Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430
Elsie Singmaster is an author who has attracted little literary criticism. The bulk of her writing is in the genre of the historical novel and either is written for juveniles or deals with youthful heroes. Born in a small town in the German region of Pennsylvania in 1879 and educated at Radcliffe, Singmaster’s fiction is largely regional, concerned with the span between colonial times and the mid-twentieth century in America. A HIGH WIND RISING is one of her later works and is set in the years of the French and Indian Wars; it details the efforts of local German settlers to secure the Ohio River Valley for the British during the conflict. The writer’s straightforward narrative and careful characterizations downplay the historical importance of these people. Instead, she dramatizes the struggle of their everyday lives as pioneers who must cope with both natural and political forces in order to survive.
Singmaster brings the period dramatically to life in her characterizations of pioneers such as Conrad Weiser and Sebastian Schantz, of frontier women such as resourceful, devoted Anna Sabilla. Those people live with no self-conscious sense of national destiny, as do so many pioneers in lesser fiction. Their lives illustrate what must have been the daily life of the frontier, the hardships and dangers that they faced no more than a part of their everyday existence. Other figures great in Pennsylvania annals are more briefly viewed in this crowded canvas of people and events—Benjamin Franklin, James Logan, John Bertram, Henry Melchior Muhlenburg, Lewis Evans. The passing of time and the pressures of history shape the plot, but the story itself is as simple and realistic as homely family legend. The novel is an example of the historical chronicle at its best.
The author has clearly been influenced by historical Romanticists like James Fenimore Cooper. In contrast to Cooper, however, who creates larger-than-life characters such as Natty Bumppo for the purpose of dramatizing significant historical themes, Singmaster wishes to depict the lives of the early settlers without exaggerating for thematic effect. If Cooper is interested in the ethical, historical, and metaphysical aspects of the frontier, Singmaster is interested in the details of everyday lives; whereas romance is central to Cooper, it is incidental to her.
It is, finally, her attention to the orderly lives of her characters that remains her most modern feature. There is, furthermore, a pervasive tone of good feeling toward humanity in her work. That healthy tone, in A HIGH WIND RISING and in her other work as well, undoubtedly accounts for her popularity with the young.
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