Esther Forbes Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born into a literary environment and surrounded from her earliest childhood by the traditions and the lore of New England history, Esther Forbes began to write novels at the age of thirteen. Publication, however, did not follow until 1926, after she had graduated from Bradford Academy, had attended the University of Wisconsin for two years (1916-1918), had worked six years on the editorial staff of a publishing company, and had married Albert J. Hoskins, whom she later divorced.

The historical work O Genteel Lady is concerned chiefly with a woman’s revolt against the stifling conventions of Victorian times and is not in keeping with the spirit or the subject matter of her later works. In her second novel, A Mirror for Witches, Forbes attained her greatest critical success by exploiting for the first time her long-collected store of knowledge about early New England. This period of history continued to serve her well. In her romance Paradise she went back to the time of King Philip’s War (1675-1676); in The General’s Lady she created a setting in Revolutionary times; and in Rainbow on the Road she vividly depicted rural life in New England during the 1830’s. In fact, though primarily a novelist, Forbes won her highest public acclaim as a historian when, in 1943, her best-selling Paul Revere and the World He Lived In brought her the Pulitzer Prize for history.

One year later, in 1944, Forbes received the prestigious Newbery Medal from the National Library Association for her novel Johnny Tremain: A Novel for Old and Young. This classic work, which presents the story of a sixteen-year-old silversmith’s apprentice and his growth to manhood in pre-Revolutionary Boston, was acclaimed for its historical accuracy and its depth of insight and emotion. During the U.S. bicentennial year the work generated renewed interest and praise for its faithful depiction of life in early America.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Esther Forbes was born on June 28, 1891, in Westborough, Massachusetts. She attended the University of Wisconsin from 1916 to 1918. Forbes worked as an editor for the Houghton Mifflin publishing company from 1920 until 1926, when she married. The marriage ended in divorce in 1933.

By that time, Forbes had already developed a reputation as a historical novelist. Her first book, O Genteel Lady (1926), was about a Boston editor who sacrificed her passion for writing and for the man she loved to marry a stodgy Harvard professor. Her next book, A Mirror for Witches (1928), was about Doll Bilby, a woman accused of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Salem. These early books dealt with women and their psychological attractions to "demonic" spirits. Forbes's later books, in which she paid meticulous attention to minor details, revealed her skills as a historian.

Influenced by her mother's work as a historian, Esther Forbes wrote Paul Revere and the World He Lived In in 1942. A popular and critical success, the book won the Pulitzer Prize in history. Johnny Tremain is a briefer, fictionalized version of that history. In the novel, which won the Newbery Medal in 1944, Johnny assists the rebels in Boston as they prepare for the American Revolution. Forbes's last published work, Rainbow in the Road (1954), was a description of the unspoiled New England countryside before the advent of the railroad. She died on August 12, 1967, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Forbes's books have been translated into at least...

(The entire section is 802 words.)