Born 5 December 1833, Boston, Massachusetts; died 10 September 1910, Matunach, Rhode Island
Daughter of Nathan and Sarah Everett Hale
The youngest of eight children, Susan Hale was born into a literary family. Her father and brothers were successively editors of the Boston Daily Advertiser. Her mother, a sister of Edward Everett, the well-known Unitarian clergyman, orator, author, and public official, was an author herself. Her sister Lucretia and her brother Edward Everett Hale were also writers.
Hale's education was conducted under various tutors until 1849, when she entered George B. Emerson's prestigious school. She began teaching in 1850, when her family was experiencing financial difficulties, and continued to teach for the next decade. At thirty-two, following the deaths of her father and mother, Hale began to experience a degree of independence. She took up painting and traveled extensively, making trips to Europe, Algiers, California, Mexico, and Jamaica in the next two decades. During the 1870s she began to travel around the country giving literary readings to women's groups.
Hale's published writings include the "Family Flight" series of travel books, coauthored with her brother, Edward Everett Hale. The travel books, such as The Story of Mexico (1889), authored solely by Hale, demonstrate an interest in the many strands that make up a national character. History, Hale apparently believed, is a continuous process, with the past always in part present in today. She sets the scene of her first view of Vera Cruz with the thought of Cortez looking over her shoulder.
Men and Manners of the Eighteenth Century (1898) appears to be her series of literary readings. No clear connections exist between its ten parts except the desire to know "what man was like in the century before our own." The writers she discusses—among them Pope, Charlotte Lennox, Addison, Richardson, Fielding, Goldsmith, and Anne Radcliffe—are frequently grouped with another writer, male or female, to show their relationship.
The section "Mrs. Radcliffe and Her Followers" is the best. In it she discusses Radcliffe's ability to describe places she had never been, noting "evidently she was a diligent reader, and wrote with the map before her." It is clear Radcliffe, the nontraveler, intrigued Hale, the traveler: "I imagine her sitting comfortably in London and writing about crags and ravines in Southern France without any real knowledge of landscape outside England."
The essay, however, contains far too many long quotations and apparently was intended to be read aloud to an audience totally unfamiliar with the work. The other sections suffer from the same fault—too much original text and too few ideas. The advantage of the author's unifying personality during an oral presentation is missing in the written text.
In his introduction to the edition of her letters, Edward Everett Hale attempts to assess the personality of "the real Susan." His assessment is contradictory. On the one hand, he writes of her restraint—"in her invariable sympathy and interest in others there was frequent reserve"—and suggests "her letters have rather more of her real self." On the other hand, he adds: "She wrote a good deal in various ways—sometimes travel-letters to the papers, sometimes books—but though there was a good deal of herself in these, they never impressed people as she did herself." Similar comments have been made about Margaret Fuller, a woman whose brilliance, it is claimed, was never captured for posterity.
Like Fuller, Hale's method and focus were dictated by the social structure—the nation in her books of travel and her interaction with her audience in her readings and with friends and family in her letters. But unlike Fuller, what is left is insubstantial, a husk, and the personality within has vanished.
A Family Flight Through France, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland (with E. E. Hale, 1881). A Family Flight Over Egypt and Syria (with E. E. Hale, 1882). A Family Flight Through Spain (with E. E. Hale, 1883). A Family Flight Around Home (with E. E. Hale, 1884). Life and Letters of Thomas Gold Appleton (1885). Self-Instructive Lessons in Painting (1885). A Family Flight Through Mexico (with E. E. Hale, 1886). The Story of Spain (with E. E. Hale, 1886). Young Americans in Spain (1899). Inklings for Thinklings (1919). Letters of Susan Hale (edited by C. P. Atkinson, 1919).
The papers of Susan Hale, part of the Hale Family Papers, are housed in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Atkinson, C. P., ed., Letters of Susan Hale (1919). Clement, C. E., and L. Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works (1879). Hale, E. E., Jr., The Life and Letters of Edward Everett Hale (2 vols., 1917).
AA. NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
—JULIANN E. FLEENOR