Sedgwick, Susan (Anne Livingston) Ridley

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SEDGWICK, Susan (Anne Livingston) Ridley

Born circa 1789; died 20 January 1867, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Daughter of Matthew and Catharine Livingston Ridley; married Theodore Sedgwick, 1808

Susan Ridley Sedgwick, whose grandfather was Governor William Livingston of New Jersey, is said to have spent three or four years of her youth "on our frontier, living partly in a fort with General Harrison, afterward President of the United States." Sent back to the East Coast to be educated, she first met Catharine Maria Sedgwick, later her sister-in-law and a successful novelist, at boarding school. After her marriage to Theodore Sedgwick, Catharine's brother, the couple lived for several years in Albany, New York, where Theodore practiced law. Theodore's ill health caused him to retire to the family home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The Morals of Pleasure (1829), written for children, is a collection of didactic stories reflecting the life and values of the genteel and counseling tolerance for the faults of others, "patient diligence and virtuous perseverance," and "courtesy and gentleness of deportment, to which public schools are, in general, so unfriendly." The dialogue is clumsy: in "Twelfth Night," the mother says, "I am really sorry that you should both have forgotten yourselves so far, as to suffer mere general reflections to run into personalities." Sedgwick does, however, attempt effects to show she was not unconscious of style. Almost every story contains an episode in which music plays an important part, and one of Sedgwick's favorite devices is to slip from prose to poetry during those episodes.

Like the short stories of The Morals of Pleasure and The Children's Week (1830), Sedgwick's novels are written for a young audience. The Young Emigrants (1836), the story of a New York family resettling in Ohio in the late 18th century, is, like all of Sedgwick's fiction, sentimental and didactic. It is important, however, as one of the earliest examples of nonreligious fiction for American children.

Theodore Sedgwick is known to have encouraged his sister Catharine's writing. Though contemporaries describe Susan Ridley Sedgwick as a woman of considerable personal charm and intellectual achievement, no record of similar encouragement for her own writing exists.

Other Works:

Allen Prescott; or, The Fortunes of a New England Boy (1834). Alida; or, Miscellaneous Sketches of Incidents During the Late American War (1841). Alida; or, Town and Country (1844). The Seven Brothers of Wyoming; or, The Brig-ands of the Revolution (1850). Walter Thornley; or, A Peep at the Past (1859).

Bibliography:

Buell, L. New England Literary Culture: From Revolution to Renaissance (1986). Walsh, M. M., Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1937).

Reference works:

DAB (article on Theodore Sedgwick). Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans (1904).

—KATHARYN F. CRABBE