Phœbe

When one thinks of the varied forms of misunderstanding that are possible in a world peopled with such varied tempers, temperaments, whims, wills, concealments, prejudices, and perplexities, it seems amazing, not that there is so much discord, but that there is anything else. It is difficult to decide whether the outspoken people or the inarticulate people contribute most to the general misunderstanding.

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It is easy to forgive acknowledged defeat; it is hard to forgive defiant success.

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Man's inhumanity to man, intentional or accidental, seems to be at the bottom of more than half our mourning.


After transcribing and publishing The Sutherlands (1861), I looked for another likely novel by Miriam Coles Harris, and chose Phœbe (1884), which received a favorable mention in Fifty Years Among Authors, Books, and Publishers (1884):

"A marked contrast to the fiction in vogue among us twenty-five or thirty years ago and that in vogue to-day is a new story, Phoebe, by the author of Rutledge. The author... is a healthy, right-minded and very womanly writer, and in Phoebe she has delineated a character which will commend itself to a great many healthy and right-minded people. She is a story-teller, not an analogist." (page 570)

Essentially, the novel is a moral fable: simple, elegant, insightful, and above all sympathetic. I am tempted to compare it to Helen Harlow's Vow (1870), which is by far the more radical novel of the time. Helen defies societal norms and claims no shame in single motherhood, triumphing in her firmness and self-respect. Phbe marries the man who ruined her, his mother insisting that it's the right thing to do, even at the cost of respectability. But one misstep leads to another, and the situation turns from poor to desperate. Nonetheless, the denouement (which I won't reveal here) is worthy of Guy de Maupassant, and may perhaps have been inspired by him. I can at least say that the novel has a happy ending.

The text is from this scan, which is in excellent condition: relatively little work-up was needed to correct OCR errors, and transcription went quickly. In preparing the text, I joined contractions such as "had n't" and "you 've" but otherwise preserved the original spelling and punctuation, except for obvious typographical errors.

So here it is: the master HTML version, the home-brew Kindle version, and the actual Amazon publication.

As Margaret Oliphant and Thomas Bailey Aldrich say in The Second Son: Oh, what a mystery is life, with all its mistakes and tragic blunderings!

June 25, 2024


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