Sture-Vasa, Mary (Alsop)

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STURE-VASA, Mary (Alsop)

Born Mary O'Hara Alsop, 10 July 1885, Cape May Point, New Jersey; died 15 October 1980, Chevy Chase, Maryland

Wrote under: Mary O'Hara

Daughter of Reese Fell and Mary Lee Spring Alsop; married Kent K. Parrott, 1905; Helge Sture-Vasa, 1922

Mary Sture-Vasa was privately educated, with the emphasis on languages and music. She traveled widely during her youth in the eastern U.S., and she also lived in California and Wyoming, locales important to her career as popular novelist, screen writer, and composer. For example, The Catch Colt (1964), a musical drama, blends all these influences. Sture-Vasa was married twice and had two children.

In Wyoming Summer (1963), a fictionalized autobiography, Sture-Vasa defines a story as "a reflection of life plus beginning and end (life seems not to have either) and a meaning." She applied her definition to ranch life as recorded in her journals to create this book and her best-known works, the Flicka series. Like the straight autobiographical works, Novel-in-the-Making (1954) and A Musical in the Making (1966), Wyoming Summer conveys a clear sense of the artist, writer, and composer at work. Episodic but smooth, highly personal but detached, it includes poignant comments about women and their careers and is embedded with tiny, insightful essays about adversity, loneliness, religion, creativity, happiness, and love.

Now regarded as young people's classics, the very popular series My Friend Flicka (1941), Thunderhead (1943, film version, 1945), and Green Grass of Wyoming (1946) shares these themes and reflects Sture-Vasa's knowledge and love of animals. These novels trace the maturation of Ken McLaughlin and his development of a line of horses destined to realize his family's dreams. In the first novel, Ken's struggle to master the filly is clearly the symbol for his efforts to discipline himself. The parallelism continues in the next two books, where Ken's development is symbolized by the difficulty of training Flicka's colt, Thunder-head, a promising but wild stallion. Ken learns to differentiate between absolute freedom and freely exercised responsibility, between dream and reality, and is thus prepared for his role as young man and young lover. The characterization is well wrought, persuasive, and sound.

Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming are more intricately plotted than My Friend Flicka and more appealing to adults, for in each an important subplot explores the sometimes strained marriage (complicated by possessiveness, financial worries, and parenthood) of Rob and Nell McLaughlin. Nell's portrait is particularly strong in its presentation of the tensions engendered by traditional women's roles. Defining herself only as Rob's wife, the mother of Ken and Howard, Nell learns to subordinate herself to her husband in Thunderhead. In Green Grass of Wyoming, she finds herself at a stage of life she has always desired—she has at last borne a daughter, has taught her sons to be self-reliant young men, and has helped her husband achieve some financial security. But Nell is unprepared for this new era, and it precipitates a physical and emotional breakdown. Her resolution of these difficulties remains traditional and is honestly depicted; she does not alter her self-definition, but she does learn to invest herself in herself as well as in others. Beautifully rendered natural settings and details of ranch life underscore the realism of all three works.

Christian faith is a major theme in Sture-Vasa's work. Let Us Say Grace (1930) explains the Trinity in a fable framing a parable. The parable compares the function of the monetary system to the relationships within the Trinity. In the Flicka series, Nell's musings and her talks with her sons often concern religion. The Son of Adam Wyngate (1952), a less well-received novel, portrays a clergyman whose faith is tested when he confronts his wife's adultery. The hero, Bartholomew Wyngate, is a mystic, and the novel attempts to make his mysticism readily understandable to the average reader. More successfully, it probes the relationships of several generations of a large family, and the insights into sibling rivalry in both young and older characters are vivid. Set in New York, this book continues the religious theme which is rooted in Sture-Vasa's serious study of Christianity and Eastern philosophy and theology.

Sture-Vasa is considered a talented, careful writer who reveals a genuine understanding of human nature and a fine ability to project into animal "mentality" without anthropomorphizing.


Witham, W. T., The Adolescent in the American Novel, 1921-1960 (1964).

Other references:

NYTBR (24 Aug. 1941, 27 Oct. 1946). SR (1 Nov. 1941, 17 May 1952).