of the actual conditions with little perversion for artistic purposes. At first glance such a course would presuppose a treatise of interest to...
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SOURCE: "The Era of Southern Themes and Writers," in A History of American Literature since 1870, 1915. Reprint by Cooper Square Publishers, 1968, pp. 294-321.
[Pattee was a widely respected educator, editor, and critic. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the decline of English literary colonialism and the subsequent declaration of American literary independence in the early years of the twentieth century. In the following excerpt, originally published in 1915, he offers a stylistic analysis of Murfree's work. ]
Criticism of the Craddock novels must begin always with the statement that their author was not a native of the region with which she dealt. She had been born into an old Southern family with wealth and traditions, and she had been reared in a city amid culture and a Southern social régime. The Tennessee mountains she knew only as a summer visitor may know them. For fifteen summers she went to the little mountain town of Beersheba, prototype undoubtedly of the "New Helvetia Springs" of her novels, and from there made excursions into the wilder regions. She saw the mountains with the eyes of the city vacationist: she was impressed with their wildness, their summer moods with light and shadow, their loneliness and their remote spurs and coves and ragged gaps. She saw them with the picture sense of the artist and she described them with a wealth of coloring that reminds one of...
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SOURCE: "The Romance of the Tennessee Mountains," in The Outlook, Vol. 131, No. 16, August 16, 1922, p. 626.
[In the following essay, the critic outlines Murfree's career. ]
A generation ago, when Mary N. Murfree wrote her romance of Tennessee, The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains, the emphasis in American short-story writing was being placed on local color. Mary Wilkins and Sarah Orne Jewett gave us the local color of New England; George Cable, that of Louisiana; and so over almost every section of the country. But the Southern mountains and the life and character of their people were then practically an unknown subject in fiction. It was before the time when John Fox had utilized the Kentucky mountains and before the same region had been treated, less dramatically but far more realistically and feelingly, by Lucy Furman in her Mothering on Perilous, lately followed by her equally delightful tale, The Quare Women, which again is most interestingly supplemented by Laura Spencer Portor in the current Harper's Monthly in her bit of reminiscence called "In Search of Local Color."
Miss Murfree really discovered a new field. She utilized it to the full from the romantic and the descriptive point of view in her first book. Yet the vigor of the book was such that her pen-name, Charles Egbert Craddock, was generally accepted at its face value and the author was...
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SOURCE: "The Reign of Dialect," in The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923, pp. 268-90.
[In the following excerpt, Pattee discusses Murfree's place in what he calls "the reign of dialect" during the 1880s and her influence on the subsequent generation of writers. ]
The final avalanche of [writing in] dialect which came with the 'eighties was precipitated by a curious bit of uncontracted-for advertising. In 1878 a story had come in to The Atlantic from the Southwest over the unheardof name of "Charles Egbert Craddock." There was dialect in the very title, "The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove," and large parts of it were told in an argot, a leisurely tedium of barbarous wordiness, strange to Northern readers.
Ef he don't want a bullet in that pumpkin head o' his'n he hed better keep away from that dancin' party what the Harrisons hev laid off ter give, 'kase Rick say he's a-goin' ter it hisself, an' is a-goin' ter dance too; he ain't been invited, Mis' Darley, but Rick don't keer fur that. He is a-goin' ennyhow, an' he say ez how he ain't a-goin' ter let Kossute come, 'count o' Kossute's sass an' the fuss they've all made 'bout that bay filly that war stole five year ago,—'t war five year an' better. But Rick say ez how he is agoin', fur all he ain't got no invite, an' is a-goin' ter dance too,...
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SOURCE: 'The South: Miss Murfree and Cable," in The Times of Melville and Whitman, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1947, pp. 378-94.
[Brooks was an American poet. In the following excerpt, he praises Murfree's writing for its realistic rendering of a previously "unknown human sphere, " but finds the use of dialect nearly "unreadable. "]
In [Mary Murfree's] many stories, long and short, the same characters reappeared that one met in her first book, In the Tennessee Mountains, but this and The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains revealed an unknown human sphere in a way that was singularly real, impressive and poetic. One of the recurring themes was that of the cultivated stranger who meets the unsophisticated mountain girl, and many of the stories dealt with the conflicts of the mountain folk and the world outside which the revenueofficer and the sheriff represented. Among the other local types were the blacksmith and the horse-thief, who mysteriously disappears, like the revenue-spy; for one of the unwritten laws of the moonshiners was that the informer should perish, and outsiders in general were the enemy in the moonshiners' minds. For the rest, they knew nothing of social classes and their speech was full of poetry, and especially the biblical metaphors of Old Testament people for whom dancing was more sinful than killing a man in a quarrel and who bore such names as Abednego and Jubal....
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SOURCE: An introduction to When Old Baldy Spoke, by Charles Egbert Craddock, in The Emory University Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer, 1962, pp. 93-106.
[In the following excerpt, Dillingham links Murfree's short fiction with both the genteel tradition and the school of realism. ]
In 1885, the year when William Dean Howells published The Rise of Silas Lapham and the Statue of Liberty was being assembled on Bedloe's Island, a young woman walked calmly into the offices of the Atlantic Monthly and informed the editor, Thomas Baily Aldrich, that SHE was the Mr. Charles Egbert Craddock who had been writing stories for his magazine. Neither Silas Lapham nor the Statue of Liberty caused much more of a stir that year than this literary disclosure. In Boston the news that Charles Egbert Craddock was actually a woman, Mary Noailles Murfree, made the front page, and the young lady from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, found herself whispered about and stared at when she walked down the street. She had won recognition mainly with several short stories in the Atlantic Monthly beginning in May 1878, and she steadily gained reputation as one of the most competent of the new regional writers. These stories were collected and published in 1884 as In the Tennessee Mountains. The book was widely admired, not only by the writers and readers of the genteel tradition but also by the new...
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SOURCE: "Mystique of the Mountains," in Mary N. Murfree, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1967, pp. 45-78.
[In the excerpt below, Cary discusses the significance of the mountain milieu in Murfree's short fiction.]
The overwhelming central fact of life in Miss Murfree's tales of Tennessee are the mountains. Their presence is felt within the first page of all but one of these eight stories [in In the Tennessee Mountains], . . .
The effect of the mountains is unquestionably pervasive, for Miss Murfree has marvelous evocative powers. Yet, even in this collection, the press of too many recurrences and too many adjectives becomes onerous. She fails not in fidelity to detail so much as in artistic balance. Often she breaks off in the middle of a crucial dialogue or dramatic action to take still another glimpse at a rugged vista. She said in extenuation of this defect that "one observes most keenly and remembers most vividly in a crisis." Be that as it may, it is not always the beauties of landscape that catch the sense.
Miss Murfree sets one of these stories in the Cumberlands, another in a wild spur of the Alleghenies, a third in the Great Smoky Mountains. These are purely nominal designations. The prospect is all of a piece, with infinitesimal variations. The sky by day is lustrously blue and changes to crimson, purple, gold, and saffron as evening verges into night,...
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SOURCE: "Local Color and Literary Artistry: Mary Noailles Murfree's In the Tennessee Mountains," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall, 1970, pp. 154-63.
[Warfel was an American educator, editor, and critic with a special interest in tracing the development of American intellectual and literary life. In the following essay, he explores Murfree's role as a local colorisi and praises the organization of her stories. ]
It is good to have a new reprinting of In the Tennessee Mountains, originally published in 1884. Not only do the eight stories demonstrate the geographical and human substance of local-color fiction, which Professor Nathalia Wright analyzes in detail in her Introduction, but they also make clear the fact that Mary Noailles Murfree was more concerned to manipulate artistic literary techniques than to photograph the places and people. Less than most local colorists did she compel attention through attempts at verisimilitude; mountains, rivers, roads, clearings, villages, and houses have no precise location. The mountain people are types endowed with a single usable fictional trait; none except the crippled Reuben Crabb could be identified if a town meeting should bring them all together. Yet Miss Murfree was one of the best local colorists because she was not misled into striving for "realism." . . .
What Miss Murfree did was to fuse in proper...
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SOURCE: A review of In the Tennessee Mountains, in The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1971-72, pp. 94-7.
[In the essay below, Cary offers a favorable assessment of In the Tennessee Mountains.]
As a purveyor of attractive fictions, Mary Murfree's heart was indubitably in the highlands. Of the eighteen novels and seven volumes of collected short stories she published in almost half a century of unrelenting "literary" effort, ten and six, respectively, dealt specifically with the folk and folkways of the Tennessee mountains. On the wave of local-color writing engendered by the expansion of national self-consciousness following the Civil War, she rode with the leading exponents of the genre: Harte and Twain of the Western mining camp, Hay and Eggleston of the Midwest hamlet, Jewett and Freeman of the New England coast and farm, Page, Harris, and Cable of the Southern quarter. Expressly motivated—she "wanted the world to know the East Tennessee mountaineer before the railroad reached the mountains"—she strove, as they did, to preserve intact a small parish of unique America at a pristine moment, before it was irreversibly homogenized by the proliferating incursions of mass transportation, mass communication, mass culture.
Handicapped physically, Miss Murfree wrote out of a quenchless passion to excel mentally. As a child she reveled in her singular ability to spell...
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SOURCE: "Craddock's Girls: A Look at Some Unliberated Women," in The Markham Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, October, 1972, pp. 74-7.
[In the essay below, Nilles examines Murfree's stereotypical heroines. ]
". . . gals air cur'ous critters, ye know yerself; thar's no sort o' countin' on 'em . . ."
—"Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove"
Even a cursory look at the heroines in the fiction of Charles Egbert Craddock (Mary Noailles Murfree, 1850-1922) reveals that they were the antithesis of "modern" or "liberated" women. These female characters were often shallow and shadowy repetitions of each other, usually simple and uneducated, dependent upon and completely submissive to males. They had little chance to determine their own lives and were considered weak beings, inferior to the stronger males in their fictional realm. In a rural Tennessee milieu of nearly a century ago, they were "charmin" and proper foils for the rounder, more believable men. Only a few possessed a hardy pioneering spirit and spoke out forthrightly in that indomitable dialect Miss Murfree could imitate with precision.
Yet eighty-five years ago the writings of Miss Murfree were internationally popular. The New York Times [July 29] declared her in 1899 "a famous author . . . already a person of repute." William Dean Howells thought "[s]he was the...
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SOURCE: "Mary Noailles Murfree (1850-1922): An Annotated Bibliography," in American Literary Realism 1870-1910, Vol. 7, No. 4, Autumn, 1974, pp. 293-378.
[In the following excerpt, Carleton evaluates Murfree's place in American literature and discusses her ultimate inability to fulfill the promise of her early short fiction. ]
Mary Noailles Murfree submitted her first short story for publication in 1878, and during the next twenty years, under the pseudonym "Charles Egbert Craddock," she produced many stories and novels dealing with the mountaineers of Tennessee. In the 1880s and early 1890s, when a regional focus was popular in American literature, Murfree achieved prominence. By using the Tennessee mountain dialect, the details of the mountain people's daily lives, and by emphasizing the poverty and harsh existence in the isolated clearings and settlements of her chosen locale, Murfree, along with writers such as Cable, Harte, Chopin, and Jewett, contributed to the development of realism in American fiction. At the same time, however, she adhered to the standards of the genteel tradition, thus assuring a place for her work in the leading magazines of the day. Then, when regional fiction became less popular in the late 1890s, Murfree began writing historical novels and romances; and for the first fifteen years of the twentieth century the name "Charles Egbert Craddock" remained prominent among writers...
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SOURCE: "The Visitants from Yesterday': An Atypical, Previously Unpublished Story from the Pen of 'Charles Egbert Craddock'," in Tennessee Studies in Literature, Vol. 26, 1981, pp. 89-100.
[Fisher is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he provides a thematic and stylistic overview of Murfree's "The Visitants from Yesterday."]
The name "Charles Egbert Craddock," Mary Noailles Murfree's familiar pseudonym, inevitably suggests the Tennessee mountains and mountaineers. Indeed she may be called the laureate of the Great Smokies. Less commonly known are her writings that delineate Mississippi and, in fewer cases, other environs; and, perhaps more significant, her fiction in the supernatural vein. .. . [A] story entitled "The Visitants from Yesterday," throws a larger perspective upon Murfree's authorial talents. It is neither mountain nor outdoors fiction, has none of those famous digressions into rhapsodizing upon natural phenomena that have so exercised contemporaneous reviewers and more recent students, and, finally, resembles the "ghostly tales" of Henry James. . . .
"The Visitants from Yesterday" exists in a typescript consisting of nineteen leaves, with minimal autograph alterations. . . . "The Visitants" was a title listed in a table of contents for Mountain and River: Stories and Sketches, a volume projected for publication during Murfree's last years....
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SOURCE: "Mary Noailles Murfree's 'Special' Sense of Humor," in Studies in American Humor, n.s., Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer, 1985, pp. 30-8.
[In the excerpt below, Fisher surveys the comic elements in Murfree's short fiction. ]
Placing Mary Murfree as a humorist is analogous to the similar positioning of one of her American literary precedessors, Edgar Allan Poe. His comedy was readily noted by contemporaries; then, for better than a century, it was largely ignored or lamented as an excrescence. Mid-twentieth-century critics, like Clark Griffith and Richard P. Benton, however, initiated revaluations that have spurred wide recognition and admiration for Poe's subtleties in irony and other comic techniques. Murfree, on the other hand, still awaits a similar reassessment, and that in despite of repeated, but too terse, reviewers' and anthologists' notice that humor is neither infrequent nor execrable in her works. I propose that Murfree's comic elements are substantial, and that she keenly comprehended and modified literary backgrounds like the "Big-Bar" School as well as analogous works from Irving, Poe, and Dickens. Murfree, moreover, can display a savagery that stems from these earlier, male authors, but her savagery highlights features less revolting in details of violence and physical pain. Any bawdiness in her fiction is also much less overt, although it does appear from time to time. Thus Murfree...
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Cary, Richard. Mary N. Murfree. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1967, 192 p.
Parks, Edd Winfield. Charles Egbert Craddock. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941, 258 p.
Biographical and critical work on Murfree.
Carleton, Reese M. "Mary Noailles Murfree: An Annotated Bibliography." American Literary Realism 1870-1910, 7, No. 4 (Autumn 1974): 293-378.
Annotated bibliography with short critical introduction.
Becker, May Lamberton. Introduction to "Electioneerin' on Big Injun Mounting." In Golden Tales of the Old South. pp. 175-76. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1930.
Biographical introduction with positive assessment of Murfree's style.
Ensor, Allison. "The Geography of Mary Noailles Murfree's In the Tennessee Mountains." Mississippi Quarterly XXXI (Spring 1978): 191-99.
Focuses on places and place names in Murfree's short stories.
Orgain, Kate Alma. "Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock)." In Southern Authors in Poetry and Prose, pp. 214-23. New York: Neale Publishing Co., 1908.
Overview of Murfree's life with a few critical remarks.
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