A critical study of the writing of Mary Ellen Chase
Dodge, Evelyn Caldwell
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Mary Ellen Chase, a contemporary author of many parts, has followed the double career, not uncommon in twentieth-century Anerica, of writing and of teaching college English, contributing the vigor of her New England heritage in a complementary fashion to both professions. She has written short stories, and novels, biographies and autobiographies, volumes of essays and Biblical commentary, textbooks and a miscellany of introductions, reviews, articles, and pamphlets. Although she retired from the Smith College faculty in 1955, she continues to write books and many lesser pieces. Since the body of her published work is now a substantial one, it has seemed a good time to survey her general accomplishnent to date, in the individual use of many ideas and traditions, both historical and literary. The name of Mary Ellen Chase has appeared in footnotes, appendices, and lists. She has sometimes been mentioned or even briefly discussed as a New England regionalist. Almost all of her books have been reviewed, some of them often and quite generously, but there has been no general survey or study of the whole body of her writing. Thus there has been very little established opinion to guide this study. The problem has been to bring together such ideas about Miss Chase's writing as have been separately expressed, mainly in reviews, and to find in her writing its motivating themes, recurrent interests, and developing characteristics of style. A complete bibliography of her books and contributions to major periodicals has been attempted. Miss Chase's New England heritage has been the pivot on which many of her interests have turned. Unfailingly her concern for her own traditions and others as well has been motivated by her delight in them and by the search for any understanding which can contribute to a "good life" in the present. She makes it clear that the past, even at its high points, should inform the present, but never afford a mere retreat from it. The New England past forms a large part of her New England consciousness, which includes a strong sense of place and of the things and people to be found in the rural and coastal areas of Maine. Her contributions serve mainly to brighten old knowledge into new. Often the sense of place in her writing outweighs the impact of the past. Some of her best style describes the relationships between her characters and their natural environment. Sonetimes she shows the symbolic power of one single object from the natural environment. In her interest in England and in the Bible, Miss Chase is focusing on secondary aspects of the cultural heritage of New England. In her studies of the Bible, past and place are again important, as is the love of language, which has permeated all her writing with increasing effectiveness. Characteristic of Miss Chase's books about the Bible is her infectious enthusiasm for the ancient Hebrew people and for their literature. The impact of literary traditions on rer work has occasionally been noted, and sone close examination has been made of her imagery, the aspect of her style most generally useful to her. Its use has often allowed her to make distinct the multiple pasts producing together the total sense of the past which she never wishes to separate from the present.
Thesis (Ph.D.)—Boston University
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