Jamison, Cecilia Viets

views updated

JAMISON, Cecilia Viets

Born 1837, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada; died 11 April 1909, Roxbury, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Mrs. C. V. Hamilton, Mrs. C. V. Jamison

Daughter of Viets and Elizabeth Bruce Dakin; married George Hamilton, circa 1860; Samuel Jamison, 1878

When Cecilia Viets Jamison was in her mid-teens, her family moved to Boston; she was educated in private schools in Canada, New York, Boston, and Paris. Her first ambition was to be an artist, and shortly after her first marriage she went to Rome to study art for three years. (What became of George Hamilton or of their marriage is unknown.) While in Rome, she met Longfellow, who encouraged her writing and arranged for the publication of her book, Woven of Many Threads (1872). Throughout her life, she pursued careers in both painting and writing.

Her second marriage was to a New Orleans lawyer. Her later novels take place in the South, and her use of this setting established her as a local-color writer. She attended the famous literary salon of Mollie Moore Davis in New Orleans, along with George Washington Cable and Lafcadio Hearn. Jamison contributed to Harper's, Scribner's, Appleton's Journal, St. Nicholas, and the Journal of American Folklore. After her husband's death in 1902, she returned to Massachusetts and remained there until her death.

Jamison's literary output can be divided into two groups: those works published in the 1870s, and those published in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Her earlier works were written for adults, and it is easy to find fault with them. Something to Do: A Novel (1871) begins as an interesting story of two sisters, Cecilia and Alice Wilding. They are well-educated women who must work for a living and, as they acknowledge, to give meaning to their lives. The Wildings' conversations with each other and with their suitors are lively discussions of women's rights, corrupt politicians, and Darwinism. Nonetheless, midway through the book, the story becomes bogged down in flowery prose and in a plot of lost loves, unrequited loves, and false loves. Cecilia's behavior epitomizes the erratic course of the plot as she continually changes her job, her whereabouts, and her identity in order to avoid her husband. His transgression (which prompts her behavior) seems minor in comparison to the agony suffered in the name of love.

Jamison seemed to find her sentimental tales better suited to the European continent, and most of her adult books are set on foreign soil. She was particularly fond of France (and French phrases); in A Crown from the Spear (1872), she seems intent on recreating Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The novel incorporates many of Hugo's conventions, characters, names, and settings; the end result, as Jamison admitted, is an "unsatisfactory endeavor." She is obsessed in her adult novels with maintaining a pure love between a man and a woman that by definition survives all calamities.

Jamison's last five works display considerable talent for children's literature. Her most popular work, Lady Jane (1891), was reprinted several times and was translated into French, German, and Norwegian. This tale about the adventures of an orphan girl, nicknamed Lady Jane, is both fantastic and believable. The plot and style of the story are much more restrained than in Jamison's earlier books, and Lady Jane's neighborhood friends in New Orleans are an engaging and lively set of people of all ages, races, and classes. Lady Jane resembles the protagonist of the well-known work by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886); although both books are well written, they now share the same problem: the story of a beautiful and pampered child who wins the approval and affection of everyone seems too sugary. Jamison's earlier works, whose plots prompt only yawns and pity, can be ignored. Her later works for children deserve a reappraisal.

Other Works:

Ropes of Sand, and Other Stories (1873). My Bonnie Lass (1877). The Lily of San Miniato: A Story of Florence (1878). The Story of an Enthusiast (1888). Toinette's Phillip (1894). Seraph, the Little Violiniste (1896). Thistledown (1903). The Penhallow Family (1905).


Reference works:


Other references:

Boston Transcript (13 April 1909). New Orleans Daily Picayune (13 April 1909). St. Nicholas (April 1894).