These selected stories are from two of Freeman’s most popular and critically acclaimed collections, A Humble Romance (1887) and A New England Nun (1891). The stories focus on small-town New England life and the struggles of working-class people. Most of Freeman’s protagonists are women; they are usually older, often widowed or unmarried, but still vigorous and self-supporting. Both male and female characters vacillate between wanting solitude and freedom, and needing community and support.
Freeman’s characters display heroism within their economically and geographically circumscribed existences. Strong-willed to the point of stubbornness, they support traditional values of pride, honesty, frugality, and industriousness. Martha Patch, in “An Honest Soul,” works herself to exhaustion to ensure that she has correctly pieced her neighbors’ scraps into their respective quilts. Harriet and Charlotte Shattuck of “A Mistaken Charity” live frugally in order to avoid the poorhouse; other women—Aurelia Flower of “A Gatherer of Simples,” Jenny Wrayne of “Christmas Jenny,” and Betsey Dole of “A Poetess”—also live simply, supporting them-selves by means of their own work.
Freeman’s women often defy social convention. Hetty Fifield of “A Church Mouse” persists in living inside the church and working as sexton. Sarah Penn, in “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’ ” moves the contents of her cramped house into...
(The entire section is 507 words.)