Tincker, Mary Agnes

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TINCKER, Mary Agnes

Born 18 July 1831, Ellsworth, Maine; died 27 November 1907, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Daughter of Richard and Mehitabel Jellison Tincker

Mary Agnes Tincker was a precocious child who had progressed from the role of student to that of full-time teacher in the public schools of Ellsworth by age thirteen. Within two years she had begun her lifelong involvement with the literary world by contributing anonymous sketches to local newspapers and journals.

Tincker became a Catholic in 1851, an event which shaped much of the content, characterization, and setting of her works. Her most frequent contributions were made to the Catholic World which serialized her first novel, The House of York (April 1871-June 1872). The setting for this novel is Ellsworth, during the Know-Nothing period (1854-55). The story follows the developing vocation of Dick Rowan, an impetuous young man whose maturation takes place through suffering and persecution not unlike that which the author herself endured after her acceptance of Catholicism.

In 1863 Tincker volunteered as a Civil War nurse serving in Judiciary Square Hospital, Washington, D.C., until ill health prevented her from continuing. Some of the destruction and conflict of this period is reflected in her writing, particularly in the poem "A Soldier's Daughter," from the collection, Autumn Leaves (1889). In this work the war is seen from a child's point of view. There is a poignant description of a New England home—of the children, the land, and the death of the father.

Tincker struggled with the theme of death throughout her life and work. Perhaps her most mature expression is in a short sketch "Palingenesis," in which she concludes the arch enemy humanity must conquer is the fear of death. In addition, one must conquer death not by despising life but by enjoying life to its fullest, so there will be no final fear in that change in the form of individual life called death.

Tincker's father served as a sheriff of Hancock County and as warden of the Maine state prison. A persistent interest in the criminal, from both a legal and religious point of view, permeates her work. For example, in Grapes and Thorns (1874) the plot includes unraveling the mysterious death of the mother of a devout parish priest. This work also provides a look into late-19th-century prison life and the inadequacies of rural penal systems, as well as observations on the motivations and weaknesses in the human person.

Although Tincker holds Catholicism in great esteem, this does not preclude a tolerance which enables her to recognize the depth of goodness in all creation, as well as the proclivity to evil. In Grapes and Thorns, the conversion of Mr. Schöninger from Judaism to Christianity is treated as a gradual transition in which Judaism is never renounced but, in his own eyes, fulfilled. Tincker spent 14 years in Italy (1873-87) during which time she also traveled in Spain and France. This sojourn formed the setting for her remaining novels. Tincker became known in England with the publication there of Six Sunny Months (1878) and Signor Monaldini's Niece (1879). On the continent, Grapes and Thorns was translated into French; By the Tiber (1881) and Two Coronets (1889) were translated into German.

The critics of her time singled out Tincker's power of description and her astuteness in developing the most minute details of personality in characters as her greatest gifts. Yet all of the works suffer from the clichés and coincidence characteristic of many novels of this period. Tincker's own struggle as a single woman in the turn-of-the-century world became a focus in much of her work. She protests the restrictions placed on women's freedom; the stereotype of woman as a being of inferior intelligence is consistently reversed in her novels. Tincker, however, did achieve recognition for her work and was accepted as a member of the Ancient Academy of the Aracadia in Rome.

Other Works:

The Winged Word (1873). The Jewel in the Lotus (1884). Aurora (1886). San Salvador (1892).


Reference works:

Catholic Encyclopedia (1913). DAB. NCAB. Novels and Tales by Catholic Writers (1946). Supplement to Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1891).

Other references:

Catholic World (June 1872). Literary World (27 Sept. 1878, 12 Dec. 1885). Nation (March 1879, 9 June 1881).