Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote

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Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote
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Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote
Field, Kimberly
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:37:54 PM] Home Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock FooteSocial Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock FooteSubmitted by jainlayconley on 10-29-2010 04:55 PMAuthor: Christine Hill Smith Publishing: Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2009. xvi + 213 pages. Black and white photos, drawings, endnotes, bibliography. 6-1/4 x 9-1/4. $34.95 hardcover. Reviewer: Kimberly Field Mary Hallock Foote would be the first to tell you that she was a well-bred, cultured, refined gentlewoman. But, readers of Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote may assign Foote a few adjectives she might find less flattering. In Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote Christine Hill Smith offers an in-depth analysis of Footes work, her personal circumstances, and the complex social structures of the American West. Smith respects Foote and presents her as a pioneera settler of the West and a member of the emerging middle classand as a woman defined in the context of the American class structure of the nineteenth century. Though largely forgotten today, Mary Hallock Foote (1847) was one of the most popular female writers of her generation and one of the first women to earn her living illustrating and writing fiction about the American West. Her work appeared in widely circulated magazines of the era such as Century Atlantic Monthly and Scribners Born to a middle-class family in the Hudson River Valley, the well-educated Foote went west with her husband, Arthur De Wint Foote, in the 1870s. The couples peripatetic life took them across the vast sweep of prairie, mountain, and desertfrom the rich mines of Leadville, Colorado, to the wild forests of Idaho, and to the rolling hills and lush valleys of central California. Mary dragged her baggage of class constraints and prejudice over every difficult mile. Foote spent fifty unhappy years living amongst and writing about people she felt were beneath her. Her formulaic stories are rife with stock characters such as the noble Eastern gentleman and well-born lady who never forget their manners in the face of unpleasant rustics. She eschews the larger-than-life characters that surrounded herincluding Horace Tabor and his scandalous choice of a trophy wife, Baby Doe, in Leadvillefor cardboard cutouts such as Molly the hapless Irish maid. Molly shows up in nearly all of Footes stories. Sometimes Molly is the efficient Chinese cook, the coarse German merchant, a wretched Indian urchin, or a lonely pioneer woman. Her characters know their places in her rigid Eastern society and any attempt at upward mobility ends badly. Ironically, Footes career was made possible by the very forces of social change she could not embrace. She and her husband, a civil engineer, were educated members of a new professional middle class made mobile by the railroads and telegraph that enabled a societal reboot of the late nineteenth century. Eastern farm boys, file clerks, and familiesperhaps inspired by Footes own words and drawingsleft their proscribed and predictable surroundings for the unbridled opportunities of the West. They of low birth and EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWhile on the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776, Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco drew the first map of Colorado.


Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:37:54 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us limited education understood the possibility of the West. Sure, there were go backers and scallywags, but visionaries, hard workers, and solid citizens of all classes who werent bound by the circumstances of their birth built the West. They understood the essence of the West. Foote arguably did not. Footes prolific career was driven by a constant need for money. Her husband did not find success and retreated into alcoholism (frankly, if I lived with Mary Hallock Foote, Id drink too) leaving Foote to support their family with her writing and illustrating. Despite bouts with poverty that forced her to move the entire family into her sisters home in Idaho, Foote continued to look down upon their successful but unrefined neighbors. Appearance was everything to Foote, and she readily admitted it. Though she could not afford it, she insisted on having an English governess for her children and a Chinese cook for her household because (in Footes way of thinking) that is what a Victorian gentlewoman needs and deserves. As I read Smiths book, I found myself wanting Foote to get over herself, if only for a moment. Surely, she would see that her manners and preconceptionsthe very social mores she believed civilized her imprisoned her throughout her long exile from her beloved East. She captured the details of the West, but she never truly got it. While Footes work no longer is in print, she lives on as the inspiration for the lonely pioneer woman of Wallace Stegners 1971 Pulitzer Prizewinning novel Angle of Repose. Smith includes several of Footes illustrations, which offer welcome insights into her considerable artistic talent. She also provides glimpses into Footes personal unhappiness and struggles through Footes correspondence with her lifelong friend and confidante, Helena de Kay, who was married to Richard Watson Gilder, Footes editor at Century Magazine Smiths scholarly study includes contemporary literary criticism, historical and sociological research as well as selections from Footes work and personal correspondence drawn from archives across the country. This book adds immeasurably to the body of literature on professional women writers in the American West. One comes away from Social Class in the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote with a deeper appreciation for and understanding of Foote and her contemporaries, including Mary Austin and Willa Cather. Ultimately, Mary Hallock Foote was a woman of her timesand a pioneer in the West. Reviewer Info: Kimberly Field loves history, but is certainly glad she did not live in the nineteenth century. She writes about Western art, architecture, and lifestyle for magazines throughout the West. Her third book, Westminster: The First One Hundred Years with Kelly Kordes Anton, will be in stores soon. Add new comment