Wright, Mabel Osgood

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WRIGHT, Mabel Osgood

Born 26 January 1859, New York, New York; died 16 July 1934, Fairfield, Connecticut

Wrote under: Barbara

Daughter of Samuel and Ellen Murdock Osgood; married James O. Wright, 1884

Mabel Osgood Wright's father was a Unitarian minister who late in life became an Episcopalian; the Osgood family lived in a large house in lower Manhattan when there were still cows pastured nearby. Educated at home and at a private school, Wright was a keen amateur naturalist from her youth, enjoying long summer vacations at the family summer home. With her husband, a dealer in rare books and art (whom she referred to as "Evan" in her Barbara books), she lived in Fairfield, Connecticut. She apparently had no children.

Wright was the first president of the Audubon Society of Connecticut and a member of the American Ornithologists' Union and the Connecticut Society of Colonial Dames—a much more exclusive organization than the Daughters of the American Revolution, which she ridiculed in A Woman Errant (1904).

Wright's first published books were about nature. Three—The Friendship of Nature (1894), Birdcraft (1895), and Flowers and Ferns in Their Haunts (1901)—were written for adults, but most are for children. As was common in 19th-century children's nature books, Wright taught about nature in story form, creating fictional children to lead the little readers through their lessons. Tommy-Anne and the Three Hearts (1896) and its sequel, Wabeno the Magician (1899), tell of a young tomboy who discovers the "Magic Spectacles" that combine truth with imagination. Wearing her spectacles, she can converse with the grass, flowers, insects, squirrels, and even her dog, Waddles.

Among Wright's most popular works are the semiautobiographical Barbara books, particularly the first, The Garden of a Commuter's Wife (1901), which introduces her alter ego, Barbara, who lives in the country with her husband and shares her life with many eccentric friends. Wright calls this book and The Garden, You, and I (1906) "pages from Barbara's Garden Book." Three other Barbara books bear designations intended to reveal other aspects of Barbara's life. People of the Whirlpool (1903) is "from the Experience Book," Princess Flower-Hat (1910) is "from the Perplexity Book," and A Woman Errant is "from the Wonder Book." Wright blends fanciful fiction with social comment, showing that she was an interested observer of the changes taking place in New York society—particularly among her own class of people. Servants provide comic relief.

A Woman Errant is the most serious book of the series. It is a melodramatic statement of Wright's belief that woman lives for and through man. According to Wright, women who leave their proper sphere for a career become bisexual. She shows a woman doctor who causes her own son's death because of her lack of the right kind of ability. Wright's attack on career women is not atypical of popular writers, even the professional women writers.

Wright's novels, set in the same area as her Barbara stories, are all romances, and in most of them she focuses on marriage as the most important part of life. In her last, Eudora's Men (1931), she underlines the importance of men to women by tracing a family from the beginning of the Civil War down to the present, when one of the youngest generation, a woman doctor, almost ruins the life of her husband by her "unnatural" concept of marriage.

In her autobiography, My New York (1926), she writes of her life up to the death of her beloved father and her engagement, focusing entirely on the city. It is a beautifully written picture of life in lower Manhattan in the 1860s and 1870s, giving her gift for observation and social comment its best exercise; it memorializes old New York, which had all but vanished when she wrote the book. While Wright is historically an important figure in popular nature writing, she did not make a successful transition to fiction as did Gene Stratton-Porter. But her autobiography is a charming, nostalgic book written without the bitterness she showed in other books when writing of the changes in society.

Other Works:

Citizen Bird (1897). Four-footed Americans and Their Kin (1898). The Dream Fox Story Book (1900). Dogtown (1902). Aunt Jimmy's Will (1903). At the Sign of the Fox (1905). Gray Lady and the Birds (1907). The Open Window (1908). Poppea of the Post-office (1909). The Love that Lives (1911). The Stranger at the Gate (1913). Captains of the Watch of Life and Death (1927).


NAW (1971). NYT (18 July 1934).


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