Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart

Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

1844 - 1911

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) was the author of fifty-seven volumes of fiction, poetry and essays. Phelps gained recognition from prominent literary figures such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson and John Greenleaf Whittier, when "The Tenth of January," a story she wrote about the death of scores of girls in a mill fire in Lawrence, MA in 1859, appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. Personal experience and strong belief also led her to write about the problems and treatment of women. She gained popularity through the publication of The Gates Ajar (1868), a novel offering a comforting view of the afterlife to women who had lost loved ones in the Civil War. Much of her writing was concerned with social issues and women's rights. Given these concerns, it may seem strange that among her numerous publications, Phelps wrote several poems and three short stories on Arthurian themes. However, when one considers the manner of her retelling of the Arthurian tales, particularly in her fiction, they seem of a piece with her other work. Her approach in her fiction is to translate the inhabitants of medieval Camelot into a nineteenth-century setting. Her Lady of Shalott (in "The Lady of Shalott") is a sickly seventeen-year-old girl living in a slum and supported by her sister who earns a poverty wage doing piece-work. When the mirror through which she views the world is broken by street urchins throwing rocks, she succumbs to her harsh environment and dies. The story is a deromanticization of one of the most romantic characters of nineteenth-century literature. Her Galahad (in "The Christmas of Sir Galahad") is a man who, despite his love for another woman, remains faithful to his wife

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