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Eiker, Mathilde

EIKER, Mathilde

Born 5 January 1893, Washington, D.C.; died January 1982

Also wrote under: March Evermay

Daughter of John T. and Mattie Etheridge Eiker

The eldest of four children born to a chief clerk of engineers in the U.S. War Department and an Episcopalian of long American ancestry, Mathilde Eiker was reared in the embassy section of northwest Washington, D.C. After earning her B.A. from George Washington University in 1914, she published short stories pseudonymously with her father's encouragement, and in 1922 had a play accepted for production. From 1924 to 1926, Eiker taught in Washington but, disappointed with the public schools' misunderstanding of gifted children, she resigned after her first novel's success.

Mrs. Mason's Daughters (1925) portrays three bourgeois sisters freed by their mother's death from strict emotional restraints to realize their own natures. A devoted spinster joins a Catholic convent; a young mother wins a divorce; and F. Mason, high school teacher, leaves her well-disciplined class to become Fernanda, an unwed mother and successful restaurateur. Through Fernanda, Eiker studies the complex personality of the female teacher who deliberately arms her sensitivity against the thoughtless barbarities of children and adults. Eiker's accurate vignettes of a bickering Sunday supper or an obedient child's guilt at her classmates' deceit redeem clumsy plotting.

In The Lady of Stainless Raiment (1928), Eiker wittingly depicts the humor and anguish caused by fashionable social hypocrisy. Artist Julian Haldane, the pleased heir to a Washington mansion, idolizes an artful, aging Carolina belle and woos her artless granddaughter. Through glittering dimmer party dialogue and muted tone poems about women among flowers, Eiker contrasts two generations of self-centered ladies who demand a young man's worship. The ruthless dowager justifies her character with amused self-knowledge, but the literal-minded bride conscientiously sacrifices her chivalrous lovers to a false ideal of her own perfection.

Eiker plots The Brief Seduction of Eva (1932) like a tidy drawing room farce. Irked that her husband adores the details of patent law and substitutes a big, belated check for thoughtful birthday flowers, beautiful Eva welcomes an admirer whose suit is contrived by her amused sister-in-law. When her husband shows no jealousy. Eva abandons the lover, who elopes with her daughter. Eva shares more affection with her knowing sister-inlaw than with either of the men who have social forms for their commitments. The novel is Eiker's clever spoof on romantic love.

The Heirs of Mrs. Willington (1934) investigates a psychological legacy with the plot control of detective fiction. Forbidden remarriage by her husband's will, a bold dowager takes her chauffeur as her lover, guardian, and heir. At her death, three stepchildren discover they have lost their father's wealth; two grow vicious, but a third, Avis, shyly hires the chauffeur and overcomes her frigidity toward her husband. With polished style, Eiker dramatizes the vile pettiness and timorous love which deflect each other in a wealthy family.

Eiker's last psychological novel, Key Next Door (1937), portrays a successful woman writer. Safely ensconced in her family home, Agnes Thomason brings the nurse Ernestine, her close, jealous friend, through the anguish of betrayed love, but loses her to marriage with a wealthy employer. The object of Agnes's own controlled devotion is a printer strangled by domestic ties. Every character feels locked away from the ideal happiness next door. The printer's meditation on offices emptied by the Depression, or Agnes's on the fierce beauty of an airplane or a lion's roar, marks Eiker's best, suggestive style. Modern writers fail, Agnes says epigrammatically, because they write in first person or too easily explain behavior through economics.

As March Evermay, Eiker wrote three detective novels. Like British contemporaries, she minimizes brutality to emphasize motive and intellectual process. In They Talked of Poison (1938), scrupulous, sentimental Inspector Glover patiently solves a murder for a university seminar of expert suspects. In This Death Was Murder (1940), he explains three suspicious deaths despite the jealous quarrels and loyal deceptions of five sibling heirs. A final mystery, Red Light for Murder (1951), ended Eiker's writing career.

Eiker's novels explore the complexities of power, pettiness, love, and guilt in suburban American families. Eiker is so alert to the psychological suggestiveness in clothing, phrasing, furnishing, and eating that the domestic minutiae which reveal character almost overwhelm the lines of action. Careful to motivate every event, Eiker overplots her novels, but abandons their conclusions to awkward coincidences. Although she is a witty parodist of romantic love, Eiker prefers to represent seriously the restrained happiness of practical persons learning to abandon unmanageable ideals.

Other Works:

Over the Boat-Side (1927). Stranger Fidelities (1929). My Own Far Towers (1930). The Senator's Lady (1932).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

Authors Today and Yesterday (1934). TCA (1942).

Other references:

NR (29 April 1925). NYHTB (9 Oct. 1927). NYT (12 Aug. 1934). SR (1 Nov. 1930).

—GAYLE GASKILL

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