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

§ 6. Rose Terry Cooke

The first significant figure of the transition was Rose Terry (1827–92), later better known as Rose Terry Cooke, who has the distinction of having contributed seven short stories to the first eight numbers of the Atlantic. Born in Connecticut—the heart of New England, a school teacher with experience in country districts, she wrote with knowledge and conviction of the area of life that she knew. In her long series of stories beginning in the forties with unlocalized romantic tales in Graham’s and extending throughout the transition period into the seventies and eighties, and ending with a final collection as late as 1891, one may trace every phase of the American short story in half a century. Her early Atlantic narratives lean decidedly in the direction of the Young Ladies’ Repository type of fiction, sentimental, leisurely, moralizing, and yet even in the poorest of them there is a sense of actuality that was new in American short fiction. They were not romances; they were homely fragments of New England rural life. The heroine may be introduced in this unromantic fashion: “Mrs. Griswold was paring apples and Lizzie straining squash.” Here for the first time we may find dialect that rings true, and, moreover, here for the first time are sprightliness and rollicking humour, varied at times with tragedy and true pathos. As one traces her work from Atlantic to Atlantic, a gradual increase in power impresses one until after her declaration of independence at the opening of Miss Lucinda (August, 1861)—“I offer you no tragedy in high life, no sentimental history of fashion and wealth, but only a little story about a woman who could not be a heroine”—it is felt that she has found herself and that with her later work like Odd Miss Todd, Freedom Wheeler’s Controversy with Providence, The Deacon’s Week, and last of all and in many ways her best, The Town and Country Mouse, the final story in her collection Huckleberries, she has passed into the new period and taken a secure place with the small group of masters of the short story. Unlike Harriet Prescott Spofford, whose gorgeous In a Cellar and The Amber Gods fluttered for a time the readers of the early sixties, she was able to heed the voice of the new period and to grow and outgrow, and it was this power that made her the pioneer and the leader not only of the group of depicters of New England life, but of the whole later school of makers of localized short fiction realistically rendered.