Freeman's reputation was built upon her unsentimental and realistic portrayals of the rural nineteenth-century New England life. She was known for her ironic sense of humor and the idiosyncratic and colorful characters who populate her stories. Writing for Harper's New Monthly Magazine in September of 1887, William Dean Howells, a lifetime friend, mentor, and fan of Freeman, praised her first volume of short stories, A Humble Romance and Other Stories, for its "absence of literosity'' and its ‘‘directness and simplicity.’’
An anonymous critic who reviewed A New England Nun and Other Stories for the Atlantic Monthly in 1891 noted Freeman's ‘‘short economical sentences, with no waste and no niggardliness,'' her "passion for brevity, her power for packing a whole story in a phrase, a word,’’ and her ‘‘fine artistic sense.’’ This critic found the short story ‘‘A New England Nun'' particularly remarkable for its realism and praised the "novelty, yet truthfulness'' of Freeman's portraiture. Later critics have tended to agree with Howells and the Atlantic Monthly critic, lauding Freeman's economy of prose, her realism, and her insight into her characters.
In this century, most critics have continued to deem "A New England Nun'' as one of Freeman's best works, but they have valued it for new reasons. Since the 1920s, psychoanalytic criticism, based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, has become popular. With their revealing character sketches, her short stories have lent themselves well to this type of criticism. Perry Westbrook, in his book Acres of Flint , declared that Freeman's work reveals a"psychological insight hitherto unknown in New England literature with the exception of Hawthorne.’’ "A New England Nun'' and the character of Louisa have attracted a great deal of attention from psychoanalytic critics. Most of them tend to read Louisa as a person who has repressed her sexual side. Larzer Ziff, Jay...
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