Corbett, Elizabeth Frances
CORBETT, Elizabeth Frances
Born 30 September 1887, Aurora, Illinois; died January 1981 Daughter of Richard W. and Isabelle Adkins Corbett
One of three children, Elizabeth Corbett grew up on the grounds of a Civil War veterans' home near Milwaukee where her father was a member of the staff. She received her B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Wisconsin in 1910. After her father's death in 1927, she and her mother moved to New York City.
Corbett has authored more than 50 novels. She has also written short stories, plays, and many articles. Her best known character is the spry octogenarian, Mrs. Meigs, who was introduced in 1931 in The Young Mrs. Meigs. The Mrs. Meigs novels deal with typical Corbett themes: the necessity of maintaining one's independence and the importance of overcoming obstacles such as ill health and onerous social demands. Mrs. Meigs appears as the central character in A Nice Long Evening (1933); she finds a love interest at 82 in Mrs. Meigs and Mr. Cunningham (1936) and marries him in Excuse Me, Mrs. Meigs (1943). The character's early life is treated in She Was Carrie Eaton (1938) and Mr. and Mrs. Meigs (1940).
Another series of novels concerns the residents of Mount Royal, a fictional small town in Illinois, and is set in the 19th century. The novels in this series include Mount Royal (1936), The Langworth Family (1937), Light of Other Days (1938), and Charley Manning (1939). Corbett has also written a number of stories for girls about the three Graper sisters and their family.
Corbett's novels provide pleasant, undemanding reading and offer an afternoon's diversion for a feminine audience. The conflict in her novels comes from family pressures and the difficulties of finding an appropriate mate in the white uppermiddle classes of the small Midwestern communities she describes. Though many of Corbett's novels were written and set during the Depression, the realities of poverty, work, violence, and lack of education receive little attention. The conventional roles of men and women in society are not challenged and conventional values are upheld.
Corbett's ingénues and heroines accept "a woman's life is spent waiting on men…. indeed a woman's life is best spent that way." And in turn, her male characters willingly take on the responsibilities of supporting wives and families. In The Constant Sex (1935) a woman of 32 frees herself from the serfdom of running a household for her six brothers to find happiness in marrying and reforming an irresponsible artist. Ingénues such as Elva in Mr. Underhill's Progress (1934) and Cecile in The Young Mrs. Meigs have nothing much to do after high school but wait for the young, brash, usually somewhat insouciant bridegroom Corbett is sure to provide.
If Corbett's young men and women tend to be indistinguishable from novel to novel, her middle-aged and older characters are highly individualized and presented with great sympathy and optimism. Charley Manning is drawn as an attractive and sympathetic figure, but Corbett cannot permit his adultery to go unpunished. This conflict generates a characterization more complex than her portrayals of younger people. In A Nice Long Evening Corbett presents the threat of Mrs. Meigs's blindness realistically and confronts the problems of old age with objectivity.
Corbett has written one volume of reminiscences about her early years at the national soldiers' home, Out at the Soldiers' Home (1941) and one autobiographical novel, The Red-Haired Lady (1945).
Cecily and the Wide World (1916). The Vanished Helga (1918). Puritan and Pagan (1920). Walt: The Good Gray Poet Speaks for Himself (1928). "If It Takes All Summer," the Life Story of Ulysses Grant (1930). The Graper Girls (1931). After Five O'Clock (1932). The Graper Girls Go to College (1932). Growing Up with the Grapers (1934). The House Across the River (1934). Beth and Ernestine Graper (1936). The Far Down (1939). The Queen's Holiday (1940). Faye's Folly (1941). Early Summer (1942). The Kimball Collection (1942). Golden Grain (1943). Lady with Parasol (1946). Immortal Helen (1948). Eve and Christopher (1949). The Duke's Daughter (1950). Portrait of Isabelle (1951). The Richer Harvest (1952). In Miss Armstrong's Room (1953). Family Portrait (1955). The Head of Apollo (1956). Professor Preston at Home (1957). The President's Wife (1958). Hamilton Terrace (1960). The Wainwright Inheritance (1960). Hidden Island (1961). The Paige Girls (1962). The Distant Princess (1963). The Heart of the Village (1963). Anniversary (1964). Lisa Kinnerley's Husband (1964). The Continuing City (1965). The Crossroads (1965). The Old Callahan Place (1966). Harry Martin's Wife (1967). Ladies' Day (1968). The Three Lives of Sharon Spence (1969). Hotel Belvedere (1970). Sunday at Six (1971).
Pfeifer, W. E., A Guide to the Collection of Elizabeth Corbett—A Milwaukee Author: Her Letters, Business Papers, Drafts of Stories, Manuscripts, Newspaper Clippings, and Photos (1980). Warfel, H. R., American Novelists of Today (1951).
NYHTB (10 June 1945). NYTBR (27 Sept. 1931, 17 Sept. 1939). TLS (20 May 1939).
—HEDDY A. RICHTER