Gerould, Katharine Fullerton

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GEROULD, Katharine Fullerton

Born 6 February 1869, Brockton, Massachusetts; died 27 July 1944, Princeton, New Jersey

Daughter of Bradford M. and Julia Ball Fullerton; married Gordon H. Gerould, 1910; children: two

Educated at Miss Folsom's School and at Radcliffe College (B.A. 1900, M.A. 1901), Katharine Fullerton was a reader in English at Bryn Mawr from 1901 to 1910, when she married Gordon H. Gerould, the distinguished medieval scholar. They settled in Princeton, where he was teaching, and they had two children. For many years, Gerould an extremely successful woman of letters. In 1900 she won the Century prize for the best short story by an undergraduate, and throughout her career she wrote for Century, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Scribner's. In 1923 she lectured at Yale, in 1927 at the University of California at Berkeley. Her stories were included in The Best Short Stories of 1917, 1920, 1921, 1922, and 1925. Gerould's 1925 story, "An Army with Banners" appeared in The Fifty Best Short Stories, 1915-1939.

Gerould's essays perhaps deserve the obscurity which time brings to all but the very best of periodical literature; nor are the novels entirely successful. But it is unfortunate the stories, too, go now unnoticed. Gerould worked in the tradition of James, Wharton, Kipling, and Conrad, and her stories display a mastery of her craft.

Gerould was from an old New England family, and her attitudes were influenced by the clerical and academic puritanism of the privileged classes. In the essays her style is graceful, at times witty, always concrete and straightforward, but the too-frequent displays of snobbishness repel more than the genuine insights attract. She deplores the consequences of democracy, especially the state universities, and she finds Louisa Alcott's little women "under-bred." The best of Gerould's essays are in Hawaii (1916) and The Aristocratic West (1925). She is better with "scenes and impressions" than with criticism and arguments; she is more effective, finally, in fiction than in exposition.

Her talent for storytelling is apparent in the novels, for they contain memorable scenes and characters, even though they fail as a whole. The short stories, however, are a real achievement. Generally, they were praised for their power, sincerity, and realism. Some critics, not surprisingly, complained they offered no solution, had no "soul," but it is to the credit of the serious artist not to offer solutions where none are plausible. Gerould is honest in her examination of human nature and the human condition, as well as in her analyses of conduct.

Many of the stories hinge upon an act of sacrifice. A father, for example, rejects a unique opportunity for success and happiness for the sake of his son ("The Bird in the Bush"). There is no joy in the act; the mother reflects unhappily that the son, though loved, will not be the man his father is, that he is not, in short, worth the sacrifice. "Vain Oblations" and "The Great Tradition," similarly, demonstrate that great acts of self-sacrifice may be required of superior natures, even though virtue often goes unrewarded and suffering is not alleviated. The world of the stories is often harsh, and so are many of the characters; but there is tenderness, too, in "The Miracle" of Rosina Sayle's love for her stepchild, forced and conventional at first, spontaneous and genuine at last.

Most often Gerould's stories are of careful lives led in accordance with complex rules, or of difficult moral choices analyzed by intelligent and detached narrators. Her characters tend to be consistent and strong, whether good or evil. But she is also capable of writing about people who simply botch things, as does Sadie Lampson Chadwick in "Wesendonck." She attended what Gerould considers one of those deplorable state universities and she lacks "the constructive sense." Unable to cope with giving a dinner for an eminent visiting scientist—her general ineffectiveness is compounded by poverty and plain bad luck—she abruptly and without warning flees to her Midwestern home for a visit. Upon her return she gradually draws from her now uncommunicative husband the information that by her flight she delivered the coup de grace to his hope for advancement and thereby to her own hope for a better life.

Gerould is of historical interest as a successful woman writer and as an essayist whose work reflects the attitudes of a relatively small segment of early 20th-century society. By the mid-1930s, her work was regarded as dated. The stories, however, are another matter, for they are not dated. Their value is literary, and they should be better known.

Other Works:

The Great Tradition (1915). Vain Oblations (1915). A Change of Air (1917). Modes and Morals (1920). Lost Valley (1922). Valiant Dust (1922). Conquistador (1923). The Light That Never Was (1931). Ringside Seats (1937).


Sherman, S. P., "The Superior Class," in The Genius of America (1923).

Reference works:

NAW (1971). TCA, TCAS.


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Gerould, Katharine Fullerton

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