Anne Moncure Crane

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Anne Moncure Crane (Seemüller) (January 7, 1838 – December 10, 1872) [1][2] was an American writer of the popular novels Emily Chester, Opportunity and Reginald Archer. Her writing explored female sexual desire, making it controversial in some quarters of post-Civil War American society. The author Henry James, among others, was influenced by Crane's books.

Biography[edit]

Crane was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1838, daughter of William and Jean Crane. Her family were merchants and led a comfortable middle class lifestyle. An ancestor, Thomas Stone, had signed the Declaration of Independence - an illustrious connection that would later be attached to one of Crane's literary characters. Crane was taught by a local pastor, the Reverend N.A. Morrison. Her physical characteristics are described in a book on Southern writers thus:

"Miss Crane looks the 'woman of genius,' having large features, her nose aquiline and prominent, her mouth large, but rather pleasant, her chin firm, her brow moderate and well arched : her eyes are dark, and have a bright outlook on this world ; her hair is dark and very luxuriant she wears it piled up according to the present 'Japanese' style. She is tall, but not ungraceful. She prides herself on making all her own clothes, and being able to do everything for herself, which is very commendable. A friend calls her 'an universal genius' who is very ambitious, thinking 'an intellectual woman ought to do everything.'"[3]

Crane married Augustus Seemüller, a New York merchant, in 1869. They left Baltimore to settle in New York City. Crane thereafter lived in relative comfort and was able to afford several tours of Europe. She died in Stuttgart, Germany, where she had gone to "take the waters" in the hope of relief from chronic hepatitis.[1] Her remains, as well as her husband's, are interred beside her father's in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore.[4]

Prior to the publication of her three novels, Crane wrote several short stories for the Galaxy and Putnam's Monthly.[2][3] In 1873, a collection of miscellaneous essays was published posthumously.[1]

Emily Chester[edit]

In 1858, when Crane was twenty, she competed with a number of her friends to see who could write the best novel.[2][Note 1][5] The result of the friendly competition was the work that would set Crane upon her distinguished path – the novel Emily Chester. When the novel was completed, it was taken to Messrs. Ticknor & Fields, Boston, by a writer who was a stranger to them. She was told that they could not even entertain the idea of publishing it, as they were overcrowded with previous engagements; but upon her urging the point, she was politely allowed to leave the book for inspection. Within two weeks from that time they sent a contract for its publication, addressed to the "Author of 'Emily Chester; and it was not until Crane returned the paper signed in full that they knew the name of the writer whose novel they had bound themselves to publish.[3] Nevertheless, the first edition was published anonymously.[5] On the title page is a quotation from Goethe, "It is in her monstrosities that Nature discloses to us her secrets."[5]

At the heart of the work was the dilemma of the title character, who married a respectable, if boring, middle class gentleman, and later fell in love with a more dashing man of her community. The fierce moral debate that subsequently raged inside Emily - whether to stay faithful to her husband, or to pursue her passion for her real love - eventually had a deleterious effect on her physical health. A conclusion came about, morbidly, with Emily’s death.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Emily Chester was published in 1864 and proved surprisingly popular. The book went through ten editions and was published in Europe as well as the United States. A dramatic play based on the book was even created, exploiting the intriguing new set-up that Crane had introduced – the respectable woman tempted to the verge of adultery, and the resulting effect that the moral predicament has on her personally.

Crane and Henry James[edit]

In Henry James and the 'Woman Business' (2004), writer Alfred Habegger accuses Henry James of plagiarizing Crane's novels after her death and rewriting them under his own name. He believes that a scathing anonymous obituary was in fact written by James who had every reason, he contends, to want her forgotten,

"For the unknown writer of this shockingly nasty death notice, Seemüller [Crane] was a monster of such power and proportions that it was necessary, publicly, to drive a stake through her heart. It was essential that this novelist never rise again.
What better authorization would James have needed for his slightly risky enterprise of appropriating and rewriting Seemüller's novels? She was dead and buried ... It would be a civilized and responsible act to turn her shapeless and immoral narratives into a novel of rounded perfection."[2]

Opportunity[edit]

Her second book, entitled Opportunity, was published at the close of 1867, and was welcomed by the many admirers of Emily Chester, although it did not create such a furore. It was thus noticed in a Southern journal, by Paul H. Hayne, a poet:

"This is no common romance. Depending but slightly upon the nature of its plot and outward incidents, its power is almost wholly concentrated upon a deep, faithful, subtle analysis of character. Indeed, it is rather a series of peculiar psychological studies, than a novel in the ordinary sense of the term.
Two male characters brothers divide the reader's interest. One is a brilliant, susceptible, but frivolous

nature, possessing, no doubt, capacities for good, yet too feeble to arrest and to develop them. The other is a strong, passionate, manly, upright soul, who, in the blackest hours of misfortune and doubt, feels that there are instinctive spiritual truths which a man must cling to, would he avoid destruction. These brothers, so diverse in temperament, encounter and fall in love with the same woman.
We close our notice of Miss Crane's production with the remark that no tale has recently appeared, North or South, which is so full of rich evidences of genuine psychological power, a profound study of character in some of

its most unique spiritual and mental manifestations, and fervid artistic aspirations, destined to embody themselves gloriously in the future."[3]

Reginald Archer[edit]

Cranes third book was Reginald Archer published in 1871. Habegger claimed that the protagonist of this novel, Christie Archer, was the inspiration for The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.[2]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The other writers in the group were Miriam Coles Harris, the author of 'Rutledge', and Harriet Prescott, the author of 'The Amber Gods' (Habegger)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, Vol.2 (1888)
  2. ^ a b c d e Alfred Habegger (2004) Henry James and the 'Woman Business', Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ a b c d Ida Raymond (1870) Southland writers. Biographical and critical sketches of the living female writers of the South. With extracts from their writings [1]
  4. ^ The Baptist Encyclopædia (1881)
  5. ^ a b c d Anne Moncure Crane (1864) Emily Chester, Ticknor and Fields, Boston

Further reading[edit]

  • Judith E. Funston. "Crane, Anne Moncure" at American National Biography Online, February 2000
  • Alfred Habegger, Henry James and the “Woman Business” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).