Dorr, Julia (Caroline) Ripley

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DORR, Julia (Caroline) Ripley

Born 13 February 1825, Charleston, South Carolina; died 18 January 1913, Rutland, Vermont

Wrote under: Julia C. R. Dorr, Caroline Thomas

Daughter of William Y. and Zulma Thomas Ripley; married Seneca M. Dorr, 1847

Julia Ripley Dorr's mother's family fled from Santo Domingo to the U.S. during a slave uprising. Her father was a bank president, and she spent most of her formative years in Vermont receiving her education there at Middlebury Seminary. Dorr enjoyed the friendship of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others. She was a founder of the Rutland Library, and received a Litt.D. from Middlebury College in Vermont.

Dorr's first novels, Farmingdale (1854), Lanmere (1856), and Sibyl Huntington (1869), deal with young women living in New England villages who are subject to a grinding routine of home chores. These novels are noteworthy for their realistic depiction of family bitterness and the round of household activities: tubs filled with laundry, milk pans to be scalded, rag rugs to be pieced, work baskets piled with mending. Each novel contains pointed discussions on books, learning, literature, and libraries, offered as the heroines' reprieve from woman's toil.

Expiation (1873) views domestic tragedy from the stance of a neighborly female narrator who is middle-aged, tranquil, unmarried. The plot involves hereditary insanity, its concealment by a young wife, an adolescent son's attempt to kill his mother, a coffin that yields up its supposed corpse. Gothic horrors come to light amidst the beauties of the Vermont countryside, descriptions of which Dorr excels in: the riot of green, the meadows and uplands, brawling trout streams, the barefoot boy and the singing thrush, wild roses and honeysuckles under a sapphire sky.

Dorr's poetry appeared in newspapers and magazines such as Scribner's, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, and Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art. Her poems were anthologized in Emerson's Parnassus (1874), and Stedman's An American Anthology (1900). Dorr experimented with a variety of forms—narratives, dramatic monologues, patriotic and war verses, historic celebrations, sonnets, hymns, and ballads.

Poems (1872) includes themes of women's isolation or loss ("Vashti's Scroll"), a lament by a fallen queen ("Elsie's Child"), and prayers and poems about death. A book lover, Dorr acknowledges in "My Friends" the influence of authors from Dante and Shakespeare to the Brontës and Mrs. Browning. "The Cherry Tree" introduces the recurrent theme that maturity is richer, more resonant than youth. The titles of Dorr's subsequent poetry volumes reflect this view: Afternoon Songs (1885), Afterglow (1900), Beyond the Sunset (1909).

Dorr's travel books are companionable, anecdotal, and historically informative. Bermuda appeared in 1884. The Flower of England's Face; Sketches of English Travel (1895) takes the reader from Wales to Scotland with a long stop at Haworth to collect firsthand reminiscences about the Brontës. A Cathedral Pilgrimage (1896) revels in rustic gardens, chapels, spires, "ruined arches, forsaken courts open to all the sky, and columns ivy-grown and lichen clad." It imaginatively recreates medieval life and recounts legends of martyrs and warriors.

Despite Dorr's dislike of suffering women poets as expressed in Farmingdale, she was not able to keep lachrymose strain out of her own last works. Her poetic diction includes the formalized lyrical utterance of her shorter poems, as well as the colloquial forthrightness of her dramatic monologues. The same chatty directness is evident in her books of travel and advice, and recalls the vigor of her early domestic novels. Her interest in family problems arising from cruelty, pride, or error enters into her narrative poems. Like many women poets of her time, she tended to give them exotic, medieval, Germanic, or oriental settings; however, the regional locales of her New England fiction bestow a more enduring value on her portrayals of family life.

Other Works:

Bride and Bridegroom (1873). Friar Anselmo and Other Poems (1875). Poems (1892). The Fallow Field (1893). In Kings' Houses; A Romance of the Days of Queen Anne (1898). Poems, Complete (1901). Last Poems (1913). W.Y.R. A Book of Remembrance


Baym, N., Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870 (1978). Carleton, H., Genealogy and Family History of Vermont (1903). Crockett, W. H., Vermont the Green Mountain State (1921). Morse, J. J., ed., Life and Letters of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1896). Ripley, H. W., Genealogy of a Part of the Ripley Family (1867). Stedman, L., and G. M. Gould, eds., Life and Letters of E. C. Stedman (1910).

Reference works:

American Authors: 1600-1900 (1938). American Women (1897). DAB (1929).