Abbott, Eleanor Hallowell
ABBOTT, Eleanor Hallowell
Born 22 September 1872, Cambridge, Massachusetts; died 4 June 1958, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Daughter of Edward and Clara Davis Abbott; married FordyceCoburn, 1908
The youngest child in her family, Eleanor Hallowell Abbott grew up surrounded by literary and religious luminaries. Her father's father was Jacob Abbott, author of many books for young people, including the famous Rollo series. The family was friendly with Longfellow, Lowell, and the like; the atmosphere of the home was decidedly religious and scholarly. Abbott's father, a Congregational clergyman, left his church to be ordained an Episcopal priest; he was also editor of The Outlook for many years.
Abbott attended private schools in Cambridge, took special courses at Radcliffe, and later was a secretary and teacher of English at Lowell State Normal School. She wrote poetry and short stories for some time, with no success. Just as she was at the point of giving up, Harper's Magazine accepted two long poems, and she won three of the short-story prizes offered by Collier's and The Delineator.
In 1908, shortly before her fortune turned, she married Dr. Fordyce Coburn, who encouraged her literary efforts. The marriage, which took her to Wilton, New Hampshire, was a happy one, though childless.
Until the writing of her autobiography, Abbott published 14 books and about 75 magazine stories. Judging from her own account, as a child she had been nervous and excitable, and her fiction gives evidence that she never lost the intensity of feeling which seems to have been her chief characteristic. Her writing is unblushingly romantic, and although unpleasant occurrences do take place in her fiction—people do suffer—over the whole is a sheen of unreality; each novel and story has a happy ending. Her principal characters are young girls (much, one suspects, like Abbott herself): audacious, high-strung, terribly talkative, and full of unsettling demands. Her male characters are usually quiet, strong, sturdy, and inured to patient suffering.
Abbott's unique style gives the effect of breathlessness, as of a child trying to describe some deeply felt experience. Apparently aiming for spontaneity and originality, she too often falls into distressing triviality and banality; occasionally the reader feels that Abbott is lapsing into baby talk. Sometimes she seems almost manic in her hectic gaiety; imagery is often startling, and always vivid. Though critics spoke of Abbott's work as "charming," they found the charm often forced, and emphasized the improbability and unreality of plot and characters. One reviewer summed up the matter succinctly: "Miss Abbott has an original and sprightly method—but she overdoes it. Her apparent dislike of the conventional and tame lead her to exaggerate her own virtues into sensationalism."
In spite of critical strictures, Abbott's fiction is interesting, for it reveals a personality resolutely turning away from the harshness of her New England mental and emotional legacy. In its determined gaiety and its triumphant euphoria it is like a backlash to the ponderous, doomsounding religiosity of her grandfather Jacob Abbott and his ancestors. Certainly it was popular in its day, and perhaps no more naive than the so-called "romances" that fill the racks of modern drugstores.
Molly Make-Believe (1910). The Sick-A-Bed Lady, and Other Stories (1911). White Linen Nurse (1913). Little Eve Edgarton (1914). Indiscreet Letter (1915). Stingy Receiver (1917). Ne'er-Do-Much (1918). Old-Dad (1919). Rainy Week (1921). Fairy Prince, and Other Stories (1922). Silver Moon (1923). Love and the Ladies (1928). But Once a Year (1928). Minister Who Kicked the Cat (1932). Being Little in Cambridge When Everyone Else Was Big (1936).
Notable Boston Authors, M. Flagg, ed. (1965).
Boston Transcript (15 Oct. 1913, 1 Dec. 1928). NYT (12 Oct. 1913, 3 Jan. 1937). Springfield Republican (11 Oct. 1936). TLS (31 May 1928).
—ABIGAIL ANN HAMBLEN