Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Americans: the A's part 2

I recently posted about the first ten women to be added to my in-progress American Women Writers list. Now, rounding out the A's, here are 12 more.

Zoë Akins, photographed by
Carl van Vechten, 1935

If there was ever any doubt about how fleeting literary fame can be, ZOË AKINS is a reminder. She was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, poet and novelist. Among her most famous plays are Déclassée (1919), which starred Ethel Barrymore, The Greeks Had a Word for It (1930), which would later form part of the basis for the film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), a favorite of mine starring Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable, Morning Glory, which was unproduced as a play but won Katherine Hepburn her first Oscar when it was filmed in 1933, and The Old Maid (1935), based on an Edith Wharton novella, which starred Judith Anderson on Broadway and Bette Davis when it was filmed. The last earned Akins the Pulitzer Prize for drama, by which time she was very nearly the stereotypical household name. 

She also wrote screenplays for a number of films, including Camille (1936) with Greta Garbo and Zaza (1938) starring Claudette Colbert. Akins published only two novels—Cake upon the Waters (1919), described as a humorous crime novel featuring a widow with a knack for trouble, and Forever Young (1941), in which, according to Contemporary Authors, "a woman reminisces about her first year at school in 1900 as the youngest girl in the class, and recalls how she helped save the school from disgrace." In her personal life, Akins married once, but her husband tragically died after only 8 months of marriage.

JEAN ARISS, meanwhile, may be best remembered for the company she kept. She and her husband Bruce Ariss, a noted artist in Monterey, California, were close friends of John Steinbeck, and Bruce published a book, Inside Cannery Row (1988), about their friendship. Jean herself published two novels. In The Quick Years (1958), a young woman tells the story of her difficult grandfather's life—Kirkus critiqued its "erratic stream of consciousness" but said the main character rang true. The Shattered Glass (1962) is about a woman recovering from her son's death by falling in love, only to find that her new lover is an alcoholic.

The A's also include no fewer than six authors of fiction primarily aimed at girls (though some also wrote fiction for adults.

I owe the presence of MARJORIE HILL ALLEE on my list to Constance Martin, one of the readers of this blog who gave me lots of assistance brainstorming American women writers. Allee was the author of 14 volumes of fiction for adults and children, much of it informed by her own Quakerism. A trilogy of novels—Judith Lankester (1930), A House of Her Own (1934), and Off to Philadelphia! (1936)—deal with a widow and her eight daughters in the mid-19th century U.S. 

The girls and women in Allee's fiction are frequently notable for their interest in science and their dedication to scientific careers. The Great Tradition (1937) features several young women living together while studying biology at the University of Chicago, and was in part Allee's response to college novels which focused on parties and social life. The House (1944) is a sequel that follows one of the women into her career as a zoologist. Among her children's fiction, Susanna and Tristram (1929) deals with a teenage girl and her younger brother working with the Underground Railroad, and its sequel, The Road to Carolina (1932), traces the brother's trip into the South with a passionate Quaker abolitionist. 

Jane's Island (1931) and Ann's Surprising Summer (1933) are also about young girls exploring their scientific interests, while The Little American Girl (1938) (which appears to be for older readers than its title might suggest) follows a girl's experiences studying at the Quaker International Center in Paris. Runaway Linda (1939) deals with an unwanted orphan, The Camp at Westlands (1941) is set at a Quaker volunteer work camp, Winter's Mischief (1942) at a country boarding school, and Smoke Jumper (1945) in the Forestry Service. Allee was married to a zoologist, undoubtedly a source of some of the background of her fiction. I'm finding myself particularly interested in reading Judith Lankester, which, it just so happens, is available is the U.S. for free downloading from Hathi Trust!

JANE D. ABBOTT was the author of more than 40 volumes of fiction, most aimed at young girls and featuring elements of romance and adventure. Her publisher marketed her books as holding "the place in the hearts of girls of today that Louisa May Alcott held in the hearts of their mothers," which was perhaps laying it on a bit thick, but she does seem to have been quite successful. Titles include Happy House (1920), Highacres (1920), Barberry Gate (1925), Harriet's Choice (1928), Bouquet Hill (1931), Miss Jolley's Family (1933), Low Bridge (1935), Lorrie (1941), and The Inheritors (1953).

Perhaps a bit of evidence that we shouldn't take the Alcott comparison too seriously is the fact that MARGARET ASHMUN was also compared to Alcott, particularly for her Isabel Carleton series for teenage girls. (One wonders just how many authors were compared to Alcott in those days?!) Those books are Isabel Carleton's Year (1916), Heart of Isabel Carleton (1917), Isabel Carleton's Friends (1918), Isabel Carleton in the West (1919), and Isabel Carleton at Home (1920). In the 1920s, she published four novels for adults—Topless Towers: A Romance of Morningside Heights (1921), Support (1922), The Lake (1924, aka The Lonely Lake), and Pa: The Head of the Family (1927). The latter two in particular received critical acclaim. Her final book was the biographical Singing Swan: An Account of Anna Seward and Her Acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, Boswell, & Others of Their Time (1931).

Reader GSGreatEscaper drew my attention to ISABELLA ALDEN, author of well over 100 Christian-themed children's books published over the course of six decades. Alden was the aunt of novelist Grace Livingston Hill, who will appear further down the list. Her most popular works included a series featuring Ester Reid, which included Ester Ried: Asleep and Awake (1870), Ester Ried Yet Speaking (1883), and Ester Ried's Namesake (1906), and her "Chautauqua Girls" series, which begins with Four Girls at Chautauqua (1876) and concludes with Four Mothers at Chautauqua (1913). In her 1956 work All the Happy Endings: A Study of the Domestic Novel in America, Helen Papashvily noted of Alden's work: "So frequently did the cliches of grief appear—the lock of hair, the shoe, the sun's last rays on the fading cheek, the plaintive voice asking, 'Will Papa come home?'—that some later readers found amusement in these bits of sentimentality." As Pansy, her childhood nickname from her father, Alden published periodical fiction for children, and for more than 20 years edited a periodical of her own called, naturally enough, Pansy.

1923 yearbook photo of Grace Allen from
Newton High School, Newton, Massachusetts

GRACE ALLEN, meanwhile, was on my radar from my perusal of Sims & Clare's Encyclopaedia of Girls' School Stories, which mentioned her 1950 part-school story Lucy's League (1950). When I found that she was American (she was born and raised in the U.S., though she lived much of her adult life in the U.K.), I held her off of my original list, but kept her in my database, and she can now take her rightful place. Having started as a staff artist at Oxford University Press, she became an editor for OUP and later for Chatto & Windus, Houghton Mifflin, Constable, Longman, and Collins. She published five children's titles, the first two—the aforementioned Lucy's League (1950) and John's Journey (1952)—under her Amelia Gay pseudonym, the others—The Funny Guy (1955), As a May Morning (1958), and A Sister for Helen (1976)—as Grace Allen Hogarth. She also published four adult novels, the first three—This to Be Love (1949), The End of Summer (1951), and Children of This World (1953)—as Grace Allen, and the last, a mystery called Murders for Sale (1954, aka Sneeze on Sunday), written in collaboration with Mary Alice NORTON (who often published sci-fi and fantasy as Andre Norton), under the pseudonym Allen Weston. Whew!

MARY ANN AMSBARY did publish one adult novel under her own name, Caesar's Angel (1952), which was reviewed at Neglected Books here. In addition, she, along with Jean Lyttleton MCKECHNIE, apparently shared the Kay Lyttleton pseudonym, credited with the five-book Jean Craig series for girls—Jean Craig Grows Up (1948), Jean Craig in New York (1948), Jean Craig Finds Romance (1948), Jean Craig, Nurse (1949), and Jean Craig, Graduate Nurse (1950). It's unclear at this point which author wrote which books in the series.

Also a children's writer, though not specifically for girls, was LAURA ADAMS ARMER. Many of her children's books focused on Navajo culture, and she often illustrated or co-illustrated them with husband Sidney Armer. She is most famous for her first book, Waterless Mountain (1931), about a Navajo boy who wants to be a medicine man, which won the Newbery Medal and has frequently been reprinted. Later children's titles were Dark Circle of Branches (1933), The Traders' Children (1937), which was somewhat autobiographical and featured characters based on Armer and her husband, The Forest Pool (1938), and Farthest West (1939). She also published the non-fiction Cactus (1934), about different species of desert plants, and Southwest (1935), described by Kirkus as "an inspirational book, which catches the hidden meaning and underlying significance of the beauties of the country and the philosophy of the people." In Navajo Land (1962), published when she was in her late 80s, is a short memoir of her early visits to American Indian sites in Arizona. Some of Armer's artwork can be seen here.

To slightly stretch the point, one might say that IRENE ALEXANDER's four novels were aimed at rather older girls or young women. The Wisconsin Library Bulletin describes her debut, Villa Caprice (1932): "Entertaining light romance of a young architect whose opportunity to decorate a villa at Monte Carlo sets him on the road to professional success and wins him the girl he loves." Her other titles are Crooked Alley (1933), which appears to have elements of mystery and suspense as well, Ninth Week (1935), and Revenge Can Wait (1941). On the 1920 U.S. census, she was a schoolteacher.

Mary Anne Amsbary, from the New
York Times
 review of Caesar's Angel

And finally, two authors who don't particularly fit any subgrouping. HELEN ANDERSON—not to be confused with Scottish author Helen Maud Anderson (see my British Women Writers list)—was apparently the author of only one novel, the lesbian-themed Pity for Women (1937). The novel received scathing reviews at the time, but the beginning of the Kirkus review might have gained more readers for the book than the scornful critiques discouraged: "Here is a book that makes The Well of Loneliness and Dusty Answer look like Sunday School missals, that out-Colettes Colette." Hmmm, now I sort of want to read it myself! Despite the bad reviews, the book has been of interest to scholars of lesbian fiction in recent years. Lori L. Lake notes here that it seems to be the first example of a lesbian wedding ceremony portrayed in fiction. By all counts, however, the story doesn't end happily.

And MARION POLK ANGELLOTTI was the author of five novels as well as additional periodical fiction. Her debut, Sir John Hawkwood (1911), is based on the adventures of the real life 14th century soldier of the same name, while The Firefly of France (1918) is based on the life of French WWI fighter pilot Georges Guynemer. Burgundian: A Tale of Old France (1912) is set in the court of King Charles VI, Harlette (1913) is "a strong tale of Duke Robert of Normandy and the beautiful peasant woman who loved him," and Three Black Bags (1922) is described by a bookseller as an "international mystery novel set in France and Germany and involving a 'beautiful and resourceful American girl'."

There are two or three authors here that intrigue me enough to lengthen my TBR list a bit more. What about you?  And this is only the A's. The B's will be coming along before long…


  1. Scott, thanks for the mention! I have been sort of blocked on reading this year, but I know that your great list posts will suggest some great books that I can download to while away the summer days - once the Girl Scouting end of year craze ends!

    1. I hope you find lots of good titles for the summer. And beware of those crazed Girl Scouts! :-)

  2. The author mentioned here that I know the most about is Mary Alice Norton. I think I own just about all of her fantasy/SF work published as Andre Norton. Several of these were major life impact books to me as I was growing up. Dark Piper, The Zero Stone and Star Man's Son are titles that come to mind at once, and there were others. I knew that she wrote other things using other names, but not the details. Back when she was writing, an author who wanted to make a living wage needed to write a LOT. Of course, with that high an output the quality varied.


  3. I just discovered that (in the US at least) one can get a Kindle version of Murders for Sale as part of The Andre Norton Mega Pack, price 55 cents. Apparently she let the copyright on a number of her early works lapse, as there are a lot of inexpensive packages of Andre Norton's early SF, but this is the only one I found that included the mystery you mentioned in this blog post. I will be reading it soon.


    1. That's great to know, Jerri. I may check it out.

    2. I have finished reading Murders for Sale. With an collaboration, especially a "one time" effort, one never knows which bits are by which author, but somehow this was not as fun a read as some other works by Andre Norton. However, some interesting bits. War time (WWII) influence on events, even though it was set in the early 50's, was a major plot point. The small town setting was interesting also, especially the book store/lending library bits. I like the alternative title, Sneeze on Sunday, it fits the story better. I would be interested in trying some of Grace Allen's other works.

  4. Such a big undertaking. Thanks for all the work you are puting into it. I've just read Margaret Armstrong's first of 3 mysteries: Murder in Stained Glass (1939). The others are The Man with No Face (1940), and The Blue Santo Murder Mystery (1941).

    1. Thanks, Christina. I've put Armstrong in my database and will add her when I do the first update to the list. Are you enjoying her books?

    2. Yes, I should have said so. There was a large plot twist at the end of Murder in Stained Glass, which fooled me completely. The main character, Miss Trumble, is interesting, but she doesn't show up in the other 2 novels. I have them on my TBR list now.

  5. Thanks for the shout out! I am fond of Marjorie Hill Allee, particularly Winter's Mischief which is based on the Westtown School near Philadelphia. One of my mother's closest college friends went there and listening to her boarding school stories made my mother recall this book although it took her years to remember the title. We found a discarded copy while visiting Duke University. I like her other books too. Jane D. Abbott is no Louisa May Alcott although the handful I have read are pleasant enough. I do remember liking Highacres, which I think was set at a boarding school. I have an unread one on my windowsill which I am happy to forward to you once I have read it.


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