Monday, January 02, 2012

Notes on The Mayflower: a collection of poetry and prose

The Mayflower is a collection of poetry and prose that was compiled and edited by Elizabeth Oakes Smith in 1848. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the original book, and being an antique book lover, I was pretty excited about that. There is nothing like reading a book that's over 150 years old in your sweats with your cat on your lap. That's my idea of relaxing. Norman Whiskers has developed an appreciation for the classics this way.

Reading The Mayflower with my furry lover boy Norman.
Oakes Smith edited The Mayflower, which was a series of stories and poems set in colonial times, when she was 42 years old. Seven pieces of her own work are included in this edition. Her byline changes in this book. She signs some pieces as E. Oakes Smith, while others are listed in her male pen name that she eventually abandoned: E. Helfenstein.  Other writings are simply signed: Editor. Of the seven, Jealousy and Gentle Born are poems and the rest are prose. I'm not certain what Jealousy is about. It has something to do with a lack of self control. Gentle Born compliments a poem by Emma Embury called The Peasant Girl. Both poems present protagonists who wish they were of a different social class. 
Sinned Against, or the Cottage Door, is one of EOS's short stories in the book. It's really fascinating because she deals with a theme that was taboo in her time- the poverty and mental anguish of an abandoned unwed mother. In the story, a young woman in this situation is taken in by a prominent figure in town who marries her. She believes her son is a burden to the gentleman and when the boy grows into his teens she sends him away. Can you imagine that?!

Her son leaves home willingly to become a sailor, still loving his mother and feeling sorry for her. In his travels he encounters a murderer. By a twist of fate, the murder discovers that the boy is his long lost son, and he expresses regret. Meanwhile, the murderer is set to be hanged in town square. The man who volunteers to execute the murderer turns out to be the boy's stepfather, who has discovered the identity of the criminal.

The Lover's Talisman is about a curse that followed a man throughout his life from a woman who he rejected romantically. In the end he is reunited with her, after being haunted for years by her image, but she dies in his arms.
I really enjoyed The Sentiment of Petship, an essay about all of the different animals EOS kept as pets at different points in time. She had canaries, dogs and even squirrels. The only animals she could not warm up to were cats- I can't imagine why. (Norman Whiskers was offended by this story.)  

Beauty, Vanity and Marble Mantels is a combination essay and short story.  The first part is written in the form of a persuasive essay arguing that women who are truly beautiful don't try so hard to be. The second half tells the story of a "homely" lady who was betrayed in love when she saw her cousin kissing her fiance. After the traumatic discovery of the betrayal, she disguised herself as a male minister and fooled a whole congregation until her death. The story was kind of odd, but entertaining, nonetheless.

EOS's The Hard Word is an essay about an engraving of the same name shown in the book.

title page
There are many more authors featured in this little book and I have only listed the works by EOS.  The authors were most likely picked from among her literary social circle. It's interesting to note that she chose to include works by mostly women in this collection. They may be all women if there are pen names here that I don't recognize.

There were two names that I knew right away: Fuller and Osgood. Margaret Fuller contributed a short story titled Mary Stuart. Frances Osgood has a poem included titled Confidence and Affection.  Other contributing authors include C.F. Hoffman, Emma Embury, Harriet Winslow, Harriet Jenks, H.T. Tuckerman, Elizabeth Bogert, Lucy Wells, Rudolf Herzman, W.R. Prince, E.S. Van Winkle, Daniel Seymour and Anna Lynch. There are beautiful engravings by J. Sartain and A. Warren. This is an awesome little book!

Sinned Against, or the Cottage Door engraving by J. Sartain

1 comment:

Timothy Scherman said...

If you liked this one, read the other--EOS edited The Mayflower for two years, 1847 and 1848--or, well, did her work in 1846 and 1847 for volumes published in those years. Most amazing story is "The Defeated Life" (now available in typescript on the Oakes-Smith website), which starts as a pretty sketch of North Yarmouth Maine and ends up an account of the gradual mental dissolution of a young woman "imprisoned" by her husband, a la "Yellow Wallpaper," but roughly a half century earlier.

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Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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