Southworth, E(mma) D(orothy) E(liza) N(evitte)

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SOUTHWORTH, E(mma) D(orothy) E(liza) N(evitte)

Born 26 December 1819, Washington, D.C.; died 30 June 1899, Washington, D.C.

Wrote under: Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth

Daughter of Charles L. and Susanna Wailes Nevitte; married Frederick H. Southworth, 1840

E. D. E. N. Southworth and her sister were educated in Washington, D.C., at the school run by her stepfather, Joshua Henshaw, whom her mother had married after the death of Captain Nevitte. Southworth taught school in Washington after her graduation. Deserted by her husband within a few years of their marriage, Southworth was left with two young children to support. Despite ill health, which plagued her for many years, she returned to teaching in Washington and began to write.

Southworth's first publication was a short story, "The Irish Refugee," which appeared in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. This was followed by other short stories. Her first novel, Retribution (1849), was serialized in 1847 in the columns of the Washington National Era, which published most of her early stories. It is reported Southworth never knew how long her serials would be; she would continue on week after week, with characters presumed dead sometimes reappearing. When the serial had reached a certain length, the book publisher would bring out as one volume the work written so far and later publish the rest as a sequel. Many of her works were reprinted in other countries and translated into several languages.

Southworth produced about three novels per year throughout most of the rest of her life and even at that rate could hardly satisfy the demands of her readers, so popular were her works. The Hidden Hand (1888), first published serially in the New York Ledger, is said to have been the most popular work that paper ever printed. In book form it sold almost two million copies; it was also transformed into several dramatic versions, one of which starred John Wilkes Booth. Ishmael (1876) and Self-Raised (1876) sold over two million copies each. Others tried to capitalize on Southworth's popularity by writing under names such as S. A. Southworth, Ella Southworth, or Emma S. Southworth; her publishers insisted however that the only genuine novels were those signed with the famous initials E.D.E.N.

A typical theme in Southworth's novels is the "rags and riches" romance, exemplified in The Curse of Clifton (1853). Clifton, heir to an ancestral fortune, loves a humble mountain girl. Clifton's "curse" is his stepmother—one of Southworth's more malignant villains, who in her most furious soliloquies echoes the most evil moments of Lady Macbeth. Some critics consider The Hidden Hand Southworth's best work. The heroine, Capitola, is a multifaceted character, though she is portrayed as thoroughly good. The plot has a great deal of variety, with pranks, outlaws, and much mystery. The villain, Colonel LeNoir, is a model of the type; he grinds his teeth in impotent rage and vows revenge for afronts both real and imagined. Southworth considered Self-Made her best work. It was originally published in 1876 in two parts, the first called Ishmael; or, In the Depths and the second Self-Raised; or, Out of the Depths. This novel has an interesting rags-to-riches theme, a degenerate villain, and a highborn young woman who refuses to marry the hero, Ishmael, because of his low birth but who is justly punished for her pride. It also has a fine touch of humor and well-handled descriptions of setting and costume.

Villains in Southworth's novels are thoroughly evil, heroes and heroines thoroughly pure. The situations in which they are brought together are the familiar fare of most novels written originally in serialized form: sudden catastrophic illnesses, bankruptcies, murders or other calamitous deaths, ancestral secrets revealed, hidden passions unleashed. A voracious reader herself, Southworth perhaps unconsciously echoes in her work such 19th-century authors as Scott, Dickens, and Cooper. Some of her favorite settings—wild mountain roads and fearful chasms—are reminiscent of the novels of the Brontës. Finally, however, the enormous popularity of Southworth's novels seems to be attributable to the simple black and white morality of her tales, her fine melodramatic touch, and her innate storytelling ability.

Other Works:

The Deserted Wife (1850). The Mother-in-Law (1851). Shannondale (1851). The Discarded Daughter (1852). Old Neighborhoods and New Settlements (1853). The Lost Heiress (1854). India: The Pearl of Pearl River (1855). The Missing Bride (1855). Vivia; or, The Secret of Power (1857). Virginia and Magdalene (1858). The Lady of the Isle (1859). The Haunted Homestead (1860). The Gipsy's Prophecy (1861). Hickory Hall (1861). The Broken Engagement (1862). Love's Labor Won (1862). The Fatal Marriage (1863). The Bridal Eve (1864). Allworth Abbey (1865). The Bride of Llewellyn (1866). The Fortune Seeker (1866). The Coral Lady (1867). The Widow's Son (1867). Fair Play (1868). The Bride's Fate (1869). The Changed Bride s (1869). The Family Doom (1869). How He Won Her (1869). The Prince of Darkness (1869). The Christmas Guest: A Collection of Stories (1870). The Maiden Widow (1870). Cruel as the Grave (1871). Tried for Her Life (1871). The Artist's Love (1872). The Lost Heir of Linlithgow (1872). A Noble Lord (1872). A Beautiful Fiend (1873). Victor's Triumph (1874). The Mystery of Dark Hollow (1875). The Spectre Lover (1875). The Fatal Secret (1877). The Red Hill Tragedy (1877). The Phantom Wedding (1878). Sybil Brotherton: A Novel (1879). A Leap in the Dark (1889). Nearest and Dearest (1889). Unknown (1889). For Woman's Love (1890). The Lost Lady of Lone (1890). Broken Pledges (1891). David Lindsay (1891). Gloria: A Novel (1891). Lillith (1891). The Unloved Wife (1891). "Em": A Novel (1892). Em's Husband: A Novel (1892). Brandon Coyle's Wife (1893). Only a Girl's Heart (1893). A Skeleton in the Closet (1893). Gertrude Haddon (1894). The Rejected Bride (1894).

The papers of E.D.E.N. Southworth are in the Perkins Library of Duke University, and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


Baym, N., Women's Fiction (1978). Boyle, R. L., Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, Novelist (1939). Coultrap-McQuin, S., Doing Literary Business (1990). Hart, J. D., The Popular Book (1950). Kelly, M., Private Women, Public Stage (1984). Mott, F. L., Golden Multitudes (1947). Pattee, F. L., The Feminine Fifties (1940).

Reference works:

DAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).


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