Underwood, Sophie Kerr

views updated

UNDERWOOD, Sophie Kerr

Born 23 August 1880, Denton, Maryland; died 6 February 1965, New York, New York

Also wrote under: Sophie Kerr

Daughter of Jonathan W. and Amanda Sisk Kerr; married John Underwood, 1904 (divorced)

A well-educated woman, Sophie Kerr Underwood had diverse interests: cooking, writing, and a love of plants and flowers imparted to her by her father, a nurseryman. She held a B.A. from Hood College, an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and several honorary degrees. Underwood's marriage ended in divorce after four years.

A prolific writer, Underwood contributed to the Saturday Evening Post, the Ladies' Home Journal, Collier's, and Harper's. She edited the woman's page of the Chronicle Telegraph and the woman's Sunday supplement of the Pittsburgh Gazette Times and was managing editor of the Woman's Home Companion. She published more than two dozen works of fiction and drama.

Characteristic of Underwood's fiction is the novel, The See-Saw: A Story of Today, (1919). Marcia Grossey, the heroine, is beautiful, warm, gentle, and understanding of her husband, Harleth, who is a handsome, temperamental, restless, and very rich man. Although Harleth loves Marcia, he falls prey to a femme fatale, Leila. When Marcia divorces Harleth, he marries Leila for honor's sake. Several years later Leila divorces Harleth, who returns to the woman he always loved. See Saw is "woman's fiction"—furs, perfume, and jewels are given more attention than the characters, who are flat and predictable: good wife, erring husband, wicked adventuress. The plot line is obviously manipulated, built on the premise that all's well that ends well.

Typical of Underwood's short stories are those in the collection Confetti (1927), a work divided into four groups, each with a general theme. The section, "Greedy," has stories about food and jealousy; "Women" concerns envy, love, and discipline; "In America," the weakest section, details the efforts of three young men to marry; and the best section, "Country," insists that country life is not only healthier than city life but also more pleasurable. The stories are absolutely representative of the kind of fiction appearing in women's magazines for many years. Sentimentality rules: all the endings are happy, true love always wins, old virtues stand fast, as do the old aphorisms. Plots appear to have evolved from maxims, and characters who are indistinguishable from each other speak in dated and hackneyed language. In the short stories, as in the novels, Underwood's effectiveness is greatest in descriptions of country life, food, and scenery. She does not provide information or understanding of her era. She gave the readers of her day escape and entertainment, but the modern reader will not find either in Underwood's work.

Other Works:

Love at Large (1916). The Blue Envelope (1917). The Golden Block (1918). Painted Meadows (1920). One Thing Is Certain (1922). Mareea-Maria (1929). Tigers Is Only Cats (1929). In for a Penny (1931). Girl into Woman (1932). They're None of Them Perfect (1933). Big-Hearted Herbert (with A. S. Richardson, 1934; film version, 1935). Stay out of My Life (1934). Miss J. Looks On (1935). There's Only One (1936). Fine to Look At (1937). Adventure with Women (1938). Not a Cloud in the Sky (1938). Curtain Going Up (1940). The Beautiful Woman (1940). It Was a Lovely Meeting of the Flower Show Committee (1940). Michael's Girl (1942). Jenny Devlin (1943). Love Story Incidental (1946). Wife's Eye View (1947). The Sound of Petticoats (1948). As Tall As Pride (1949). The Man Who Knew the Date (1951). The Best I Ever Ate (with J. Platt, 1953).


NYT (8 Feb. 1965). PW (1 March 1965).