Born 1 April 1855, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died 16 December 1950, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Daughter of John G. and Ages Mathias Repplier
Agnes Repplier did not learn to read until she was almost ten. Her formal education was limited to two years at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and three terms at Miss Irwin's School in Philadelphia. Both schools dismissed her because of independent behavior, so Repplier was entirely self-educated after the age of sixteen. Her intensive reading was augmented by numerous trips (the first in 1890) and long periods of residence in Europe.
Urged by her mother, Repplier began publishing at sixteen to increase the family's income when her father's fortune collapsed, and throughout her life she loyally supported her family. Repplier's first writings were stories and sketches for Philadelphia newspapers. After publishing "In Arcady" in Catholic World (1881), the editor urged Repplier to write essays, since she knew a great deal about books and not much about life. This set the direction of her career, for she made the familiar essay distinctively her own form—witty, graceful, and richly textured with allusions from her vast reading.
In 1886 Repplier was accepted by the American literary establishment. "Children, Past and Present" appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. Here she continued to publish frequently—90 essays in all, the last in 1940. A highly disciplined writer, Repplier was determined from the start her work would have permanence. In 1888 she arranged the first of many collections, Books and Men, which included the first seven essays from Atlantic Monthly. Similar volumes appeared throughout the years. Repplier was a popular public lecturer, noted for her sharp perceptions, lively manner, and witty expression.
A plain child and woman with an incisive mind and quick wit, Repplier never married. She thought the feminist cause a just one and opposed any kind of discrimination. She had, however, no use for reformers in any area because of their excessive claims and simplistic and sentimental solutions. "Woman Enthroned" presents her case, as do "The Strayed Prohibitionist" and "Consolations of the Conservative." For Repplier, happiness was fleeting and lay in "the development of individual tastes and acquirements."
The urbane stance is typical of Repplier; however, before U.S. involvement in World War I, Repplier argued passionately for several years against neutrality, collaborating with Dr. J. W. White on a pamphlet, Germany and Democracy (1914), and writing many essays, collected in Counter-Currents (1916).
A lifelong and devout Roman Catholic, Repplier wrote from a strong ethical code that provided a firm base for her relentlessly skeptical view of human performance. Repplier's specifically Catholic writings are among her most successful and include a merry autobiography, In Our Convent Days (1905), and three distinguished biographies of American religious leaders: Père Marquette (1929), Mère Marie of the Ursulines (1931), and Junipero Serra (1933).
Addressing herself to a wide range of literary subjects and social change for more than half a century, Repplier was usually provocative but rarely inelegant in her commentary. Her familiar essays provide a distinctive and pleasing alternative to the prevailing realism of American literature. Perhaps Repplier's most characteristic mode is epitomized by two collections separated by half her writing career, A Happy Half-Century (1908) and In Pursuit of Laughter (1936). Repplier's range is broad, but her audience was always a select and patrician one.
Points of View (1889). A Book of Famous Verse (edited by Repplier, 1892). Essays in Miniature (1892). Essays in Idleness (1893). In the Dozy Hours, and Other Papers (1894). Varia (1897). Philadelphia: The Place and the People (1898). The Fireside Sphinx (1901). Compromises (1904). Americans and Others (1912). The Cat, Being a Record of the Endearments and Invectives Lavished by Many Writers (1912). J. William White, M.D.: A Biography (1919). Points of Friction (1920). Under Dispute (1924). Times and Tendencies (1931). To Think of Tea! (1932). Agnes Irwin (1934). Eight Decades (1937).
Repplier, E., Agnes Repplier: A Memoir by Her Niece (1957). Stokes, G. S., Agnes Repplier: Lady of Letters (1949).
Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches, 1930-1947 (1948). DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Nation (29 Nov. 1933). NYHTB (13 Jan. 1929, 29 Nov. 1931). SR (23 Dec. 1933). YR (March 1937).
—VELMA BOURGEOIS RICHMOND