Chute, Marchette (Gaylord)

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CHUTE, Marchette (Gaylord)

Born 16 August 1909, Hazelwood, Minnesota; died 6 May 1994

Daughter of William Young and Mary Pickburn Chute

The second of three daughters born to a Minneapolis realtor and his English-born wife, Marchette Chute studied at the Minneapolis School of Art before earning her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1930. After her father's death in 1939, Chute moved to a Manhattan apartment with her mother and younger sister, novelist Beatrice J. (B. J.) Chute.

Chute's diligently researched reconstructions of the lives of Shakespeare and Chaucer have contributed a great deal to scholarship about the ages in which they wrote. In Shakespeare ofLondon (1949), still in print after 30 years, Chute surveys wills, law suits, council minutes, and church registers to detect the affections and jealousies that reveal late Elizabethan personalities, and then threads them into historical speculations. The remarkable absence of lawsuits in Shakespeare's company, for example, suggests harmonious personal loyalties. Chute's Shakespeare is a successful theatrical investor, an actor-writer who knows his craft, his company, and all the classes of his audience; he is also a householder who must remain aloof from his Stratford neighbors. Chute's imagination occasionally produces dubious assertions: from excuses for slow mail she contrives a lonely Stratford death for little Hamnet Shakespeare while his unknowing father tours the provinces. Generally, however, she offers her wide audience encyclopedic research with novelistic relish.

Chute had discovered her writing forte in Geoffrey Chaucer of England (1946), a popular literary biography growing ingeniously from her wide contextual research. Details of international diplomacy and wine trade reveal Chaucer's social status; of King Edward's courts, his audience's attitudes; and of the Romance of the Rose, his literary prototypes. Chute's commentaries are sound and feminist, alert to Chaucer's sympathy for faithless Criseyde, his bitterness in the Merchant's tale of courtly lust, and his portrait of marriage as loving partnership in the Franklin's tale. Chute's practical criticism and rich storytelling introduce Chaucer to a popular audience.

The artful scholarship that portrays Shakespeare or Chaucer as practical, friendly men of their times meets an obstacle in Ben Jonson of Westminster (1953). Chute describes Jonson's environment with entertaining detail—the lot of a poor scholar in Camden's school, the grim struggle of a soldier in the Low Countries, the controversial Elizabethan theater, and the Jacobean court where Jonson acted and wrote—but despite earnest diligence, she cannot quite approach her subject. She accepts Jonson's self-proclamation as dictator of a moral, truly classical English theater without acknowledging the dramatic inadequacies, classical misreadings, and sheer self-promotion. Though she has read Jonson's vituperative satires, she discounts their revelation of his bitter jealousy, vulgarity, and self-disgust. In Jonson's eulogy to Shakespeare—"He was not of an age but for all time"—Chute is so pleased to find practical friendship that she overlooks the triumph of critical acumen that makes his words a tribute to both men.

With Two Gentle Men: The Lives of George Herbert and Robert Herrick (1959), Chute turns her careful, sympathetic personality research to two rural poet-priests of the 17th-century Church of England, defining itself between reformation and civil war. With her usual understated style, Chute frames her subjects with the London and Cambridge of their early development and contrasts their difficult lives as country priests with their forsaken ambitions in politics and Jonsonian poetry. Though she interprets Herbert's struggling sacred colloquies and Herrick's classical imitations of country pleasures largely as biographical evidence, she gives a popular audience her sure grasp of historical context.

Throughout her writing career, Chute applied her investigative talents to reconstructions of events of biblical stories. The Search for God (1941) is a biblical commentary using the techniques of the New Criticism: by placing familiar lines of Scripture into their original contexts, she evokes the personalities of writers behind the words. Chute identifies the Genesis conflict of creative love with punishable sin as an ancient dissatisfaction with human ignorance of the God who would be found in Jesus, the teacher who overcame not only death but irritation with his slow-witted disciples. She initiates her study with Job, who sanctifies intellectual struggle with ecclesiastical authority. Adroit quotation and lucid style compensate for theological simplicity.

A sequel to this work, The End of the Search (1946), is a guide to the New Testament history of the early church. Chute emphasizes the Jewish tradition within Christian doctrine, practice, and factionalism. Her contextual approach allows her to overlook Paul's pharisaical admonitions to women and to admire his panegyric on love, but it gives her little help in decoding the mystic metaphors of Revelation. Chute begins and ends her biography of Jesus of Israel (1961) with messianic prophecies and conflates conflicting gospels to show the son of God as an orthodox, 1st-century Jew under Roman rule.

Chute's diligent, colorful scholarship releases a new historical subject from reverent myths in The First Liberty: A History of the Right to Vote in America, 1619-1850, which she abridged and updated for high school readers in The Green Tree of Democracy (1971). Her detailed colonial history links the hesitant growth of individual political responsibility to English tradition and capitalist expansion. Regressive property requirements dog every extension of the franchise, so Jefferson's radical Declaration of Independence wins grudging colonial approval chiefly as an access to French aid. Chute treats the suffrage of women and blacks as part of a ceaseless struggle of all citizens to achieve democratic identity.

Chute's many works for children include rhymes about city and country life and juvenile historical romances. In The Wonderful Winter (1954), a runaway young baronet joins Shakespeare's company for Romeo and Juliet. Because her plot line permits Chute to explore the London theater with a bright child's delight, its incredible coincidences are excusable. Chute summarizes Shakespeare's exciting plots in Stories from Shakespeare (1956), a reference work as useful for the young scholar as for the casual adult theatergoer. It is a convenient home reference book that stirs the general reader with an expert's knowledge.

With patient, observant discipline and imagination, Chute lovingly creates historical personalities from her library research, and, in a style that is gracious, gently humorous, unimpassioned, and lucid, presents them to general readers as sympathetic, lively souls concerned with the temporal and timeless issues of their own experience.

Other Works:

Rhymes About Ourselves (1932). Rhymes About the Country (1941). The Innocent Wayfaring (1943). Rhymes About the City (1946). An Introduction to Shakespeare (1951). Around and About (1957). "The Fun of Writing a Book" inBulletin of the New York Public Library (1957). The Worlds of Shakespeare (with E. Perrie, 1963). Rhymes About Us (1974).


Armor, J., "Bio-bibliography of Marchette Chute" (thesis, 1959). Dobbs, P. J., "Marchette Chute's Biographies: A Critical Analysis and Definition of Her Life-Writing Style" (thesis, 1974).

Reference Works:

CA (1962). CB (1950). Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography (revised edition, 1969). More Junior Authors (1963). SAA (1971). TCA: First Supplement (1955).

Other reference:

Marchette and B. J. Chute (videocassette, 1958).