Higham, Mary R

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Born circa 1850; died death date unknown

Verified biographical information on Mary R. Higham is unavailable, but it is likely she was born sometime around 1850 and was a Northerner.

In addition to works of juvenile literature, Higham published several novels in which initially impetuous young women learn to bend their wills to the men they will ultimately marry. The process by which Higham's heroines change on their way to the altar most often goes hand in hand with religious conversions or missionary zeal.

In Cloverly (1875), rash Barbara Fox learns to read Thomas à Kempis and to like parish work, at Reverend Aymar's instigations, before she weds the clergyman. The heroine of Agatha Lee's Inheritance (1878) is led, with frequent reference by seminarian Paul Endicott to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, to pledging her monetary resources to further Christian foreign missions, at which point Paul finally proposes. The Other House (1878) charts the love affairs of the Gallantin sisters, one of whom sweetly supports her family until she marries a clergyman, while her younger sister rages against a doctor until she sees and participates in his Christian witness to the poor. Athol's (1873) Atholinda Derwint spends six months in a convent before seeking out, nursing, and marrying her guardian, a Civil War amputee burdened with a secret past and mercurial moods.

Higham's heroines advance toward matrimony at an irregular pace that is keyed directly to their spiritual development. They cannot be wives until they have subordinated themselves to divine will as manifested in their immediate circumstances, and Higham describes divine power in terms of the limitations that it places upon humans' freedom and sense of control of their own lives. Her heroines are uniformly women who chafe under restraint only to the point where they adapt to their restrictions, so they view and proclaim them not as curbs on their freedom but rather as necessary bridles on their sinful natures. Accordingly, the heroines find themselves in the roles of perpetual daughters and children.

Higham's novels allow for temporary assertiveness and rebellion on the part of her heroines, but all, like Athol, come around to acknowledging the "manly vigor that one instinctively liked and recognized as superior." These women are thus portrayed as marrying older men who are often explicitly father figures or implicitly spiritual fathers. The "unmitigated slavery of childhood" is an ongoing process, as Higham portrays it with considerable irony, for her heroines never progress beyond the state of being constantly instructed, chastised, and led to what their future spouses paternalistically feel is best for them.

Higham's novels, while they are typical of the period in their somewhat florid style, are atypical with respect to both the irony the author injects into her treatments of the subjection of young women and her subtle indictment of a society choosing to ignore in women the active qualities it values in its males. The novels thus chart and underscore, through their negative portrayal of the role of bright women in the mid-19th century, the need for social change; for while Higham's plots affirm the current order, her most vividly crafted characters and her own authorial intrusions do not.


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Higham, Mary R

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