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Rich, Louise Dickinson

RICH, Louise Dickinson

Born 14 June 1903, Huntington, Massachusetts; died April 1991 Married Ralph E. Rich, 1934 (died 1944)

Louise Dickinson Rich began writing about her life after her marriage. The couple settled in the Unorganized Territory of northwestern Maine. We Took to the Woods (1942) tells of their primitive housing, woods lore, various pets, and the birth of their first child without the aid of a midwife. The book was popular and successful in those discouraging war years. Rich retained her chatty personal narrative style in later books, including Only Parent (1953), which describes her trials and adventures as a single parent (her husband died in 1944).

Rich's descriptions of nature are always incidental to the central personal narrative. Only in The Natural World of Louise Dickinson Rich (1962) does she attempt to write a "natural history" of New England. Even here the writing is personal, anecdotal, and humorous. Rich describes the creatures she has found and domesticated in each of New England's three geographical areas; the typical flora, with appropriate stories about their names and uses; and the contradictory nature of New England climate and geological history. Rich's more usual attitude toward nature is summed up in her "50-Year Bird Plan," enunciated in My Neck of the Woods (1950): she will learn to recognize one bird species a year, then tell all the resort guests that year that the small birds are yellow-bellied sap-suckers and the large ones ospreys.

A large portion of Rich's work was written for young people. She has seven books in a First Book series, as well as many short stories and juvenile novels. In The First Book of New England (1957), each chapter has a fictionalized account of one or two children growing up in a region with a very distinct ethnic background. Through this format Rich manages to convey much history and economics. Sex-role stereotyping is thoroughgoing: boys grow up to be tobacco farmers, lawyers, doctors, or scientists; girls aim to be teachers, wives, or even Olympic skiers.

An adventure series for young people about a young Maine guide, Bill Gordon, was abandoned after two volumes (Start of the Trail, 1949, and Trail to the North, 1952), but Rich's later juvenile fiction continues the genre. Somehow the clichéd writing is not so annoying when it comes through the consciousness of a twelve year old, but again the stereotyping is disturbing. Rich's boys must not show emotion or worry the women, while girls get hysterical over skunks and worms.

Perhaps the most satisfactory of all her works are Rich's informal guides to Maine: The Coast of Maine (1956), The Peninsula (1958), State o' Maine (1964), and The Kennebec River (1967). Rich relates anecdotes well, and she obviously appreciates the unique down-east personality. Local history, geography, and lore are all told with great good humor. Describing the land, people, and creatures of the shore and sea around Maine's Gouldsboro Peninsula, The Peninsula includes chapters on lobstering, local speech, community customs, regional cooking, and the strong independent women of the peninsula.

At her best Rich can be humorous, fascinating, evocative of place, and very readable. At her worst she is clichéd, historically inaccurate, and full of unsubstantiated generalizations; her style is neither creative nor economical. Her works betray an intense desire for acceptability, for strengthening the image of the scatterbrained, flighty-but-responsible, cowed-by-men-and-tools, warmhearted American "mom." Every unconventional action or comment is followed with some kind of apology. If Rich was forced into this pose by her popular audience, we can be thankful for the slightly heightened awareness of the 1970s.

Other Works:

Happy the Land (1946). Innocence under the Elms (1955). The First Book of the Early Settlers (1959). Mindy (1959). The First Book of New World Explorers (1960). The First Book of the China Clippers (1962). The First Book of the Vikings (1962). The First Book of the Fur Trade (1965). The First Book of Lumbering (1967). Star Island Boy (1968). Three of a Kind (1970). King Phillip's War, 1675-76 (1972). Summer at High Kingdom (1975).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

CB (May 1943). TCAS.

—MARGARET MCFADDEN-GERBER

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