The Hostess as a Literary Historian: Annie Adams Fields

  • Susan K. Harris


Mary Gladstones role as a literary hostess came to her by default; her mother, Catherine Gladstone, was W. E. G. s official hostess, and public attention—the kind that reads the society pages—was much more likely to focus on Catherine than on Mary. But precisely because Catherine was so much in the limelight, and because Mary was an unmarried (and unlike her sister Helen, unemployed) daughter of the household, she was expected to take over much of the arrangements for social functions and to play the role of Gladstone fille. Hence long days passed making seating charts for dinners and arranging rooms for receptions (“Flowers. Hind legs all day”, runs a typically cryptic entry for April 21, 1883),1 or, in times of political crisis, deconstructing the establishment (“Thunderbolt. Dissolution of Parliament,” she notes in her diary for January 14, 1883. “Lucy came home and we tore up letters for 2 hours2).” Her status as daughter mandated her role as adjunct hostess; her intelligence, cultural interests, personal warmth, and proximity to her father made her the cynosure for the Liberal intelligentsia, thus turning a family obligation into a culturally significant role.


Literary Historian Diary Entry Biographical Sketch 1880 Letter American Writer 
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  1. 1.
    Lucy Masterman, Ed., Mary Gladstone, Her Diaries and Letters, London: Methuen & Co., 1930, 288.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Mark DeWolfe Howe, Ed., Memories of a Hostess, Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1922,Google Scholar
  3. Ellery Sedgwick, The Atlantic Monthly At High Tide and Ebb, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994, 72–73,Google Scholar
  4. and Shirley Marchalonis, The Worlds of Lucy Larcom, Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1989, 212–215Google Scholar
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  6. 18.
    Mary Livermore’s autobiography deserves more attention than it currently draws; her life encompassed the major events of the nineteenth century, and she was involved in most of them. See The Story of My Life: or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years, Hartford: A. D. Worthington & Co., 1897.Google Scholar
  7. 28.
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    Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma, London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1883, 58–59.Google Scholar
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    See Donald D. Stone, Communications with the Future, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 128–130, for a discussion of Literature and Dogma. A good example of Arnold’s goals and strategies in this work is his discussion of changing definitions of the word “God,” from the ancient Jews to Arnold’s own time. Arnold urged a return to the concept of God as experiential rather than a matter of dogma. See Chapter 1, “Religion Given,” especially section 5, 38–45.Google Scholar
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    Annie Adams Fields, Ed., Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1911, 38.Google Scholar
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    According to Madelon Bedell, Abby May Alcott was “famous for her temper during most of her life,” but she may well not have been as unpleasant as Hawthorne described. See Madelon Bedell, The Alcotts: Biography of a Family, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1980, 75.Google Scholar
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    The line “The land of broken promise” does not appear in most editions of Lowell’s “Ode to Agassiz” because, on the advice of friends, Lowell deleted it after the poem’s first publication. Lowell had written the poem while he was on a two-year sojourn abroad, and according to William Dean Howells, the line expressed his disillusionment with the United States he was reading about in European papers: corrupt, contentious, decadent (Howells, Literary Friends and Acquaintances, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1901, 218–220). In his 1901 biography of Lowell, Horace Scudder quotes the original lines: “And all the unwholesomeness/The Land of Broken Promise serves of late/To teach the Old World how to wait.” Lowell substituted “the Land of Honest Abraham” for “The Land of Broken Promise” (Scudder, James Russell Lowell: A Biography, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1901, 191n). The line occurs in verse I, section 2, line 6 in The Complete Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1895, 437. “Agassiz” is the first poem in the volume Heartsease and Rue. My thanks to my colleague Richard Kopley for bringing my attention to Howells’ and Scudders’ records of this revision.Google Scholar
  14. 55.
    In an often-quoted letter to Whittier, Thaxter claimed that she had “become a most humble and devoted follower of Christ, our Christ, for all races have their own Christs to save and help them… I understand it all now… and I see a glorious prospect.… Salvation… means being saved from further earthly lives, and of reaching God and the supreme joy, the continual wheel of rebirth and pain and death being the hell, the fire of passions that burns forever, the worm of desires that never die.” (Annie Adams Fields, Ed., Letters of Celia Thaxter, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1895, 141–42).Google Scholar
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    Ira Bruce Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact, and Form, London: Macmillan, 1984, 60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Susan K. Harris 2002

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