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: 63 ; Chapter 3 New EnglandKismet • W ith her decision to enter the world of professional writing, Earle chose to disrupt the comfortable sanctuary of her home for a career that intruded on her social obligations ,sometimes put her at odds with her family,and even jeopardized her health.Earle’s early focus on her own ancestors and the instructive value of Puritan society suggests a mission that was both personal and progressive. Her club activities instilled in her a strong sense of obligation to improve society at large by improving herself. Through those activities, or perhaps in part because of them, she had come to view history as a mechanism for effecting larger social changes, as demonstrated by her City History Club activities. In the modern urban context in which she lived and worked, her own family history as well as her children’s future seemed to be at risk in the wake of massive immigration, political corruption, and a tempo of life that often overwhelmed genteel convention. By writing about the past—her own as well as that of the nation—Earle felt that she could potentially influence the future of the country by educating its populace. She had chosen Puritan New England as her first topic, believing, as did many other Americans at that time, that traditional narratives served as the most effective remedy for the problems of the present. Earle’s interpretation of Puritan society and culture, however, was shaped as much by her own family history as by the scholarly resources to which she had access . She needed the assurance of history as much as her audience did. As 64 ; Chapter 3 her first book and subsequent books and articles reveal,Alice Morse Earle used historical narrative to counter her own anxieties about the future. She needed to know that her Puritan ancestors would serve her well, and to ensure that, she needed to make them more accessible. As the demands of child rearing lessened, Earle may have turned to writing as an activity to fill a void. She may also have been waiting for many years for the opportunity to write. In an interview published in 1900 in the New York Times, allegedly “the first semi-biographical words ...put into type about her,”she modestly claimed that she had entered the field of writing quite unexpectedly, and that “a dozen years ago she had no idea of authorship.”1 A quick review of Earle’s life “a dozen years ago” would put us back in the late 1880s, for her a period of intensive mothering . In 1888 her eldest child was twelve, her youngest seven. Henry Earle’s financial difficulties seem to have been resolved by then, and the family enjoyed a comfortable life shuttling between home in Brooklyn Heights and family visits to Worcester and Wickford. Earle claimed to have begun writing at the urging of her father, who enlisted her to write about the old church in Chester, Vermont, next door to Andover, where his father and mother had lived. According to the interview , “the material for this was so abundant, and Mrs. Earle spun it so interestingly together that her father encouraged her to make another essay.” She did so, and submitted her results to Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who accepted her article for publication.2 Unfortunately for her, Aldrich stepped down as editor a month later, and the new editor, Horace Elisha Scudder, had reservations about the piece. Earle later recalled: “I soon got a letter from him saying that he did not think he could make use of the manuscript.I wrote him to send it back.In reply I got another letter stating that he had changed his mind and would keep it, after all.” In fact, this article seems never to have been published, although its contents may have served as fodder for Earle’s future writings . Encouraged by Scudder’s endorsement, Earle had sent him a book proposal for The Sabbath in Puritan New England—which he ultimately rejected, stating, Earle remembered, “that he did not see how there could be any sale at all for such a book.”3 His response is puzzling in light of a recent spate of other books about Puritanism, including Brooks Adams’s Emancipation of Massachusetts (1886), as well as two notable books from Houghton Mifflin: Puritan Age and Rule (1888) and Beginnings of New : 65 New England Kismet England (1890). Perhaps Scudder felt that the market...


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