Friday, January 29, 2010

Mrs. Spring Fragrance

Edith Maude Eaton (1865–1914)
From Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing

Born in Cheshire to an English father and a Chinese mother, Edith Maude Eaton immigrated with her family to New York in the 1870s before living in Quebec, San Francisco, Seattle, and back east in Boston. Under the pseudonym Sui Sin Far, she wrote articles and stories featuring Chinese immigrants and communities and focusing on themes of assimilation and discrimination. (Her younger sister Winnifred enjoyed even greater success, publishing best-selling novels and stories under the Japanese-sounding pseudonym Onoto Watanna.) The title story from Edith’s 1912 collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance, portrays an “Americanized” couple who struggle to reconcile their own traditions regarding love and marriage with the view of love illustrated by two lines from a Tennyson poem. Additional information about Eaton is included in the headnote that precedes the selection.

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When Mrs. Spring Fragrance first arrived in Seattle, she was unacquainted with even one word of the American language. Five years later her husband, speaking of her, said: “There are no more American words for her learning.” And everyone who knew Mrs. Spring Fragrance agreed with Mr. Spring Fragrance. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Wind-Storm in the Forests

John Muir (1838–1914)
From American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau

John Muir—the surprise star of Ken Burns’s recent PBS documentary, The National Parks—is most remembered for founding the Sierra Club in 1911 and for the preservation of Yosemite, but another of his great legacies is his prose, which introduced a new vocabulary to the genre of nature writing. Passionate and witty, his books and essays captured the national imagination and fueled support for the preservation movement. Originally published as a part of The Mountains of California in 1894, “A Wind-Storm in the Forests” exhibits Muir’s awe and love of the wilderness, twin feelings that motivated one of the most remarkable of American lives.

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The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener trims out a bed of flowers. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Bouquet

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932)
From Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays

Through his novels and stories, Charles Chesnutt spoke out against disfranchisement, lynching, and the legal underpinnings of segregation, and he often tackled the twin issues of miscegenation and "passing” by featuring characters who, in fact or deed, blurred the irregular boundaries between white and black. He also depicted the hopes and dreams of those freed after the Civil War: “The chattel aspired to own property; the slave, forbidden learning, to educate his children,” as he wrote in his story “The Doll.” This esteem for education is at the center of “The Bouquet” (1899), in which a young girl struggles against the obstacles imposed by a racially divided society to fulfill the wish of a venerated white schoolteacher.

Mary Myrover’s friends were somewhat surprised when she began to teach a colored school. Miss Myrover’s friends are mentioned here, because nowhere more than in a Southern town is public opinion a force which cannot be lightly contravened. Public opinion, however, did not oppose Miss Myrover’s teaching colored children; in fact, all the colored public schools in town—and there were several—were taught by white teachers, and had been so taught since the State had undertaken to provide free public instruction for all children within its boundaries. Previous to that time, there had been a Freedman’s Bureau school and a Presbyterian missionary school, but these had been withdrawn when the need for them became less pressing. The colored people of the town had been for some time agitating their right to teach their own schools, but as yet the claim had not been conceded.

The reason Miss Myrover’s course created some surprise was not, therefore, the fact that a Southern white woman should teach a colored school; it lay in the fact that up to this time no woman of just her quality had taken up such work. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Luella Miller

Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852–1930)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

By the end of the 1880s, her first decade as a published writer, Mary Eleanor Wilkins had become one of America’s most popular short story writers, publishing nearly fifty stories for Harper’s several periodicals and collecting many of them in two book publications. During the following decades, she expanded her repertoire from the realism that pervaded her earlier work to other genres, including ghost stories. In 1902, the year she married Charles Manning Freeman, she wrote “Luella Miller,” one of her most enduringly popular stories, describing a local woman who saps the life out of everyone who cares for her and featuring the narrator Lydia Anderson, whose “thoughts were clothed in the rude vernacular of her native village.”

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Close to the village street stood the one-story house in which Luella Miller, who had an evil name in the village, had dwelt. She had been dead for years, yet there were those in the village who, in spite of the clearer light which comes on a vantage-point from a long-past danger, half believed in the tale which they had heard from their childhood. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.