Brownson, Sarah N(icolena)

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BROWNSON, Sarah N(icolena)

Born 7 June 1839, Chelsea, Massachusetts; died 30 October 1876, Elizabeth, New Jersey

Wrote under: An American, Sarah M(aria) Brownson, One ofThemselves

Daughter of Orestes A. and Sally Healy Brownson; married William J. Tenney, 1873; children: two daughters

The daughter of a leading Roman Catholic thinker of 19th-century America, Sarah N. Brownson spent almost her entire life in her father's home. She shared his religious interests, contributing anonymous literary criticism to his Brownson's Quarterly Review. Brownson also wrote articles, stories, and poems—many still unidentified—for other periodicals. Only three novels and a biography have been recognized as hers. In 1873 Brownson married an elderly widower, and, after giving birth to their second daughter, died, just six months after her father.

In Marian Elwood, or How Girls Live (1859), the young author, identified only as "One of Themselves," states that the book was "begun in an idle moment" with no thought of publication. Against a background of viciously competitive upper-class young ladies who flirt with and reject suitors, the heroine matures, falls in love with a good man, and atones for her former frivolity through suffering and good works.

At Anchor, A Story of Our Civil War, by "An American" (1865), again deals with upper-class courtship and marriage. Georgie Vane, the New England heroine, marries a Southern gentleman and settles in the Confederacy with him, where she remains through much of the Civil War. In this story it is the horrors and suffering of war which lead the heroine to maturity and an ability to love deeply. The third novel, Heremore-Brandon, or the Fortunes of a Newsboy (1868), appeared only in serialized form in the Catholic World; its episodic quality makes it inferior to its predecessor in unity, coherence of plot, and motivation.

All three of Brownson's novels have contrived plots: chance meetings with unknown or forgotten relatives, sudden reappearances of supposedly dead lovers or husbands. Yet the novels show an ability to develop complex characters, especially women, as well as an understanding of human growth and an increasing awareness of social problems.

Although Catholicism runs through all of Brownson's fiction, it is most explicit in Marian Elwood, where a sensible and wise priest is contrasted with a fatuous and infatuated Protestant minister. In the later novels Catholicism serves as a force in the characters' lives, urging them toward good works, sympathy for the needy, and a relative simplicity of life.

The work for which Brownson is most generally known, and the only book published under her own name, is the Life of Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, Prince and Priest (1873), a biography of the intellectual Russian prince who converted to Roman Catholicism and served as a priest in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Brownson's careful research resulted in the first in-depth study of Gallitzin. A French translation appeared posthumously.


Maynard, T., Orestes Brownson: Yankee, Radical, Catholic (1943).

Other reference:

BrQR (1873). Catholic World (1873). CHR (1940).


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Brownson, Sarah N(icolena)

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