The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 12. Constance Fenimore Woolson

Perhaps the most interesting transition during the period is that which may be traced in the work of Constance Fenimore Woolson (1838–94), a grandniece of Cooper, a native of New Hampshire, and a dweller successively by the Great Lakes, in the South, and in Italy, where she died. At the beginning of the seventies Miss Woolson was writing unlocalized poetic stories for Harper’s, A Merry Christmas, An October Idyl, and the like, tales that might have come from the early period of Rose Terry Cooke. But soon one notes a change, a new sense of the value of background and of strongly individualized types for characters. By 1874 she was choosing the West for her materials. Her Solomon is a study of a unique character in an isolated German settlement on One-leg Creek which flows into the Tuscarawas River in Ohio, and her Jeanette and most of the other stories in Castle Nowhere (1875) deal with the primitive French habitants on Mackinac and the islands of Lake Superior. She had been reading Harte. Later, in the South, she was stirred by the desolation and the poverty wrought by the war, and now with her heart in her work she wrote the first post-bellum Southern short stories founded upon the contrast between what was and what had been. And still later in Italy she caught again the soul of a people and wrought it into the tales to be collected under the title The Front Yard. With each volume there had been an increase in definiteness, in picturesque characterization, in dramatic effect. She worked without dialect and she threw over her work the soft evening light, yet was she a realist, as Harte never was, and unlike him too she worked always with insight and sympathy. Stories like her The Front Yard are constructed of the materials of life itself. One cannot forget them.