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Source File: cat.nf023.xml

The Home Monthly

by unsigned. [Willa Cather]

From The Home Monthly, 6 (March 1897):  7.

The Passing of the "Duchess."

There is wailing and gnashing of teeth among the fair maidens of the land by reason of the recent demise of "The Duchess." Mrs. Hungerford was the daughter of an Irish clergyman, was left a widow in her youth, and took up literature for the laudable purpose of supporting her children. That she was enabled to do so very royally indeed goes without saying, though the means were scarcely so laudable as the end. Most of the "light" novelists, particularly of the "light" lady novelists, have moments of pretentious aspirations, and like Miss Marie Corelli hurl piercing epithets and glowing adjectives at that conservative portion of the public which refuses to appreciate their merit, proudly calling up Shakespeare and Chatterton and other immortal geniuses unappreciated to their time. But "The Duchess" was amiable and pacific. She wrote trash pure and undefiled and made no pretentious to anything else. She was never guilty of cynicism toward the public or anything else. She wrote for her own fond public and for so many pounds sterling and let the critics go their proud way unheeded. Her most astonishing literary peculiarity is the fact that, though she wrote some thirty novels, she told only one story. But sometimes this story wore a pink dress and sometimes a blue; sometimes it had yellow ringlets and sometimes chestnut brown; sometimes it had laughing blue eyes, sometimes dark ones," full of unutterable sadness." Then sometimes it transpired in winter, sometimes in spring, sometimes in the sunlight and more often by moonlight. Mrs. Hungerford's literary methods were merciful and kindly in the extreme, like that good lady herself. She never kept her fond girl readers in suspense; she let them know at the first possible opportunity "whether he married her,"—and he always did! Sometimes this considerate lady would even soothe the anxious beating of maiden hearts by giving the dénouement of a novel in the title, as in "Sweet is True Love." Little cared she for analysis or character consequences; she even abolished those descriptions of scenery which girls always "skip." She put in "true love" and plenty of it, and great was her pecuniary reward. Most people read trash at some period of their lives, and "The Duchess'" trash is as harmless as new milk and as sweet as honey and the honeycomb. It is never naughty nor original. Her sphere was large, and many women who have become useful and cultured members of society once dwelt entranced in her duchy where the nights were always moonlit and the roses always bloomed. Indeed almost every living specimen of the genus femina has at one time or another taken a whiff of "The Duchess" on the sly. Generations yet unborn shall weep and triumph with "Mollie Bawn" or be with Portia "By Passions Rocked."