Kelly, Eleanor Mercein
KELLY, Eleanor Mercein
Born 30 August 1880, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; died 11 October 1968, Louisville, Kentucky
Daughter of Thomas R. and Lucy Schley Mercein; married Robert M. Kelly Jr., 1901
Eleanor Mercein Kelly was born into a prominent and wealthy family of Scottish French ancestry. After a childhood in Milwaukee, she graduated with honors in 1898 from the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation in Washington, D.C. After her marriage, she settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Kelly's first novel, Toya the Unlike (1913), was not well received by the critics, but she followed this failure with a trilogy of novels depicting life in Kentucky: Kildares of the Storm (1916), Why Joan? (1918), and The Mansion House (1923).
After this apprenticeship, Kelly wrote her most successful novels, another trilogy, this time set in the Basque country of Spain. Basquerie (1927), considered by most critics as her best novel, chronicles the romantic adventures of Emily Weldon, a frivolous flapper who meets her true love in Esteban Urruty, a Basque nobleman. Kelly perpetuates those popular romantic stereotypes of the wealthy suitor disguised as a poor man, the strong-willed woman tamed by the dominating man, and the ennobling effect of childbearing on the flighty heroine. Basquerie, like her previous works, also explores the destructive effects of jealousy and suspicion on a marriage. The two other novels in the trilogy, The Book of Bette (1929) and Nacio, His Affairs (1931), concern the adventures of Esteban's younger sister and brother, both of whom figure in Basquerie.
Kelly wrote one biographical study, The Chronicle of a Happy Woman: Emily A. Davison (1928), but the majority of her works are romantic "women's fiction," set in such exotic locales as Syria, Ragusa, Corfu, and Moorish Africa. During the 1940s, she continued to travel throughout the world and wrote travel tales for a number of publications, including the Ladies' Home Journal, Collier's, and the Saturday Evening Post.
Kelly returned to novel writing with Richard Walden's Wife (1950). Dedicated to her grandparents and based on family diaries, the novel is a family saga of settlers in Wisconsin during the late 1850s. The chief characters are Walden and his spirited wife, Aurora Fairmont, an archetypal Southern belle; the couple's estrangement is brought about by divided loyalties during the Civil War and by jealousy and suspicion. Overly sentimental, the novel nonetheless presents a vivid portrait of the ambivalence inherent in the woman who would play the Southern belle role. As a popular woman writer, writing primarily for women, Kelly's strength lies in depicting a wide variety of strong women who engage her readers' interest and concern.
Arabesque (1930). Spanish Holiday (1930). Sea Change (1931). Sounding Harbors (1935). Mixed Company (1936). Proud Castle (1951).
—DIANE LONG HOEVELER