Murfree, Mary (Noailles)

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MURFREE, Mary (Noailles)

Born 24 January 1850, Murfreesboro, Tennessee; died 31 July 1922, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Wrote under: Charles Egbert Craddock, R. Emmet Dembury

Daughter of William L. and Fanny Dickinson Murfree

Born at the family plantation, Mary Murfree was the daughter of a lawyer and author and a mother whose love of music greatly influenced the family. Illness at the age of four left Murfree with permanent lameness. In 1855 Murfree spent the first of 15 summers at Beersheba Springs in the Cumberland Mountains, which she fictionalized as New Helvetia Springs. Soon the family moved to Nashville, where Murfree and her sister Fanny were educated at the Nashville Female Academy. After the Civil War, which the family spent in Nashville, Murfree continued her education at Chegary Institute in Philadelphia, a French finishing school.

Murfree's writing career began in earnest with the publication of "The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove" in the Atlantic Monthly (May 1878) under the pseudonym Charles Egbert Craddock. Murfree's mountain fiction was very well received; by 1885, when The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains was being serialized, her popularity had led to increased speculation about the author's identity, and the sensation following its revelation gained Murfree invaluable publicity.

Although the modern reader may find Murfree's decorous mountain fiction more romantic than realistic, and may be bored by the lack of individualization in her characters, contemporary readers were fascinated by the minute detail, often gleaned through research, with which she portrayed people and their activities. The dominant feature of Murfree's earlier work is the mountains themselves. The juxtaposition of florid prose with dialect is probably its weakest trait.

In spite of Murfree's desire for realism, her characters tend to be stereotypes. Most of the young "mountain-flower" girls, such as Cynthia Ware in "Drifting Down Lost Creek" and Clarsie Giles in "The 'Harnt' that Walks Chilhowee," are almost indistinguishable. "Harnt," probably Murfree's best-known work, is notable for its theme of the superiority of mountain life.

Murfree's greatest achievement is her first volume of stories, In the Tennessee Mountains (1884), with its emphasis on the picturesque details of regional life. Her stories appealed to the awareness of sectional differences that had been heightened by the Civil War, as the popularity of this volume indicates. Except for Murfree's first novel, Where the Battle Was Fought (1884), based on personal experiences during the Civil War, her work through the late 1890s focuses on mountain places and themes. When the popularity of local-color writing waned, Murfree turned to historical subjects in undistinguished novels such as The Story of Old Fort Loudon (1899) and The Amulet (1906). By 1910 Murfree's public appeal had diminished to the point that Houghton, Mifflin rejected a proffered novel and collection of stories.

Murfree has been favorably compared to local colorists such as Bret Harte, Sarah Orne Jewett, and fellow Southerner George Washington Cable. Her reputation is based on her mountain stories and novels; the body of her work is flawed by her tendency to repeat characters and plots. However, In the Tennessee Mountains remains an important contribution to regional literature in the late 19th century.

Other Works:

In the "Stranger People's" Country (1891). The Mystery of Witch-Face Mountain, and Other Stories (1895). The Phantoms of the Foot-Bridge, and Other Stories (1895). A Spectre of Power (1903). The Fair Mississippian (1908). The Raid of the Guerilla, and Other Stories (1912). The Story of Duciehurst (1914).


Cary, R., Mary Noailles Murfree (1967). Parks, E. W., Charles Egbert Craddock (Mary Noailles Murfree) (1941).

Reference works:

AW. CAL. DAB. NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the Untied States (1995).

Other references:

ALR (Autumn 1974). Appalachian Journal (Winter 1976). Mississippi Quarterly (Spring 1978).