Coatsworth, Elizabeth Jane

views updated

COATSWORTH, Elizabeth Jane

Born 31 May 1893, Buffalo, New York; died August 1986

Daughter of William T. and Ida Reid Coatsworth; married Henry Beston, 1929

After attending Buffalo Seminary, Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in 1915, and earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1916. She was later granted two honorary degrees: Litt.D. (University of Maine, 1955) and L.H.D. (New England College, 1958). Following her years at college, Coatsworth traveled widely and came to know such countries as England, France, China, Egypt, and Mexico "as a leisurely visitor, not as a tourist."

In 1931 Coatsworth was awarded the Newbery Medal for fiction, and in 1967 the Golden Rose Award of the New England Poetry Club. In 1968 she was the first runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and also earned the Maine Arts and Science Award.

Coatsworth has written for both children and adults, but all her novels and verses are notable for their poetic charm and lucidity of style. Grown-ups can take pleasure in reading such charming tales as The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1939), and young people can understand the subtle lesson of Silky, An Incredible Tale (1953). Many of her stories for children have historical settings and involve actual historic figures: Boston Bells (1952) and Old Whirlwind; a Story of Davy Crockett (1953) are two examples.

Invariably, Coatsworth's books for young readers drew praise from reviewers who spoke of her "excellent character development and realistic dialogue." One critic makes the general statement that "the books of Elizabeth Coatsworth are remarkable for their evocative period and regional sense as well as immediacy of action."

Again and again Coatsworth was praised for her graceful style and the poetic quality of her prose. Edmund Fuller, reviewing Silky, An Incredible Tale, says "as with all Miss Coatsworth's work, it is a poet's book, mystic, delicate, lovely." He goes on to explain how Coatsworth has "created a rich, fresh medium that is at once original and yet the revival of a tradition neglected or distorted in this material age." Readers also praise the accuracy of her historical data and the vividness of her descriptions.

Through everything Coatsworth writes breathes a love of living, an ever-fresh appreciation of nature and children, a real compassion for men and women who suffer, and a delight in those who rise above their suffering. There is no taint of solemn moralizing, only an implied lesson that human beings are capable of conquering the obstacles that circumstances put before them. Coatsworth's work is an excellent example of what is best and most wholesome in American writing.

Other Works:

Fox Footprints (1923). Atlas and Beyond (1924). Compass Rose (1929). The Cat and the Captain (1930). The Golden Horseshoe (1935). Sword of the Wilderness (1936). Alice-all-by-herself (1937). Five Bushel Farm (1939). The Fair American (1940). Country Poems (1942). Country Neighborhood (1944). Maine Ways (1947). Summer Green (1948). South Shore Town (1948). Here I Stay; The Enchanted (1951). Night and the Cat (1950). Mountain Bride (1951). Dollar for Luck (1951). The Sod House (1954). The Sally Series, beginning with Away Goes Sally; Horses, Dogs and Cats (1957). Poems (1957). The White Room (1958). The Peaceable Kingdom (1958). The Cave (1958). Indian Encounters (1960). Lonely Maria (1960). Desert Dan (1960). The UNICEF Christmas Book (1960). The Noble Doll (1961). Ronnie and the Chief's Son (1962). The Princess and the Lion (1963). Jock's Island (1963). Cricket and the Emperor's Son (1965). The Secret (1965). The Hand of Apollo (1965). The Sparrow Bush (1966). The Fox Friend (1966). The Place (with H. Beston, 1966). Chimney Farm Bedtime Stories (1966). Maine Memories (1968). Bess and the Sphinx (1968). Light-house Island (1968). George and Red (1969). Indian Mound Farm (1969). Grandmother Cat and the Hermit (1970). Good Night (1972). The Wanderers (1972). Daisy (1973). Pure Magic (1973). All of a Sudden Susan (1974). Marra's World (1975). Personal Geography: Almost an Autobiography (1994).


Sturges, F. M., Elizabeth Coatsworth Beston: A Tribute (1978).

Reference Works:

The Junior Book of Authors (1951).

Other reference:

Horn Book (1936, May 1951). KR (1 Feb. 1951). NYHTB (20 May 1951). NYT (12 Nov. 1950).