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Marks, Jeannette Augustus

MARKS, Jeannette Augustus

Born 16 August 1875, Chattanooga, Tennessee; died 15 March 1964, Westport, New York

Wrote under: Jeannette Marks

Daughter of William Dennis and Jeannette Colwell Marks

Jeannette Augustus Marks's father was president of the Edison Electric Light Company and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Marks studied in Dresden, Germany, and spent several summers in Wales before entering Wellesley College, Massachusetts, where she earned a B.A. in 1900 and an M.A. in 1903. Marks did postgraduate research in English literature at the Bodleian Library and the British Museum. For 38 years Marks taught poetry and drama courses at Mt. Holyoke College, Massachusetts, and she was chairwoman of its English department from 1921 to 1939.

Marks's love of nature and outdoor activity provided the impetus for several early books, such as Little Busybodies (1910) and Holiday with the Birds (1911), both of which offered children "a wholesome sugarcoating to a goodly array of scientific facts." The love of nature that inspired Vacation Camping for Girls (1913) also pervaded the poetry she published in numerous national magazines and in the collection Widow Pollen (1921). The romantic sincerity of these saccharine and technically clumsy poems is exemplified by the concluding lines of her long poem "Calendar": "I say the sun is a bee, a big bee, a burning bee, / I know !" Other poems, like the four-line "Work," are still more personal: "I told my heart that work must be / The only aim of life for me. / But oh! my heart cried, "Love, love, love!" / And wept bitterly."

Drawing upon the knowledge of Welsh peasant life she had gained while hiking in northern Wales, Marks published a collection of stories, Through Welsh Doorways, in 1909. Encouraged by playwright Edward Knoblock to try her hand at dramatizing them, Marks wrote her first three one-act plays. The Merry Merry Cuckoo is a simple dramatic statement about married love that has endured into old age. The husband, David, is dying, but he longs to hear once more the song of the cuckoo. Since it is too early for the cuckoo, his wife, Annie, practices its song and, despite the pastor's and the neighbors' admonitions against deceit, gives him his last happiness. The Deacon's Hat is a comedy in which a young woman, suspecting that the deacon has been helping himself to the groceries in her shop, forces him to sit by her fire until the butter he has hidden under his tall Welsh beaver hat begins to melt down onto his face. In Welsh Honeymoon, local folklore and superstition play a part in the reconciliation of a quarrelsome middle-aged married couple.

Without Marks's knowledge an acquaintance submitted two of the plays to the 1911 Welsh National Theatre competition. Although the prize had been planned for a full-length play, Marks's one-act plays were awarded first place. They were published in Three Welsh Plays (1917) and were also included in a later collection, The Merry Merry Cuckoo, and Other Welsh Plays (1927), along with four new one-act sketches: A Tress of Hair, Love Letters, Steppin' Westward, and Look to the End. Marks's plays were frequently produced by little theater groups and colleges in the U.S. and Great Britain. Marks also gave readings of them for literary and social clubs.

The Sun Chaser (1922), a full-length play, is set in an American frontier village near the Canadian border. The title character had once been a fine young man, a good husband and father. But the grasping village storekeeper has encouraged his weakness for drink to the point where he has lost all sense of responsibility and is obsessed with running after the setting sun each evening. The play builds in bathos until his devoted little daughter, attempting to bring him food, freezes to death in a Christmas-eve blizzard. Marks's motive in writing The Sun Chaser may be inferred from her next work, Genius and Disaster (1926), a critical examination of the effects of alcohol, opium, and laudanum on the writing of Poe, Coleridge, Swinburne, De Quincey, James Thomson, and Francis Thompson. The work contains some interesting passages of literary analysis, but it is largely unfocused and marred by florid rhetoric and sweeping generalizations.

Thirteen Days (1929) is about the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. The Family of the Barrett (1938) is a genealogical study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In 1928, Marks founded the Laboratory Theatre in Connecticut, and she was its director until 1941. From 1942 to 1947 she was chairwoman of the New York State branch of the National Women's Party.

Marks was an outstanding educator and a prolific writer of scholarly criticism, plays, short fiction, poetry, and books for children. Her best works are her one-act plays, which capture the quaint charm of Welsh character and customs.

Other Works:

The Cheerful Cricket (1907). The English Pastoral Drama (1908). The End of a Song (1911). Girl's Student Days and After (1911). Gallant Little Wales (1912). Leviathan (1913). Yellow Curtains (1913). Pandy Post (1914). The Doctor (1915). Early English Hero Tales (1915). Baronet and the Baby (1916). Glow Man (1916). Children in the Wood Stories (1919). Courage (1919). Madame France (1919). Goeffrey's Window (1921). The Life and Letters of Mary Emma Woolley (1955).

Bibliography:

Mayorga, M., Representative Plays by American Authors (1920).

Reference works:

NCAB. TCA. TCAS.

—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ

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