Davis, Mollie Moore
DAVIS, Mollie Moore
Born Mary Evelyn Moore, 12 April 1852, Talladage, Alabama; died 1 January 1909, New Orleans, Louisiana
Also wrote under: Mrs. M. E. M. Davis, Mollie Evelyn MooreDavis, Mollie E. Moore
Daughter of John and Marian Crutchfield Moore; married Thomas E. Davis, 1874
An only daughter in a family of nine children, Mollie (née Mary) Moore Davis grew up in rural Alabama and on a plantation near San Marcos, Texas, which later provided rich material for her poetry and fiction. In 1860 her first poems appeared in the local newspaper, the Tyler (Texas) Reporter. Between 1861 and 1865, her poetry, inspired by the Civil War, was printed in the Reporter and a number of Southern newspapers. During the 1880s, Davis turned increasingly to the writing of fiction for publication in national literary magazines.
Davis' more popular poems typify her musical, energetic versification and skillful handling of rhyme. A number of poems after 1869 suggest a shift in her interests from short lyrics to narratives and monologues, such as "The Golden Rose," "The Ball (A True Incident)," and "Eleanor to Arthur," which is possibly autobiographical.
In War Times at La Rose Blanche (1888), her first book of prose and her best-known work, is a semiautobiographical story sequence, which now, however, appears superficial. Under the Man-Fig (1895), Davis' first and most fully realized novel, is a Southwestern tale of mystery and romance that reveals her fascination with the past. The intricate plot, characteristic of all her novels, involves a wide spectrum of characters spanning several generations and every social class in a small Texas town. The work is most effective in its deft use of regional dialect, historical detail, and humorous characters.
An Elephant's Track, and Other Stories (1897) serves as a sampler of Davis' work in short fiction, in which she is technically at her best. This volume contains 15 stories depicting rural Texas folk, Louisiana Creoles, and plantation blacks. Among the more memorable are "A Bamboula," and "The Love Stranche," which delve into the mysterious world of voodoo, and "At La Glorieuse" and "The Soul of Rose Dédé," which treat ghosts as an everyday reality. Davis' achievement in the stories lies in her subtle handling of regional settings, faithful rendering of rural mores, and vivid delineation of the different socioeconomic levels of Southern society.
The Wire Cutters (1899), a novel set primarily in a rural Texas community, is reminiscent of the work of Charles Dickens in its ingenious plot complications and numerous secret identities. This work contains Davis' most controversial subjects—divorce and physical abuse in marriage—and her most complex characterizations, particularly of women who, though entangled in some stock situations, emerge convincingly as strong individuals. Concerned with the struggle against the fencing in of pasture lands and water sources, The Wire Cutters reflects Davis's interest in Texas history. Texas history was also the subject of Under Six Flags:The Story of Texas (1897), a simple rendering of Texas history with an emphasis on the dramatic human dimensions. An untechnical, well-written book for young readers, it was used previously in Texas schools and reissued in 1953.
New Orleans Creole society inspired two of Davis' major works, The Little Chevalier (1903), a historical novel regarded as her best, and The Price of Silence (1907), her most popular novel. Set in the French Louisiana territory of the mid-18th century, The Little Chevalier is an adventure story of intrigue and love on a grand scale. It realistically depicts the manners and milieu of the early Creoles. The Price of Silence focuses on a Creole family in contemporary New Orleans whose surviving matriarch guards a family secret. Davis effectively portrays the attitudes, activities, and speech of the upper-class French Creoles, but her treatment of the theme of miscegenation is weak in conception and execution.
Equally adept at portraying Texas or Louisiana, plantation or city, Davis is exact in locating her work in time, and faithful to contemporary conditions of dress, travel, worship, and entertainment. She has a discerning eye for visual details and paints accurate pictures of background scenes, natural landscapes, and physical appearance of characters, though her tendency is toward the more appealing details. Her skillful use of local flora, in particular the lush flowering plants of the Southwest, creates a convincing verisimilitude, despite her melodramatic plots which overemploy coincidence and improbable turns of events. Her painstaking attention to exteriors does not compensate for her seeming avoidance of much beneath the surface in human beings and personal interactions, and this is perhaps why her work lacks vitality. Yet Davis is an engaging storyteller whose romances and adventures consistently hold the reader's attention.
Minding the Gap and Other Poems (1867). Poems By Mollie E. Moore (1869). Poems by Mollie E. Moore (1872). A Christmas Masque of Saint Roch; Pére Dagobert (1896). Throwing the Wanga (1896). The Queen's Garden (1900). Jaconetta: Her Love (1901). Tulane Songs (1901). The Mistress of Odd Corner (1902). The Yellow Apples (with P. Stapleton, 1902). A Bunch of Roses, and Other Parlor Plays (1903). A Bunch of Roses (1907). Christmas Boxes (1907). A Dress Rehearsal (1907). His Lordship (1907). The New System (1907). Queen Anne Cottages (1907). The Flagship Goes Down: A Broadside Poem (1908). The Moons of Balcanca (1908). Selected Poems by Mollie Moore Davis (1927). The Ships of Desire (1955). Ode to Texas: Written for the Occasion of the Ladies' Bazaar for the Benefit of San Jacinto Battle Ground (n.d.).
Anderson, J. Q., "Notes on Mary Moore Davis," in LaS (Summer 1962). Davidson, J. W., The Living Writers of the South (1896). Wilkenson, C., "The Broadening Stream: The Life and Literary Career of Mary E. Moore Davis" (dissertation, 1947).
DAB (1909). The Library of Southern Literature (1909). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).
Texas Monthly (April 1930).
—THADIOUS M. DAVIS