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Troubetzkoy, Amélie Rives

TROUBETZKOY, Amélie Rives

Born 23 August 1863, Richmond, Virginia; died 16 June 1945, Charlottesville, Virginia

Wrote under: Amélie Rives

Daughter of Alfred and Sarah Macmurdo Rives; married John Chanler, 1888 (divorced 1895); Pierre Troubetzkoy, 1896

Both of Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy's parents were of prominent Virginia families. Her father was a colonel of engineers on Robert E. Lee's staff. Soon after her birth, Troubetzkoy and her mother were moved to Castle Hill, the home of her father's parents, a gracious colonial estate in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains not far from Charlottesville. Her grandparents took a great interest in Troubetzkoy's education, and she developed sophisticated tastes in the rich cultural milieu of Castle Hill. It became a center of security for her throughout her active life and provided the setting for a number of her novels.

By all accounts, Troubetzkoy was a beautiful and dynamic woman; and many of her heroines are reflections of herself in their vivacity, intelligence, sensitivity—and their luxuriant blond hair. She traveled widely and maintained contacts with many outstanding English and American authors of her time. Her first marriage proved incompatible and ended, amicably, in divorce in 1895. Her second marriage, to Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, a young portrait painter who had given up his wealth and position in Russia, was long and happy.

Troubetzkoy's writing career spanned several American literary movements and several trends in American reading tastes. Frequently, the fiction that appealed most strongly to the public was not her strongest work. Troubetzkoy's first published story, "A Brother to Dragons" (Atlantic, March 1886), is a romantic, sentimental tale written in Elizabethan diction. Weak novels appealing to the public primarily for their exotic settings or melodramatic situations are interspersed throughout her career; still, the strength and development of Troubetzkoy's talents can be seen.

In Virginia of Virginia (1888), we can see the beginning of the strong Troubetzkoy heroine. Most critics praised its realism and dialogue while pointing out that it is an uneven work. The novel The Quick or the Dead? (1888) caused a public furor. The heroine is a young widow, and her debate on whether to remarry shocked propriety; yet more shocking were the scenes of sensuality, especially implications they were instigated by the heroine herself. But the novel is more than a deliberately sensational one; it is a sincere portrayal of the painful self-questioning Barbara undergoes as she considers the conflict between what she sees as her duty and feels as her need for fulfillment. Tinged with sentimentality and flowery diction, it is not consistently realistic; but in many ways The Quick or the Dead? is a more open, honest statement of the sexuality of women than the major realists of the period allowed.

As a result of its notoriety, The Quick or the Dead? became a bestseller. In its sequel, Barbara Dering (1893), Barbara continues to show a conflict between her true nature and her expected role. In both novels, Troubetzkoy uses nature imagery to reveal this conflict.

Another strong heroine is Phoebe, the protagonist of World's End (1914), a novel winning high critical praise and had large sales. Phoebe, like earlier heroines, is a young woman of feeling and intellect; but she is less perfect and more realistic and develops more as a character than her predecessors. In this novel, for the first time, the heroine is matched by a fully developed, strong male character. Troubetzkoy's later works move more and more to sympathetic, less stereotyped male characters, possibly because of her years of happy marriage with Pierre. In World's End, the conflict is resolved in the sense that the heroine comes to some self-knowledge; but, as is usual in Troubetzkoy's novels, there is no totally happy ending.

Troubetzkoy's Shadows of Flames (1915)—reflecting her own experience with drug addictionThe Queerness of Celia (1926), and her last novel, Firedamp (1930), are all among her best works, but do not quite equal the achievement of World's End.

In addition to her novels, Troubetzkoy wrote drama and poetry throughout her career. She published several plays written in blank verse and a long narrative poem, Seléné (1905), which shows a skillful handling of sustained verse, with many fine sensuous passages.

During and after World War I, Troubetzkoy wrote a series of plays which had successful Broadway runs, including Allegiance, The Fear Market (of which a movie version was made), and an adaptation of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. Love-ina-Mist (1927) was an effective comedy of manners, and her only commercially successful play to be published after its Broadway run. Her last play, The Young Elizabeth (1938), shows her admiration for the young queen who is torn between love and duty; Elizabeth becomes a true Troubetzkoy heroine.

Troubetzkoy has been called a realist, a fine local colorist, and an important social historian; she has also been called a semierotic, a sensationalist, a romantic who revels in morbid scenes and hysterical passions. Both strengths and weaknesses can be found in her work. Troubetzkoy did not always use her many talents to their best artistic effect; her active life and spontaneity may have led her away from careful revision. But the vitality and sincerity of much of her work remain fresh and significant for modern readers.

Other Works:

A Brother to Dragons, and Other Old-Time Tales (1888). Herod and Mariamne (1888). The Witness of the Sun (1889). According to Saint John (1891). Athelwold (1893). Tanis, the Sang-Digger (1893). A Damsel Errant (1898). Augustine, the Man (1906). The Golden Rose: The Romance of a Strange Soul (1908). Trix and Over-the-Moon (1909). Pan's Mountain (1910). Hidden House (1912). The Ghost Garden (1918). As the Wind Blew (1920). The Sea-Woman's Cloak and November Eve (1923).

Bibliography:

Clark, E., Innocence Abroad (1931). Longest, G., Three Virginia Writers: Mary Johnston, Thomas Nelson Page, and Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy: A Reference Guide (1978). Manly, L., Southern Literature from 1579-1895 (1895). Meade, J., I Live in Virginia (1935). Painter, F., Poets of Virginia (1907). Taylor, W., Amélie Rives (Princess Troubetzkoy) (1973).

Reference works:

LSL, 10.

Other references:

Lippincott's (Sept. 1888). Mississippi Quarterly (Spring 1968). Virginia Cavalcade (Spring 1963).

—ANNE NEWMAN

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