Jerauld, Charlotte A(nn Fillebrown)
JERAULD, Charlotte A(nn Fillebrown)
Born 20 April 1820, Old Cambridge, Massachusetts; died 2 August 1845, Boston, Massachusetts
Also wrote under: Charlotte A. Fillebrown
Daughter of Richard and Charlotte Fillebrown; married J. W. Jerauld, 1843; children: one
The daughter of working-class parents, Charlotte A. Jerauld received her education in Boston's common schools. Although she left school at fourteen to work in a bookbindery, she read widely and was familiar with Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton, while particular favorites were Byron, Scott, and Wordsworth. Jerauld soon began to publish poetry in the Universalist magazine, the Ladies Repository, and later her work appeared in the annual Rose of Sharon. Not until 1841, however, did she start to publish her prose sketches—the real beginning of her literary life, as her editor Henry Bacon notes.
Jerauld had suffered for most of her life from "a determination of blood to the brain," but it seems likely that complications after the birth of her son (born late in July 1845 and dying on 1 August) as well as a severe postpartum depression (Bacon writes that within days of her child's birth she became "a raving maniac") contributed to her early death.
Jerauld's many letters to her close friend Sarah C. Edgarton Mayo reveal a sharp wit and sensitive eye for detail not often found in her poetry and abundant only in her later prose. This friendship produced dual poetic sequences and provided Jerauld with a confidant for the more personal reflections that were frequently absent from her published writings.
Jerauld's poetry does not reveal the increasing facility and acuity of her prose, but some of her efforts are clearly tighter and fresher than those of many of her contemporaries. Her subjects, forms, and themes are conventional, but the poems rise above the conventional when she assumes a voice different from her own (as in "The Meccas of Memory"), when she experiments with form ("No More" and "Isabel" echo Poe's rhymes and rhythms), or when she adheres to the discipline of a strict form (her sonnets are generally better than her other poems, and those she writes with Mayo on alternate lines of "The Lord's Prayer" are good poems). Thematically, her verse tends to be dull: She stresses heaven as a peaceful home where life's problems are resolved; longs nostalgically for a happy childhood that will never return; and bewails sentimentally life's tragedies—ill-fated lovers, general loss, and the cycles of nature.
Jerauld's early prose is much like her poetry; however, her later prose, as she moves away from heroines who die young and plots based on series of disasters, reveals a talented writer beginning to find herself. Her final prose sketches comprise two groups of tales—"Lights and Shadows of Woman's Life" and "Chronicles and Sketches of Hazelhurst." In the first group, Jerauld explores different women's lots. In each story the author uses a distinct tone—"Our Minister's Family" is essentially gay; "The Mother's Heart" is grim but relatively unsentimental; "The Irish Daughter-in-Law" is light and witty. Jerauld's concern with her characters' inner lives dominates these tales. In "The Mother's Heart," she examines the jealous and obsessive personality of Isabel Sommers, who is unable to have a child until her 12th year of marriage. In "Caroline," the protagonist becomes insane when forced to give up her daughter. Jerauld's characters also grow more realistic in appearance: Hannah in "The Auld Wife" is rustically attractive if not beautiful by the standards of the 1840s; thus, Jerauld notes her "well-developed figure, which gave ample evidence that it had never suffered from compression or whale-bone, or any other bones, save those which Nature had given her."
The conversational and intimate relationship Jerauld's narrator creates with the reader pervades the tales of the first group and becomes a unifying element in "Chronicles and Sketches of Hazelhurst." These connected stories prefigure in delicacy and tone Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs, as Jerauld's unsentimentally nostalgic speaker invites the reader to join her on a walking tour of the village and "to gossip…about people and events, past and present." Jerauld's final prose suggests she might have attained a high level of literary artistry.
Poetry and Prose by Mrs. Charlotte A. Jerauld, with a Memoir by Henry Bacon (1850).
Douglas, A., The Feminization of American Culture (1977). Mayo, S. C. E., Selections from the Writings of Mrs. Sarah C. Edgarton Mayo, with a Memoir by Her Husband (1849).
Daughters of America (1882).