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Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Selected Tales, Essays, and Poems

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Publication Year: 2014

The well-educated daughter of a minister, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844–1911) was introduced to writing at a young age, as both her mother and father were published writers. In 1868 she published her first major novel, The Gates Ajar. An international success, the novel sold more than six hundred thousand copies, making it one of the best-selling American works of the nineteenth century. Through the next four decades Phelps published hundreds of essays, tales, and poems, which appeared in every major American periodical, while also writing novels, including Beyond the Gates (1883) and The Gates Between (1887).

Phelps’s legacy as an important American writer, however, has been hurt by the seeming contradictions between her life and work. For example, she was an ardent advocate for women’s rights both inside and outside marriage, but her stories seem to glorify the sort of extreme self-sacrifice associated with the most conservative domestic ideology. In this collection, the editors seek to restore Phelps’s reputation by bringing together a diverse collection from the entire body of her lifetime of work. From arguments for suffrage to harrowing tales of Reconstruction, these essays, along with short fiction and poetry, provide a new perspective on a major American writer from the later nineteenth century.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

Every book is the culmination of the efforts of many people, this one perhaps more than most. We began the volume as professor and student and end as colleagues and coeditors; it has been an exciting process, and we are deeply grateful to the people and institutions that supported us along the way, especially those willing to see the possibilities in an arrangement...

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Editor’s Introduction

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pp. ix-xxxviii

From December 1907 to November 1908, Harper’s Bazar published The Whole Family, a project conceived by the author and editor William Dean Howells and executed by Howells and eleven other prominent authors. Each writer contributed a chapter in the voice of a different member of an American family, developing the plot from previously...

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Note on the Text

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pp. xxxix-xlii

All of the texts selected for inclusion in this volume were published during Phelps’s lifetime, many more than once. For each selection, we have included a full publication history. Because Phelps revised, sometimes significantly, for each reprinting, we have decided to include the last version of the story, essay, or poem over which she could be said to...


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The Tenth of January

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pp. 3-31

The city of Lawrence is unique in its way.1
For simooms that scorch you and tempests that freeze;2 for sand-heaps and sand-hillocks and sand-roads; for men digging sand, for women shaking off sand, for minute boys crawling in sand; for sand in the church-slips and the gingerbread-windows, for sand in your...

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Dr. Trotty

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pp. 32-38

“I don’t think I like the looks of it,” said Trotty, very distinctly.
He meant the baby. It was Aunt Matthews’s baby. Aunt Matthews, and Cousin Ginevra, and the baby’s nurse, and the baby’s trunks, and the baby’s carriage, and the baby’s crib, and the baby, were making a visit at Trotty’s house.
They had just gone into the spare chamber to take...

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A Woman’s Pulpit

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pp. 39-60

I fell to regretting to-day, for the first time in my life, that I am an old maid; for this reason: I have a very serious, long, religious story to tell, and a brisk matrimonial quarrel would have been such a vivacious, succinct, and secular means of introducing it.
But when I said, one day last winter, “I want some change,” it was only Mädchen who...

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Since I Died

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pp. 61-67

How very still you sit!
If the shadow of an eyelash stirred upon your cheek; if that gray line about your mouth should snap its tension at this quivering end; if the pallor of your profile warmed a little; if that tiny muscle on your forehead, just at the left eyebrow’s curve, should start and twitch; if you would but grow a trifle restless, sitting there...

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Fourteen to One: A True Story

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pp. 68-91

There are certain situations inherently too preposterous for fiction; the very telling of them involves the presumption of fact. No writer with any regard for his literary reputation would invent such a tale as that which I am about to relate. The reader will agree with me, I think, that the conclusive events of the story are but another evidence...

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The Rejected Manuscript

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pp. 92-112

The ten minutes past three train was due at Cantelope Corner. At Cantelope Corner the great P. and Q. Railroad Company is on time. The corporation looks upon punctuality as a duty to this fattening suburb; while the citizens thereof regard it as a sacred privilege which the corporation underestimates.
Cantelope Corner should not be confounded...

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The Oath of Allegiance

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pp. 113-132

It was the time of great purposes and small hopes; it was the time of grand deeds and dark dreams; it was the time of glory and madness, of love and despair; it was the time of the greatest motives and the noblest achievement, the truest praying and the bitterest suffering that our land and our day have known.1
The story which I have to tell, in so far as it is a...

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Dea ex Machina

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pp. 133-152

It was a smoky sou’wester—one of the brilliant and beautiful light winds which precede the gale due on the New England coast in the dying of August or the birth of September.
The catboat careened and labored a good deal,1 making the course with some difficulty, as if the solitary sailor were unpractised or out of practice; but...


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What Shall They Do?

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pp. 155-164

The tale not long ago unfolded by “a weak-minded woman” to the “Easy Chair” has fallen upon sympathetic ears.1
We wish that she knew—we should like to sit down beside her in her kitchen and tell her—how our sorrowful thought has followed her through the hopeless waking, the hopeless work, the hopeless dreaming, through...

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The Higher Claim

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pp. 165-168

“Seriously speaking, this is nonsense.”
Fifty years hence will it be credited, without reference to the filed language that a leading New York paper, of pre- eminent literary connections and fair practical sense, actually dispose of the entire demand for the right of Womanhood Suffrage in these five words?
The time is...

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Unhappy Girls

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pp. 169-176

Upon a candid examination, I believe it would be found that there is more down- right misery among young women, between the ages of eighteen and thirty, than among any other class of people.
So far from this being a surprising condition of things, the wonder is rather that it should be so seldom credited, so imperfectly understood, and...

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Selections from “Woman’s Dress (In Four Parts)”

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pp. 177-186

II. Is It Healthful?*
The enormities of a woman’s dress, having done their best to deform her body, will very naturally do their bravest to destroy it.
So far and so fast has this work proceeded, that the scholarly physician invited to address the New England Club upon woman’s physical fitness to be,1 to do, or to suffer, can find, in the realm...

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A Dream within a Dream

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pp. 187-191

It is a little singular to reflect upon that there should not be in existence a fully appropriate marriage service for the uses of either the church or the world.
The Episcopal service1—that most hallowed by churchly associations and most full of excellences—has yet egregious faults. Bad taste, bad grammar, and perjury may have their places; but...

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What Is a Fact?

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pp. 192-206

This is a noisy age. The dreamer can find no sacred silence in which to hide his fantasy. The thinker may double-lock his study door, but the winds of heaven will pilfer his thoughts from him through the window, and the birds of the air will carry the matter; if they do not, the world concludes that there was none to carry. The believer, too, is tremulous to...

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Women’s Views of Divorce

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pp. 207-211

I am asked a simple question which requires a complicated answer. Do I justify the right of divorce? Assuredly. When? When the question is a duel between a wrong and a right; when not to give the right is to commit an undeniable wrong. I justify divorce as I do a surgical operation—then and thus only; when it is the last...

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The Moral Element in Fiction

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pp. 212-213

Since art implies the truthful and conscientious study of life as it is, we contend that to be a radically defective view of art which would preclude from it the ruling constituents of life. Moral character is to human life what air is to the natural world—it is elemental.
There was more than literary science in Matthew Arnold’s arithmetic...

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The Short Story

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pp. 214-218

One of the interesting things in the history of literature is a study of the moods that fashion takes in form.
The stately, stupid, periodical essay—the glory of the Spectator; the boudoir literature of the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Annuals;1 the architectural love-poems in whose involved and dusty corridors any modern passion would lose itself...



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p. 221-221

Apple Blossoms

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pp. 222-223

Stronger than Death

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pp. 224-229


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pp. 230-231

George Eliot—Her Jury

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pp. 232-233

Elaine and Elaine

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pp. 234-235

The Lost Colors

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pp. 236-238


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pp. 239-257

Other Works in the Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780803254213
E-ISBN-10: 0803254210
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803243972

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014