Embury, Emma (Catherine) Manley

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EMBURY, Emma (Catherine) Manley

Born 1806, New York, New York; died 10 February 1863, New York, New York

Wrote under: Emma C(atherine) Embury, Ianthe

Daughter of James Manley; married Daniel Embury, 1828

After her marriage to Daniel Embury, president of the Atlantic Bank of Brooklyn, Emma Embury lived in Brooklyn the rest of her life. She established a salon and published tales, poems, and essays in prodigious quantity. Embury's work appeared in the leading popular magazines of the day for a period of years, and she was on the editorial staff of Godey's, Graham's, and Ladies' Companion. In 1848 a serious illness ended her writing career and rendered her an invalid the rest of her life.

Embury's first collection, Guido: a Tale; Sketches from History and Other Poems (1828), contains some of her more interesting poetry, as well as much which is conventional in rhyme, subject matter, and expression. Poems with titles such as "Love," "Absence," "Friendship," and "I Loved Thee Not" reflect Embury's adherence to the standard rhyme schemes and idealized sentiments of her day. At times, however, especially when her narrative skill comes to her aid, her poems can command respect. Although hampered by its inflexibly rhymed couplets and stereotyped "pale and shrunken" poet-protagonist, Guido captures the attention. The occasional variation of the rhyme pattern and the sometimes moving, sometimes exasperating story of Guido's unrequited love for the beautiful Floranthe overcome the poem's defects.

Unrequited love and silent suffering are two of Embury's favorite themes; they are also in evidence in the other interesting experimental work in this collection, the "Sketches from History." Generally in the form of a monologue and preceded by an explanatory headnote, these poems often have a power and vitality not found in her more abstract ones. "Jane of France" records that queen's cry of despair when her husband divorces her and she hears "the harsh decree that robbed her of a throne." "Scenes in the Life of a Lover" are scenes in the life of Henry Percy, lover of Anne Boleyn. Embury often does her best work when she takes on a male persona or when a man is the protagonist, as occurs in this successful poem.

Embury was well known for her poetry, but her best work is in her tales and short stories. The collection Constance Latimer, or the Blind Girl, with Other Tales (1838) contains some energetic and compelling prose, although the title story is not one of Embury's best efforts. Her abilities are better displayed in two shorter tales from the collection, "The Son and Heir" and "The Village Tragedy." Her use of male protagonists provide her with a range of emotions and actions she seems unable to allow her women.

Two other collections of short stories were published during Embury's lifetime—Pictures of Early Life, or Sketches of Youth (1830) and Glimpses of Home Life, or Causes and Consequences (1848). These stories demonstrate the same strengths and weaknesses as her earlier ones. Unrequited love, silent suffering of various kinds, and the moral lessons to be learned when material wealth departs, are her most persistent themes, generally presented in a conventional manner. Her description and characterization of women is essentially drawn from one conventional model, that of the blond, pale, liquid-eyed maiden, causing a certain lack of distinction among her heroines. At times, Embury suggests to the reader that she is capable of portraying a wider range of characters and situations. "Flora Lester," for example, a story about a reformed belle, provides some tantalizing hints that Embury understood human behavior better than she generally cared to reveal.

The Poems of Emma Catherine Embury (1869) and Selected Prose Writings of Mrs. Emma Catherine Embury (1893) were published posthumously. The latter is notable chiefly for Embury's essay on American literature, which pleads for financial support for artists so America may have "a literary class in society and a national literature." Embury's "Female Education," an 1831 address, was published in Anna C. Brackett's Woman and the Higher Education (1893). Although Embury is a proponent of education for women, she attacks Wollstonecraft and other feminists and finds education's benefits to be in creating the best mothers possible. In this, Embury is typical of a time when women writers were exalting and perpetuating the values and ideas that limited them most. Nevertheless, in her work Embury at times goes beyond the restrictions of her culture.

Other Works:

American Wild Flowers in Their Native Haunts (1845). Love's Token Flowers (1845). The Waldorf Family, or Grandfather's Legend (1848).


Griswold, R. W., The Female Poets of America (1848). Poe, E. A., article in Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book (Aug. 1846). Rollins, J. A., Mrs. Emma C. Embury's Account Book: A Study of Some of Her Periodical Contributions (1947).

Reference works:

American Authors, 1600-1900 (1938). Cyclopedia of American Literature (1855). DAB (1934).

Other references:

Catherine Graham's Magazine (Aug. 1843).


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