Southworth, E.D.E.N. (1819–1899)

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Southworth, E.D.E.N. (1819–1899)

Popular American novelist. Born Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte on December 26, 1819, in Washington, D.C.; died in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C., on June 30, 1899; elder of two daughters of Charles Le Compte Nevitte and his second wife, Susannah (Wailes) Nevitte; sister of Frances Henshaw Baden ; graduated from her stepfather's school, 1835; married Frederick Hamilton Southworth (an inventor), in 1840 (separated 1844); children: Richmond, Charlotte Emma.

Selected novels:

Retribution, a Tale of Passion; or The Vale of Shadows (1849); The Deserted Wife (1849); The Mother-in-Law; or The Isle of Rays (1851); Shannondale (1851); The Curse of Clifton; or The Widowed Bride (1852); The Discarded Daughter; or the Children of the Ilse: A Tale of the Chesapeake (1852); Virginia and Magdalene; or The Foster Sisters (1852); India: The Pearl of Pearl River (1853, originally serialized as "Mark Sutherland"); The Lost Heiress (c. 1853); The Missing Bride; or Miriam the Avenger (1854); Broken Pledges, A Story of Noir et Blanc(1855); Vivia; or The Secret of Power (c. 1856); The Three Beauties (1858); The Hidden Hand, a Novel (1859, Part II as Capitola's Peril [c. 1907]); The Lady of the Isle; or, The Island Princess (1859); The Gipsy's Prophecy; or The Bride of an Evening (1861); Hickory Hall; or The Outcast (1861); The Broken Engagement; or Speaking the Truth for a Day (1862); Love's Labor Won (1862); The Fatal Marriage (1863); Self-Made; or Out of the Depths (1863–64); The Bridal Eve; or Rose Elmer (1864); Allworth Abbey (1865); Fair Play; or The Test of Lone Isle (1865–66, originally serialized as "Britomarte, the Man-Hater" [1868], sequel published as How He Won Her [1865–66]); The Bride of Llewellyn (1866); The Fortune Seeker; or The Bridal Day (1866); The Prince of Darkness, a Romance of the Blue Ridge (1866); The Coral Lady; or The Bronzed Beauty of Paris (1867); The Widow's Son (1867); The Bride's Fate (1869, sequel published as The Changed Brides; or Winning Her Way [1869]); The Family Doom; or The Sin of a Countess (1869, sequel published as The Maiden Widow [1870]); Cruel as the Grave (1871, sequel published as Tried for Her Life [1871]); The Lost Heir of Linlithgow (1872, sequel published as A Noble Lord [1872]); A Beautiful Fiend; or Through the Fire (1873, sequel published as Victor's Triumphs [1874]); A Husband's Devotion (1874); The Rejected Bride (1874); Reunited (1874); The Mystery of Dark Hollow (1875); "Em" (1876); The Bride's Ordeal (1877, sequel published as Her Love or Her Life [1878]); The Red Hill Tragedy (1877); A Skeleton in the Closet (1878, sequel published as Brandon Coyle's Wife [1893]); Sybil Brotherton (1879); Trail of the Serpent (1879); Why Did He Wed Her? (1884, sequel published as For Whose Sake? [1884]); A Deed Without a Name (1886, followed by sequels Dorothy Harcourt's Secret [1886], To His Fate [1886], When Love Gets Justice [c. 1886]); An Exile's Bride (1887); A Leap in the Dark (1889, sequel published as The Mysterious Marriage [1893]); Nearest and Dearest (1889, sequel published as Little Nea's Engagement [1889]); Unknown; or The Mystery of Raven Rocks (1889); For Woman's Love (1890, sequel published as An Unrequited Love [1890]); The Unloved Wife (1890, sequels published as When the Shadows Darken [n.d.] and Lilith [1890]); The Lost Lady of Lone (1890, sequel published as The Struggle of a Soul [1904]); Gloria (1891, sequel published as David Lindsay [1891]); Em's Husband (1892); Only a Girl's Heart (1893, sequel published as Gertrude Haddon [1894]); The Widows of Widowville (1894); Sweet Love's Atonement (1904, sequel published as Zenobia's Suitors [1904]); Her Mother's Secret (1910, sequels published as Love's Bitterest Cup [1910] and When Shadows Die [1910]); The Bride's Dowry (n.d.); The Doom of Deville (n.d.); Eudora (n.d.); When Love Commands (n.d., sequel published as Fulfilling Her Destiny [n.d.]); The Initials: A Story of Modern Life (n.d.); The Three Sisters (n.d.).

Selected short fiction:

Old Neighborhoods and New Settlements; or Christmas Evening Legends (1853); The Wife's Victory; and Other Nouvellettes (1854); The Haunted Homestead and Other Nouvellettes, with an Autobiography of the Author (1860); (with sister, Frances Henshaw Baden) The Christmas Guest; or The Crime and the Curse (1870); (with sister) The Artist's Love (1872); (with sister) The Spectre Lover (1875); (with sister) The Fatal Secret (1877); (with sister) The Phantom Wedding; or The Fall of the House of Flint (1878).

E.D.E.N. Southworth was born Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte in Washington, D.C., on December 26, 1819, the elder of two daughters of Charles Le Compte Nevitte and Susannah Wailes Nevitte . When she was three years old, Southworth lost her father to the lingering effects of a wound he had received as a soldier in the War of 1812. Two years later, her mother married schoolmaster Joshua L. Henshaw, who had served as Daniel Webster's personal secretary. Southworth recalled her childhood as a lonely one, with its happiest moments spent exploring Maryland's Tidewater region on horseback; during those rides, she acquired an abiding interest in the area's history and folklore.

Having attended her stepfather's school, Southworth completed her secondary education in 1835 at the age of 15. She accepted a position as a schoolteacher, remaining in that capacity until 1840, when she married Frederick Hamilton Southworth, an inventor from Utica, New York. The Southworths moved to a one-room log cabin in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in 1841, where Emma continued teaching until the birth of their first child in 1843. Frederick Southworth lacked the ability to secure permanent employment or adequately provide for his family, and the marriage was an unhappy one. The couple, with their son and Frederick's mother, eventually moved in with Emma's mother and her second husband. However, when South-worth became pregnant again, they were ousted from the house by her stepfather. Soon Frederick abandoned his family to seek Brazilian gold, and Emma returned to Washington to give birth to a daughter. Although Southworth never discussed her marriage directly, many of her stories featured heroines who were on the margins of society, who were abused or neglected by their spouses, or were constrained by the patriarchal culture of the 19th century.

Lacking familial support, Southworth returned to teaching to maintain her two young children, but her inadequate annual salary required her to work in a federal land office as a copyist to supplement her income. And late at night, she would write. Her first story, The Irish Refugee, was serialized in 1846 in the Baltimore Sunday Visitor. This work attracted the attention of Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the National Era, who began publishing Southworth's stories regularly. Her first novel, Retribution, appeared in both serial and book form in 1849, which subsequently increased her success as a writer and enabled her to move her family to more spacious housing in the fashionable Georgetown district of Washington. That same year, she entered into an agreement with the Saturday Evening Post. This lasted for eight years until ongoing criticism of her work by Henry Peterson, the Post's editor, propelled her to an exclusive publishing arrangement with Robert Bonner of the New York Ledger in 1857.

Southworth's business relationship with Bonner, who paid her well and whom she considered a friend, would last her entire life. Although her work sold steadily, her personal life suffered. She and her children were in ill health throughout the early 1850s, which interrupted her ability to work and decreased the family's income. However, in exchange for sole serial publication rights to Southworth's work, Bonner had ensured her an income regardless of any periods of inactivity brought on by poor health. This arrangement remained in place for 30 years, during which time Southworth wrote prolifically; as the New York Ledger became one of the bestselling periodicals in the United States, she became one of the most popular novelists of her day.

Considering Southworth a pivotal figure in the development of the American novel, Amy Hudock suggests that her novels "taught the world a vision of the American woman that equaled in power and influence James Fenimore Cooper's presentation of the American man that so captured international attention." A skillful writer, Southworth deftly used the machinations of the Gothic romance style to create stories brimming with melodramatic conventions, which appealed to readers, while also developing protagonists with greater depth of character than their counterparts in typical stories of the day. In her most popular novel, The Hidden

Hand (1859), Southworth introduces Capitola who makes her own way in an unjust world rather than be rescued from evil circumstances by men. She shakes free from a wicked guardian who steals both her mother and her inheritance, and triumphs over the prejudices of the day through her courage and boldness. Southworth also creates the ideal male character with Ishmael, the hero of her 1863–64 serialization Self-Made; or Out of the Depths. Even though Ishmael is of low birth, he manages to establish himself in society through hard work and virtue. He struggles to become an esteemed lawyer so that he might pay homage to his mother, thereby dignifying all women and becoming their advocate. According to Beatrice K. Hofstadter , these two characters reflect society's democratization of the older class system through "the social changes that accompanied the transformation of provincial, traditional antebellum America into a dynamic, socially mobile industrial society."

Southworth was an influential writer who impacted popular culture and changed accepted notions of the day, especially that of a woman's place in the public sphere. The cause of women's suffrage was of great importance to her, as was the abolition of slavery. Southworth had traveled to England in 1859 and remained there until 1862; when she returned to the United States in the midst of the Civil War, she was a vocal supporter of the Union. "In an era when debates over human rights dominated the political and social landscape," notes Hudock, "Southworth wrote fiction celebrating strong independent women, abolition of slavery, people who transcend or ignore class distinctions, and persons who stand firm against oppression of any sort."

Southworth moved to Yonkers, New York, in 1876, where she continued to write prolifically until returning to Georgetown in 1890. A compilation of her work, published in 1877, ran to an extraordinary 42 volumes. She began to develop an interest in spiritualism and joined the Swedenborgian Church in 1883. Mary Kelley writes that in 1894, at the end of her long and successful career, Southworth granted an interview with the Washington Post in which she noted that she had written 73 books and that was enough. She died five years later in Georgetown, on June 30, 1899.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Columbia Literary History of the United States. NY: Columbia University Press, 1988, pp. 292, 301–301, 469, 563–564.

Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. and comp. Give Her This Day: A Daybook of Women's Words. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

Hofstadter, Beatrice K. "E.D.E.N. Southworth," in Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Edited by Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Hudock, Amy. "Overview of Southworth's Writing and Her Place in Literary History" on Marshall University web site.

Kelley, Mary. Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America. NY: Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 158–163.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice-Hall, 1994.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

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Southworth, E.D.E.N. (1819–1899)

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Southworth, E.D.E.N. (1819–1899)