Hart, Frances Noyes
HART, Frances Noyes
Born 10 August 1890, Silver Springs, Maryland; died 25 October 1943, New Canaan, Connecticut
Wrote under: F. N. Hart, Frances N. Hart, Frances Newbold Hart
Daughter of Frank B. and Janet Newbold Noyes; married Edward H. Hart, 1921; children: two daughters
Born on a farm outside Washington, D.C., with tiger skins on the floors and books on the shelves, Frances Noyes Hart was sent to a number of different private schools in the U.S. and in Europe. Her father was a longtime president of the Associated Press and editor and proprietor of the Washington Star. A YMCA canteen worker in France and a translator with the Naval Intelligence Bureau from 1917 to 1919, Hart made use of the experience in her first popular work, My A.E.F.: A Hail and Farewell (1920). Hart and her husband, a lawyer, had two daughters. Her death at fifty-three was unexpected.
My A.E.F. was first published in McClure's magazine in 1919 and then in book form a year later. Written as a second-person narrative, the short tribute honors the average American serviceman but is critical of his ungratefulness to organizations like the YMCA, which served him abroad, and is doubly critical of forgetful and ignorant people on the home front after the war. Written with appealing detail, the book is moving but not grossly sentimental.
Following the publication of many short stories in Scribner's magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, the Ladies' Home Journal, and a collection of them titled Contact and Other Stories (1923), Hart became famous for The Bellamy Trial (1927), which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, published in book form, and later dramatized. According to Julian Symons, the original publication of this book marked the start of serialized novels replacing short crime stories as commercial articles. Based loosely on the sensational 1922 Hall-Mills murders in New Brunswick, New Jersey, for which Mrs. Hall and three others were brought to trial and acquitted five years later, the novel is set entirely in a smalltown courtroom during eight days of testimony in the trial of Susan Ives and Stephen Bellamy, accused of murdering Bellamy's wife. The point of view is primarily that of a writer reporting on the trial, reacting to its principals and its revelations. Reviewers in 1927 and today's readers alike agree The Bellamy Trial is entertaining, spirited, and clever.
Hart's subsequent mystery novels—Hide in the Dark (1929) and The Crooked Lane (1934)—while entertaining and suspenseful, do not have the interesting form of The Bellamy Trial. Combining love stories with intrigue, the two books are notable for their female murderers, who are simultaneously self-possessed, clever, and lovable. Hart's Pigs in Clover (1931, British title Holiday) is a travel record of a motor trip through France made by Hart and her husband; it is outstanding for its culinary descriptions.
In reply to an attack on women's popular literature, Hart wrote an article (Bookman, September 1921) that effectively summarized her literary philosophy. She contended that not only were female readers for the most part more open to contemporary literature than male readers of the time, but they also were more fully educated in cultural matters. Calling herself a "great reader and small writer," Hart defended not only the work of women writers such as Willa Cather and Zona Gale, but also the "women's magazine" and the popular forms in which some women's work was published.
It is clear Hart never thought of herself as a deep or profound writer. She was, however, widely educated, widely traveled, entirely competent with English prose, and excellent with the telling detail. Her stories and novels remain entertaining, sophisticated light reading.
Haycraft, H., Murder for Pleasure (1972). Symons, J., Mortal Consequences: A History from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (1972).
Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994). St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers (1996). TCA, TCAS.
NYT (26 Oct. 1943). PW (23 May 1931). Saturday Evening Post (28 Jan. 1928).
—CAROLYN WEDIN SYLVANDER