Clarke, Rebecca Sophia
CLARKE, Rebecca Sophia
Born 22 February 1833, Norridgewock, Maine; died 16 August 1906, Norridgewock, Maine
Wrote under: Sophie May
Daughter of Asa and Sophia Bates Clarke
Rebecca Sophia Clarke, who as "Sophie May" delighted child readers for four decades, was educated at the Norridgewock (Maine) Female Academy and at home, where she had private tutors in Latin and Greek. Subsequently, she taught school for several years in Evansville, Illinois, until increasing deafness caused her to retire to her family home in Norridgewock.
Clarke quickly became a regular contributor to the Little Pilgrim (a juvenile magazine) and to the Congregationalist. Following the practice of the time, she then collected her periodical stories and republished them as series books. In the introduction to the first volume of Little Prudy stories (1863), she greets her young readers, saying, "You who have read of Prudy Parlin, in the Congregationalist and Little Pilgrim, and have learned to love her there, may love her better in a book by herself, with pictures."
Little Prudy was the first and title volume of Clarke's first series. Her second, and most popular, series was Dotty Dimple, which appeared from 1867 to 1869. Her other principal juvenile works include Little Prudy's Flyaway Series (1870-73), the Quinnebasset Series (1871-91), the Flaxie Frizzle Stories (1876-84), and Little Prudy's Children (1894-1901).
Clarke's greatest strength as a writer for children is her ability to create characters. Her children—some say they were modeled on family members or other residents of Norridgewock—are buoyant, natural, good-hearted, and often naughty. That is, realistic. Whether rationalizing their own naughty behavior by comparing themselves to friends, or suffering through the death of a friend, Clarke's children remain firmly grounded in reality. Their charm is, however, somewhat lessened for modern readers by Clarke's custom of having her young children use baby-talk in which, for example, "the respect of a friend" becomes "spec of a fend."
Along with other juvenile writers of her time, Clarke had a tendency to moralize. Although she clearly expects her children to be childishly irresponsible and lacking in understanding, she also lets them understand such behavior is not a part of responsible adult life. Children in her books are not expected to behave as adults, but it is also clear that adults will not be allowed to act like children. Responsible adults, usually parents, are obliged not only to demonstrate and train children in virtuous behavior but also to protect children from whatever danger their own thoughtlessness may bring to them.
In addition to her very successful juveniles, Clarke wrote adult novels in which pert and lively heroines are involved in highly romanticized plots. These novels, without exception highly moral, were thought to be appropriate reading for "middle" readers—those ready to graduate from juveniles to general novels.
Christmas Fairies (1860). The Doctor's Daughter (1871). Our Helen (1874). The Asbury Twins (1875). Honey (1878). Janet: A Poor Heiress (1882). A Christmas Breeze (1886). The Campion Diamonds (1897). Pauline Wyman (1898). Santa Claus on Snow Shoes, and Other Stories (1898).
American Authors: 1600-1900 (1938). American Women (1897). DAB (1929). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).
Boston Transcript (17 Aug. 1906). Kennebec Journal (18 Aug. 1906). Lewiston Journal (2 Feb. 1924).
—KATHARYN F. CRABBE