Murfree, Mary Noailles
Mary Noailles Murfree 1850-1922
(Wrote under the pseudonyms Charles Egbert Craddock and R. Emmet Dembry) American novelist and short story writer.
The following entry provides criticism on Murfree's works from 1899 through 1998.
Murfree reached the peak of her popularity in the 1880s, when her regional stories chronicling life in Tennessee and other Southern states found a ready audience. Although her local color and historical fiction lost popularity in the ensuing decades, she remains a unique voice of the mountain people in the period following the Civil War.
Murfree was born on January 24, 1850, at Grantland, a plantation near Murfreesboro, Tennessee—a city which bore her family's name. After Murfree's family moved to Nashville, she was educated at the Nashville Female Academy, and later at Chegary Institute in Philadelphia. Encouraged by her parents, Murfree began to write, publishing her first piece at the age of twenty-four in Lippincott's Magazine, under the pseudonym R. Emmet Dembry. In the 1870s and 1880s she produced many stories under the pseudonym Charles Egbert Craddock in such periodicals as the Atlantic, Harper's, and Youth's Companion. The Murfree family moved to St. Louis in 1881, where Mary's brother William had a law practice. In 1885, after the publication of her collection of stories, In the Tennessee Mountains (1884), her true literary identity was revealed. She continued to publish prolifically after she moved back to Murfreesboro in 1902 with her sister Fanny. There they remained for the rest of their lives. Murfree became state regent of the Tennessee Daughters of the American Revolution, beginning extensive touring and lecturing for that organization in 1912. In the years following, her health declined, eventually causing blindness and confining her to home. Shortly before her death on July 31, 1922, she was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of the South.
Although much of Murfree's work was formulaic and driven by the serial magazine market, she did bring to light parts of American geography and character which had received little attention prior to her time. About half of Murfree's novels and short stories focus on the mountain people of Tennessee. Her very successful book, In the Tennessee Mountains, is composed of eight stories which are considered her best work. Some other works in this vein include Where the Battle Was Fought (1884), set in Civil War Tennessee; The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains (1885); In the Clouds (1886); In the “Stranger People's” Country (1891); and The Ordeal: A Mountain Romance of Tennessee (1912). Murfree, however, was veering away from local color writing by the mid-1890s and beginning to experiment with historical romance. The Story of Old Fort Loudon (1899) describes the interaction of Cherokee Indians, the British, and the French in mid-eighteenth-century Tennessee. Two more historical novels, A Spectre of Power (1904) and The Amulet (1906), followed. Murfree continued to publish short stories and in 1905 wrote another Civil War novel, The Storm Centre. Her last two published novels, The Fair Mississippian (1908) and The Story of Duciehurst (1914) were set in the Mississippi Delta. By this time in her career, however, her work was fast losing popularity. A final novel, The Erskine Honeymoon, was serialized in a newspaper in 1931.
Murfree's first successes were in the magazine market, followed closely by the publication of In the Tennessee Mountains, the book on which her reputation primarily rests today. The public was hungry for local color writing, and critics as respected as William Dean Howells praised Murfree's powers of description and her understanding of her mountain characters, comparing her favorably with such writers as Bret Harte and George Washington Cable. A number of regional critics, almost to the present day, have stressed Murfree's importance to the Tennessee tradition. As Murfree's reputation waned, however, reviewers began to criticize her sentimentality, wooden characterization, and awkward juxtapositions of long descriptions with plot development. Many also felt that as a middle-class southern woman, she was too far removed from the people she sought to portray. Only two full-length biographies of Murfree have appeared, the latter one more than thirty years ago. A few critics in the 1980s and 1990s, however, have begun to re-evaluate Murfree's work as a product of its times and as a valuable resource for regional studies or women's literary studies.
In the Tennessee Mountains (short stories) 1884
Where the Battle Was Fought (novel) 1884
Down the Ravine (juvenilia) 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 Broomsedge Cove (novel) 1888
In the “Stranger People's” Country (novel) 1891
His Vanished Star (novel) 1894
The Mystery of Witch-Face Mountain, and Other Stories (short stories) 1895
The Phantoms of the Foot-Bridge, and Other Stories (short stories) 1895
The Juggler (juvenilia) 1897
The Young Mountaineers (juvenilia) 1897
The Bushwhackers, and Other Stories (short stories) 1899
The Story of Old Fort Loudon (novel) 1899
The Champion (juvenilia) 1902
The Frontiersman (short stories) 1904
A Spectre of Power (novel) 1904
The Storm Centre (novel) 1905
The Amulet (novel) 1906
The Windfall (novel) 1907
The Fair Mississippian (novel) 1908
The Ordeal: A Mountain...
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SOURCE: “Miss Murfree's New Book.” New York Times Book Review (29 July 1899): 499.
[In the following review of Murfree's The Bushwhackers, and Other Stories, the critic says that a less-known author might not have been able to publish such ordinary stories.]
MISS MURFREE'S NEW BOOK
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 present volume. Nevertheless these are a fairly good lot, as the auctioneers would put it. The title of the volume [The Bushwhackers, and Other Stories] 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...
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SOURCE: Cary, Richard. “Mystique of the Mountains.” In Mary N. Murfree, pp. 45-78. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967.
[In the following essay, Cary examines Murfree's mountain fiction in detail.]
The first story to be printed under the name of Charles Egbert Craddock, “The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove,” was originally intended as the opening chapter of a novel that Miss Murfree and her sister had planned to write. After the customary family reading, it was decided that this segment had a unity of its own and should be sent to the Atlantic Monthly as it stood. Howells published the story in May, 1878, and in the next six years Miss Murfree sold seven others of the same stripe to the Atlantic. On Aldrich's recommendation Houghton Mifflin gathered these eight stories and issued them in 1884 under the title of In the Tennessee Mountains. “The Dancin' Party” had revealed Miss Murfree to the elite of the eastern seaboard as an invigorating artist in local color. The collected volume captured the entire country and ran into more than a dozen editions within two years. Edward J. O'Brien, dean of short story anthologists, reports its “reception rivaled that of The Luck of Roaring Camp,” and opines that Craddock's book “marked another important milestone in regionalist writing.”1
One anonymous critic voices objections to the slightness...
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SOURCE: Warfel, Harry R. “Local Color and Literary Artistry in Mary Noailles Murfree's In the Tennessee Mountains.” Southern Literary Journal 3 (fall 1970): 154-63.
[In the following essay, Warfel says that Murfree is less a typical local color writer than a skillful manipulator of literary materials in the romantic mode.]
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.” Possibly no term in literary criticism is of as little value as is this word; usually it means, as Howells put it, ‘fidelity to experience and probability of motive,’...
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SOURCE: Loyd, Dennis. “Tennessee's Mystery Woman Novelist.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 29 (1970): 272-77.
[In the following essay, Loyd briefly describes Murfree's life and works, urging Tennesseans to rediscover her.]
Tennessee's list of literary personalities is a long one, but no name on that list has created quite the stir as that of Mary Noailles Murfree. Miss Murfree, or “Miss Mary” as she was known in her native Murfreesboro, was characterized by her quiet, graceful manners, her love of music, and her witty conversation. But none of her townspeople knew that she was also a writer.
The mystery arose when Miss Murfree submitted a short story to the most famous literary magazine of her day, the Atlantic Monthly. William Dean Howells, then editor of the Atlantic, was interested in the dialect of the story and agreed to accept the work for publication. The May 1878 issue of the Atlantic Monthly carried her short story, “The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove,” but it listed the author as “Charles Egbert Craddock.”
Although Howells knew that Craddock was a pseudonym, he did not know that M. N. Murfree, as Miss Mary had signed her name, was a woman. In subsequent years, all correspondence was addressed to “Mr. M. N. Murfree, Esq., Murfreesboro, Tennessee.” When Howells was succeeded as the editor of the Atlantic by...
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SOURCE: Lanier, Doris. “Mary Noailles Murfree: An Interview.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 31 (1972): 276-78.
[In the following essay, Lanier presents an edited version of an 1885 newspaper interview with Murfree.]
While working on her novel The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains,1 Mary Noailles Murfree spent about two months at Montvale Springs, a mountain resort in Blount County, in East Tennessee, studying the mountaineers of the surrounding area.2 On November 15, 1885, an article appeared in a Macon, Georgia, newspaper, which concerned an interview with Joseph A. Farrell,3 who spent three weeks at Montvale while Miss Murfree was there. The interview gives an intimate glimpse of the writer at work, and makes some interesting comments on Miss Murfree's personal characteristics, work habits, and methods of study. The article in its entirety is as follows:4
Mr. Joseph A. Farrell arrived in Atlanta a few days ago from Montvale Springs, Tennessee, where he has been spending several weeks. Among the guests of that charming mountain resort was the now famous Miss Murfree, who achieved her literary distinction under the nom de plume of Charles Egbert Craddock. I asked Mr. Farrell, who is himself a gentleman of fine literary tastes and talents, some questions about the remarkable writer....
(The entire section is 1085 words.)
SOURCE: Ensor, Allison. “The Geography of Mary Noailles Murfree's In the Tennessee Mountains.” Mississippi Quarterly 31 (1978): 191-99.
[In the following essay, Ensor offers a detailed analysis of the actual geographical areas portrayed in Murfree's book of short stories, concluding that Murfree's descriptions were often vague and general because she had not really travelled much in Tennessee.]
Mary Noailles Murfree, who won such fame in the 1880's with her Tennessee mountain stories written under the name Charles Egbert Craddock, was hesitant about using actual place names in her fiction. In 1881 she wrote Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, about the setting of her novel Where the Battle Was Fought: “The scenery described is the historic ground about Murfreesboro, but I have considered it expedient to use throughout fictitious names for the localities.”1 Accordingly, Miss Murfree's native town (named for her great-grandfather) appears as Chattalla, and Fort Rosecrans as Fort Despair.
To a large extent specific place names are avoided in the eight stories which make up Miss Murfree's first and best collection, In the Tennessee Mountains (1884).2 Often places are called simply “the Settlement” (or “settlemint,” if a local character is talking) or “the Cross-Roads.” Once, in “The Dancin' Party at...
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SOURCE: Dunn, Durwood. “Mary Noailles Murfree: A Reappraisal.” Appalachian Journal 6 (1979): 197-205.
[In the following essay, Dunn reevaluates Murfree in light of previous criticism and concludes that Murfree's stereotypical portrayals of Tennessee life obscured a true understanding of the mountain people.]
Even at the height of her brief popularity in the 1880's, Mary Noailles Murfree's literary reputation rested largely on the momentary uniqueness or novelty of her materials—the mountains and mountaineers of the Cumberland Mountains in middle Tennessee and their counterparts in the more rugged Great Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee. Murfree herself realized the primacy of these materials in her work and, with few notable exceptions, mined the mother lode of the Tennessee mountaineers to exhaustion in novel after novel, long after her early popularity had been eclipsed. Indeed one biographer, Edd Winfield Parks, maintained that had she died after writing The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains (1885), “her reputation as a novelist would be far higher than it is today.”1
Admittedly, her reputation has never recovered its brief pinnacle of the 1880's. For almost a century, critics have lamented her episodic plots, the overblown descriptions of mountain scenery, and the stock characters, such as the beautiful maiden, scolding old woman, tyrannical infant, etc.,...
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SOURCE: Young, Thomas Daniel. “The South: Old and New.” In Tennessee Writers, pp. 11-16. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
[In the following essay, Young places Murfree in the literary context of her times.]
At the end of the Civil War there was intense concern for and interest in things southern. In 1873, Edward King, on assignment for Scribner's Monthly, toured the South with a photographer and gathered material for a series of articles and sketches published serially in Scribner's as The Great South. In New Orleans, King became acquainted with the work of George Washington Cable and sent two of his stories back to New York; one of these, ‘“Sieur George,” appeared in Scribner's in October 1873. The popularity of King's pieces and Cable's story prompted Harper's Monthly to assign Edwin DeLeon to do a series called The New South, and the southern Local Color movement was underway. Writers in all sections of the South began to exploit the traditions of their region. Cable was joined by Kate Chopin and Grace Elizabeth King in writing stories about the quaint and bizarre customs of the Creoles and Cajuns of New Orleans. Joel Chandler Harris wrote his Uncle Remus stories based on the unique superstitions, attitudes, and behavior patterns of the southern blacks. John Esten Cooke and Thomas Nelson Page produced their novels depicting life on the...
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SOURCE: Marshall, Ian. “Mary Noailles Murfree: Ecofeminist of the Great Smoky Mountains.” In Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail, pp. 51-69. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
[In the following essay, Marshall posits the theory that Murfree was an “ecofeminist”—a writer whose women characters had a special relationship with nature and whose male characters were often anti-nature.]
At Mollies Ridge Shelter just a few miles into the Great Smoky Mountains. I'm talking with a young man recently graduated from the University of North Carolina, who's hiking with his father. They've been out for about three weeks, heading south from Damascus, Virginia. I'm curious about their father-and-son adventure, and I suppose I'm also projecting about eighteen years into the future and thinking I'd like to do a hike like this with my son someday. I learn that the parents are divorced, but the guy from UNC regularly gets together with his father for camping trips. His father, in fact, used to be his scoutmaster.
As we fire up stoves to make dinner, other hikers show up. It looks like the shelter will be full this night. As it happens, all the hikers are male. “Good,” says the guy from UNC, “we don't have to deal with any women tonight!”
“What have you got against women?” I ask.
“I come out here to get...
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Carleton, Reese M. “Mary Noailles Murfree: An Annotated Bibliography.” American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 7 (autumn 1974): 293-378.
Primarily a complete listing of secondary sources on Murfree from 1881 to 1973.
Eppard, Philip B. “Local Colorists: Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Mary N. Murfree.” In American Women Writers: Bibliographical Essays, pp. 21-46. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.
A narrative review of biographical information and relevant bibliographies and criticism on Murfree.
Gehrman, Jennifer A. “Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock) (1850-1922).” In Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Biographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Denise D. Knight, pp. 318-23. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.
A concise summary of Murfree's life, works, and critical reception, with bibliography.
Parks, Edd Winfield. “Bibliography.” In Charles Egbert Craddock, pp. 237-49. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.
Lengthy bibliography to 1940, of works by Murfree and members of her family, as well as biography and criticism.
Parks, Edd Winfield. “Murfree, Mary Noailles.” In Notable American...
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