Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207188-Freeman.jpg Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman is best known for her depiction of the people who inhabited the New England villages of the late nineteenth century. She was born into the Wilkins family in Randolph, Massachusetts, a rural New England farming community fourteen miles south of Boston. Growing up here gave Freeman firsthand knowledge of village life, and in her short stories and novels she captures the qualities of the people who inhabited these villages, where activities centered around the church and town meetings. During this time New England villages were suffering from the effects of industrialization that had driven young men out of the villages and into the cities. The Civil War and westward migration had also drained people. Yet some villages retained the old Yankee character. It was the people who stayed in those communities of whom Freeman wrote, people of character who were used to hard work, eccentrics, and those who lacked the will or opportunities to move on.{$S[A]Wilkins Freeman, Mary E.;Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins}

In 1870 Freeman graduated from Brattleboro High School, then spent one year at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary. Although she took courses at Glenwood Seminary in West Brattleboro and read avidly, she received no more formal education. In 1873 she met and fell in love with Hanson Tyler, but he did not return her affection and eventually married someone else. Freeman maintained strong feelings for Tyler for many years. She took a job as a teacher but resigned after one year and began writing religious poetry and children’s poems, which were published in obscure magazines.

A series of misfortunes began when Anna, the Wilkinses’ other daughter, died in 1876 at the age of seventeen. When Mr. Wilkins’s dry goods business failed, the family was forced to move into the house of Hanson Tyler’s father, the Reverend Thomas Tyler, where Mrs. Wilkins served as the housekeeper. When Mrs. Wilkins died at the age of fifty-three, the family moved out, and thereafter Mary kept house for her father.

In 1881, after years of writing without financial remuneration, Freeman received her first fee, ten dollars for the “The Beggar...

(The entire section is 888 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Reared in an orthodox Congregationalist family, Mary Ella (later altered to Eleanor) Wilkins spent her early life in Randolph, Massachusetts. She moved with her parents to Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1867; following her graduation from high school, she took courses at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary and Glenwood Seminary (West Brattleboro) during 1870-1871. After an unsuccessful attempt at teaching school in 1873, she began writing poetry and short stories; her first significant work appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and Harper’s New Monthly in the early 1880’s. Her first two collections of stories for adults, A Humble Romance, and Other Stories and A New England Nun, and Other Stories, generally considered her finest work, established her reputation as a professional writer. Upon her marriage to Dr. Charles Freeman in 1902, she moved to his home in Metuchen, New Jersey, where she resided for the remainder of her life. Personal tragedy marked her later years: She began suffering from deafness in 1909, and she was legally separated from her husband in 1922 as a result of his incurable and destructive alcoholism. Notable among her later works are two novels, The Shoulders of Atlas, which won the New York Herald’s transatlantic novel-writing contest, and The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors (1908), written collaboratively with William Dean Howells, Henry James, and others.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman deals, in her best fiction (that written before her less-than-happy marriage to Dr. Charles Manning Freeman in 1902), with the rural New England mill towns and villages that are comparable to the one she knew and grew up in, Randolph, Massachusetts. From Randolph, a typical New England town that lay fourteen miles from Boston, came Freeman’s sense of locale: harsh winters, raw springs, church, and school. She also experienced the security of a community in which one’s neighbors shared ancestral codes of behavior. Despite the homogeneity of her community, Freeman knew as well the eccentricities and oddities of human character that result from generations of rural isolation.

From A Humble Romance and Other Stories, her earliest collection of short stories, to The Winning Lady and Others (1909), a later collection, as well as in several novels, Freeman depicts common and ordinary experiences in the lives of ordinary men and women of the New England region she knew intimately. As typical as lives and events in her fiction seem, Freeman transcends them to show readers universal truths of human character and daily living.

Her truthful treatment of a New England environment in transition as a result of post-Civil War industrialization places her in the category of regional writers. Freeman’s treatment of women, their roles, their relationships with men, their children, and their status in society has also gained her increasing attention among feminist critics and women writers. In short stories such as “A New England Nun,” “The Revolt of Mother,” and “Gentian,” Freeman explores marriage, male-female relationships, and women and their search for identity in a patriarchal world. Her characters are not only eccentric New England types but also real people struggling to cope with the problems of human existence: loneliness, frustration, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment. She presents the emerging modern woman torn between a desire for personal independence and the pressures of conforming to a patriarchal society.


(Short Stories for Students)

Born in 1852, Mary Wilkins Freeman spent the first fifty years of her life in the rural villages of New England. It was an area suffering...

(The entire section is 381 words.)