Born 27 September 1874, Norwood Park, Illinois; died 17 August 1911, Chicago, Illinois
Also wrote under: Olive Green, Katherine LaFarge Norton
Daughter of Hiram V. and Elizabeth Armstrong Reed; married James S. McCullough, 1906
Myrtle Reed was born of distinguished parents: her father, a preacher, established Chicago's first literary magazine, the Lakeside Monthly, and her mother was a scholar of oriental literature and comparative religion. Reed's parents encouraged her to be a writer, and she began her literary apprenticeship with her high school paper, advancing to freelance writing upon her graduation. Her first novel, Love Letters of a Musician (1899), was an immense success and established Reed as a romantic writer. Her marriage, however, did not live up to her romantic ideals, and her separation precipitated her suicide.
In addition to her poetry and fiction, Reed also wrote cookbooks under the pseudonym of Olive Green and domestic articles under the pseudonym of Katherine LaFarge Norton. She is best known, however, for her many popular novels. Joseph Kesselring transformed her second novel, Lavender and Old Lace (1902), into the popular play Arsenic and Old Lace (1941), which was later made into a wonderfully funny film.
Reed's novels are formulaic at best. Each contains at least one Dickensian caricature. There are always two heroines, generally competing for the same man. When a middle-aged woman is involved, she has invariably, been separated from her "one true love" and is of course reunited with him by the novel's end. Each novel is interrupted at least once by "philosophical" commentary on the nature of love and destiny. The later novels even include a smattering of telepathic communication and precognitive dreams.
Typical of Reed's novels is A Spinner in the Sun (1906), in which the heroine Evelina Grey had supposedly been disfigured when she saved her fiancé from injury in an explosion in his lab. The fiancé leaves Evelina and marries someone else, while for the next 25 years Evelina keeps a chiffon veil over her face. Evelina's face, however, was not disfigured, only her shoulder and arms; she wears the veil to hide the beauty that has caused her so much sorrow. Eventually, Evelina forgives the ex-fiancé (after his suicide), discovers she loves a man far more worthy of her, and casts off the veil forever.
Reed's most interesting novel is her last, A Weaver of Dreams (1911), which concerns Judith and Margery and their love for the same man, Carter Keith. Although initially engaged to Judith, Carter discovers that Margery is the woman fate intended for him. Upon discovering the truth, Judith graciously releases him. What makes the novel an oddity is that Reed does not conjure up another man for Judith. As the novel ends, Judith is alone and bereft but determined to face the future with courage and dignity. Completed shortly before Reed's suicide, this conclusion serves as an ironic epitaph for the author.
Later Love Letters of a Musician (1900). The Spinster Book (1901). White Shield (1902). Pickaback Songs (1903). The Shadow of Victory (1903). The Book of Clever Beasts (1904). The Master's Violin (1904). At the Sign of the Jack o' Lantern (1905). Everyday Luncheons (1906). What to Have for Breakfast (1906). How to Cook Shell-Fish (1907). Love Affairs of Literary Men (1907). One Thousand Simple Soups (1907). Flower of the Dusk (1908). How to Cook Fish (1908). How to Cook Meat and Poultry (1908). How to Cook Vegetables (1909). Old Rose and Silver (1909). Master of the Vineyard (1910). Sonnets to a Lover (1910). Everyday Desserts (1911). Everyday Dinners (1911). The Myrtle Reed Year Book (1911). The White Shield (1912). Happy Women (1913). Threads of Grey and Gold (1913). A Woman's Career (1914). The Myrtle Reed Cook Book (1916).
Colson, E. S., and N. B. Carson, Myrtle Reed (1911). Powell, M. B., Foreword to The Myrtle Reed Year Book (1911).
DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB.
—CYNTHIA L. WALKER