Peabody, Josephine Preston

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PEABODY, Josephine Preston

Born 30 May 1874, Brooklyn, New York; died 4 December 1922, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Daughter of Charles and Susan Morrill Peabody; married Lionel S.Marks, 1906

Both Josephine Preston Peabody's parents were from Massachusetts families. When Peabody's father died in 1884, she moved with her mother and elder sister to her maternal grandmother's house in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Peabody spent the remainder of her life, except for vacations and several trips abroad, in Dorchester and, later, Cambridge.

Peabody's diary, kept from age sixteen until her death, describes a life somewhat devoid of companionship and certainly of luxuries. Peabody early learned to love the theater, literature, and music, however; as a young woman, she saved for standing room at concerts and plays or for the purchase of a long-desired book. Peabody's health was not robust, and writing—mainly poetry—was her greatest joy during a rather lonely girlhood.

Peabody left Girls' Latin School in Boston in her junior year, owing to ill health. She attended Radcliffe College from 1894 to 1896, and lectured on English Literature at Wellesley College from 1901 to 1903. In 1906, she married a professor of engineering at Harvard. Peabody began sending poems to magazines and journals during her school years. In 1887 and 1888, several were published; and in successive years, Peabody's work appeared regularly in Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, and other periodicals. Old Greek Folk Stories was published in 1897, and The Wayfarers, Peabody's first volume of poetry, in 1898. Portrait of Mrs. W— (1922), a play about Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, was published the year of her death.

Despite household and maternal obligations (Peabody bore a daughter in 1908 and a son in 1910), and in the face of rapidly failing health, Peabody continued to write and work for causes she believed in. She expressed her conviction that peace and a more humane social order might be achieved if women could have equality of influence and participation in world affairs. Her last volume of poems, Harvest Moon (1916), expresses despair at war's harvest: the blood shed by children women have borne, reared, and loved.

Peabody's writing reflects her deepest interests: the literature of the past and especially of the English Renaissance, nature, and the rights of all men and women to lead joyous, fulfilling lives. Her Greek tales and her poems for children—The Book of the Little Past (1908), for example—have a directness and simplicity that charms. Peabody's verse dramas are credited with having revived interest in the traditional English blank-verse drama, but they are of concern chiefly to literary historians today. Marlowe (1901), an imaginative play about the Renaissance dramatist and poet, and The Piper (1909), an idealized version of the Pied Piper legend, are perhaps the most successful of these efforts. The Piper won the Stratford Play Competition in 1910, and was produced in both Stratford and London.

The vibrant idealism of Peabody's personality finds expression in her work, but unfortunately this idealism is not supported by a down-to-earth grappling with reality or by the intellectual rigor of argument. As a result, there is a quality of immaturity to Peabody's writing which deprives it of force and limits its appeal.

Other Works:

Fortune and Men's Eyes (1900). The Singing Leaves (1903). Pan (1904). The Wings (1907; produced, 1912). The Singing Man (1911). The Wolf of Gubbio (1913). The Chameleon (1917). Diary and Letters of Josephine Preston Peabody (Ed. C. Baker, 1925). Collected Poems of Josephine Preston Peabody (Ed. K. Bates, 1927).


Baker C., Diary and Letters of Josephine Preston Peabody (1925). Bates, K., in Collected Poems of Josephine Preston Peabody (1927). Dickason, D., The Daring Young Men (1953). Gregory, H., and M. Zaturenska, History of American Poetry, 1900-1940 (1942).

Reference works:

NAW (1971). TCAS

Other references:

Atlantic (Dec. 1927). SR (20 Mar. 1926). NYT (5 Dec. 1922).


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Peabody, Josephine Preston

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