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French, Anne Warner

FRENCH, Anne Warner

Born 14 October 1869, St. Paul, Minnesota; died 3 February 1913, Dorset, England

Wrote under: Anne French, Anne Richmond Warner French, Anne Warner

Daughter of William P. and Anna Richmond Warner; married Charles E. French, 1888

Anne Warner French's paternal and maternal family roots could be traced back to Massachusetts in the 1630s. French was educated at home by her mother, a clever, widely read woman, and a French tutor. During her childhood she associated almost entirely with adults, and in the quiet scholarly atmosphere imposed by her father, she developed a love of reading and self-expression.

At the age of eighteen, French married a Minneapolis flour manufacturer who was 25 years her senior. Four years later, after the death of her infant daughter, she began her literary career by compiling a genealogy—An American Ancestry (1894)—for her son, Charles.

French traveled to Europe in 1901 to experience firsthand the places she had read about. She spent two years in Tours, France, with her two children and published His Story, Their Letters (1902). French returned to St. Paul in 1903, but finding it difficult to write there, she chose to live in Europe for the rest of her life, making several brief visits to America. She published novels and several collections of short stories.

In His Story, Their Letters, an unnamed young man recounts the conversations of himself and a young woman, identified as A., over several days as they walk through Tours. They flirt, finally declare their love, and talk of marriage before he gets a telegram stating he must come home because his father has lost the family fortune in the stock market. They promise to write, but while he is on the way home he gets word his father has made another fortune and decides to marry a girl he has met on the boat. Meanwhile, A.'s cousin returns from a trip to Russia and she marries him. They both decide not to write to each other, and their story ends.

A Woman's Will (1904) tells the story of a young American widow traveling through Europe who is courted by a German musical genius. In The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary (1905), Mary Watkins disinherits her carefree nephew Jack after he is expelled from college for the second time. In an effort to reestablish himself in his aunt's good graces (and in her will), Jack and his friends escort Aunt Mary around town. She is grateful for having discovered there is more to life than her old farm; Jack is reinstated and able to marry his true love. As was true with His Story, Their Letters, the dialogue in both A Woman's Will and The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary is bright, charming, and humorous.

In 1904 French published Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop. Susan Clegg's homely humor was a great success, prompting French to write four more collections of Susan Clegg stories. Each of the stories is a series of conversations in which Susan relates the local gossip and the adventures and misadventures of the other residents of the town to her friend Mrs. Lathrop, who spends most of her time asleep in her rocking chair. Although the plots and characterizations in these stories are slight, they are original and amusing, and the dialogue is especially well written.

French excelled at writing light novels that successfully blended comedy with a satisfying love story, and A Woman's Will and The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary are excellent examples of her work. French's Susan Clegg stories are a refreshing contribution to American humorous literature.

Other Works:

Seeing France with Uncle John (1906). Susan Clegg and Her Love Affairs (1906). Susan Clegg and Her Neighbors' Affairs (1906). Susan Clegg and a Man in the House (1907). An Original Gentleman (1908). The Panther: A Tale of Temptation (1908). Seeing England with Uncle John (1908). In a Mysterious Way (1909). Your Child and Mine (1909). Just Between Themselves: A Book About Dichtenberg (1910). Susan Clegg, Her Friend and Her Neighbors (1910). How Leslie Loved (1911). When Woman Proposes (1911). The Gay and Festive Claverhouse: An Extravaganza by Anne Warner (1914). Sunshine Jane (1914). The Taming of Amaretti: A Comedy of Manners (1915). The Tigress (1916). My Name is Masak (reissue, 1992). The Restless Nomad (1992).

Bibliography:

Rushton, L. E., "The Arkansas Fiction of Alice French" (thesis, 1988). Tigges, S. A. H., "Alice French, A Noble Anachronism" (thesis, 1988). Warner, L. C., and J. G. Nichols, The Descendants of Andrew Warner (1919).

Reference works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

—DOMENICA BARBUTO

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