Tiernan, Frances (Christine) Fisher

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TIERNAN, Frances (Christine) Fisher

Born 5 July 1846, Salisbury, North Carolina; died 24 March 1920, Salisbury, North Carolina

Wrote under: Christian Reid

Daughter of Charles F. and Elizabeth Caldwell Fisher; married James M. Tiernan, 1887 (died 1898)

Frances Fisher Tiernan was born into an aristocratic Southern family. Her father, president of the Western North Carolina Railroad, was a Confederate officer killed at the Battle of Bull Run. Tiernan was educated primarily at home. At twenty-two, she converted to Roman Catholicism.

Tiernan was able to support herself and several family members by her writing. Her career began in 1870, with the publication of Valerie Aylmer, the first of a series of five "plantation novels" romanticizing the domestic life of the antebellum South. As with most of Tiernan's romances, the plantation novels are melodramatic accounts of women turning men's heads and men breaking women's hearts. Many of Tiernan's romances were serialized in Catholic magazines before publication in book form.

Although she wrote primarily fiction, her travel sketch, The Land and the Sky (1876), won much acclaim for its vivid portrayal of the back country of western North Carolina. Tiernan's fondness for the wilderness also is expressed in her novels. After Many Days (1877) is set in the preindustrial South and emphasizes the pride of land ownership, natural refinement, and simple rural existence. In 1879 Tiernan decided she needed to "broaden the narrow little world in which my life, so far, has been spent" so she traveled for a year on the Continent. Upon returning to America her writing assumed a "European" flavor. Hearts of Steel (1883), Armine (1884), and Weighed in the Balance (1900) are located in European cities but still focused on the love troubles and triumphs of the ruling class.

The geographical flavor of Tiernan's novels changed again in 1887, when she moved with her husband, a widowed land speculator, to Mexico. Several books are attempts to capture what she understood as the life of Mexico and its people. Trips to the West Indies and the Dominican Republic produced two adventure novels: The Man of the Family (1897) and The Chase of an Heiress (1898).

After James Tiernan's death in 1898, Tiernan returned to North Carolina where she became active with the Daughters of the Confederacy. Proceeds from the play Under the Southern Cross (1900) were used to construct a monument to Jefferson Davis. Tiernan firmly believed that reading was a means of moral enlightenment, and to this end she established two Catholic women's reading circles. Her literary, civic, and religious achievements were commemorated in 1909 when she was awarded the Laetare Medal by Notre Dame University.

In 1911 Tiernan wrote what was considered her most successful work, The Light of Vision. The theme is central to many of her other novels: the Christian way of life, especially for women, is one of personal sacrifice. A Catholic convert remarries her divorced, good-for-nothing husband after he becomes a helpless invalid. Through her patient care she is able to save her husband from self-destruction and lead him to a holy death.

The Light of Vision echoes the common Victorian theme of the suffering, saintly wife (or innocent child) leading the sinful man back to a life of piety and goodness. In her more than forty novels, Tiernan sought to portray life not as it was, but as it should be—restrained and refined. Her Southern, aristocratic characters abhorred excess wealth, strove for purity, and attempted to preserve an idyllic preindustrial society. Although Tiernan traveled in areas seldom frequented by other Southern women, her novels show only the geographical change; characters, plots, and morals remain unchanged. Her portrayal of the "proper" life had contemporary popularity, but the novels are too steeped in turn-of-the-century mentality to say much to the modern reader.

Other Works:

Morton House (1871). Ebb-Tide, and Other Stories (1872). Mabel Lee (1872). Carmen's Inheritance (1873). Nina's Atonement, and Other Stories (1873). A Daughter of Bohemia (1874). Hearts and Hands (1875). A Question of Honor (1875). Bessie's Six Lovers (1877). Bonny Kate (1878). A Summer Idyl (1878). A Gentle Bell (1879). A Child of Mary (1885). Roslyn's Fortune (1885). His Victory (1887). Miss Churchill (1887). Philip's Restitution (1888). A Cast for Fortune (1890). Carmela (1891). The Lost Lode (1892). A Little Maid of Arcady (1893). A Comedy of Elopement (1893). The Land of the Sun (1894). The Lady of Las Cruces (1896). The Picture of Las Cruces (1896). A Woman of Fortune (1896). Fairy Gold (1897). A Daughter of Sierra (1903). Vera's Charge (1907). Princess Nadine (1908). The Coin of Sacrifice (1909). The Wargrave Trust (1911). The Daughter of a Star (1913). A Far Away Princess (1914). A Secret Bequest (1915).

Bibliography:

Becker, K. B., Biography of Christian Reid (1941).

Reference works:

The Book of Catholic Authors (1942).

NAW (1971). NCAB.

—M. COLLEN MCDANNELL

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Tiernan, Frances (Christine) Fisher

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