Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Benjamin Friedlander

Second Committee Member

Naomi Jacobs

Third Committee Member

Margaret Lukens

Abstract

Mary Ellen Chase, one of the most popular American authors of the twentieth century, was born in Blue Hill, Maine in 1887. Her career as a writer spanned the period between 1909, when she left Maine to teach in the mid-West, and her death in 1973. Much of her literature was influenced by her early life in Blue Hill and by the various members of family. This thesis looks at the historical, biographical, and genealogical factors that gave impetus to a prolific literary output and won her a place among the leading Humanist writers in American literature during the middle of the last century. Historically, Chase's works dealing exclusively with Maine are based upon nineteenth-century and early twenieth-century life in small seacoast villages. This was the life into which Chase was born, and the various villages created within her fiction depend upon the history of Blue Hill for their being. To understand and appreciate Chase's writing, one must first understand the history of her hometown. This thesis explores the early settlement of Blue Hill, the oldtime Puritan traditions handed down from the early settlers to their descendants, and the rise and fall of the shipping industry in that locality. These three subjects are of major importance to Chase's overall literary canon. In term of her own biography, Chase's early life, the period from her birth to her removal to the Mid-West, plays a major role in the construction of her literature. Her autobiographical works, of course, are solely based upon her perceptions of her family's life. But, the stories told to her as a child by the various members of her extended family also influenced her fiction. Her early meetings with Maine authors, Laura Richards and Sarah Orne Jewett, solidified her own desire to write stories about New England life and people as she knew them during her Maine childhood. Her religious up-bringing in the Congregational church and her New England education in the classics of Greece and Rome also found artistic outlets in and through her writing. Genealogy was also of considerable interest to Mary Ellen Chase, and her Maine works reflect this interest. As a Humanistic writer, she believed that each generation had the potential to rise above the ones preceding it. She saw this trend in her own genealogy, and she sought to create characters that, despite setbacks beyond their own control, had the fortitude and perseverance to stay their course and retain their dignity in the midst of often trying circumstances. For the creation of characters who exhibit such traits, she turned to her own pedigree for valuable information. Her paternal grandmother, Eliza Ann (Wescott) Chase, and other Maine women, Caroline (McFarland) Lord, Elizabeth (Hibbard) Darling, and Mary Ann Fossett, all have evident places in her Maine writings. The character of Mary Peters is based upon her paternal aunt, Mary (Dyer) Chase Herrick; the character of the elder Silas Crockett is based upon her paternal grandfather, Captain Melatiah Kimball Chase, and the character of Thomas Winship is based upon a maternal great-uncle, Thomas M. Lord. The genealogical connections and literary / spiritual influences of these people are explained in light of what Chase and others actually recorded about them

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