Much of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's writing seems to involve New England. Did her writings reflect what was happening at that time, and were her writings socially acceptable?
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's writings included the novel Pembroke, which was published in 1894. Set in the small town of Pembroke, Massachusetts, the novel features female characters who break several of the social norms of the time and who reflect the changing nature of women's roles. For example, the character Rebecca Thayer is involved in a sexual relationship before she is married, against her parents' wishes. Charlotte Barnard nurses back to health the man she was once engaged to, Barnabas Thayer, without being married to him. In doing so, she also defies her parents' wishes. In their relationship, Charlotte and Barnabas constantly defy the strict rules of their parents. For example, Barnabas buys Charlotte a shawl at the beginning of the book, and Charlotte's father forces her to return it because he sees it as unseemly for a man to give a gift to a woman he is not married to. Barnabas keeps the shawl in a trunk, a symbol of the hope he harbors that they will one day be together. In the meantime, Charlotte and Barnabas often have to sneak around their parents even to kiss each other, and they eventually call off their engagement when Barnabas gets into a political argument with her father. However, they never forget how much they love each other, and they remain committed to each other in spite of their parents' wishes.
The events in this novel and in Freeman's other writings, including stories such as "A New England Nun," reflect the changing nature of women at the time and their increasing independence to make their own decisions, apart from societal norms and the wishes of their parents. For example, in the story "A New England Nun," the main character releases her fiancé from their engagement because she knows he loves another woman. This story also reflects the changing nature of New England at the time, which was losing men to the west so that women in the east often remained unmarried.
Freeman's work was praised for providing a sense of place and local color. She was awarded the William Dean Howells Gold Medal for Fiction in 1926. Pembroke and other works by Freeman elicited positive public response and were well liked by Kate Chopin, a feminist writer, among other critics.