Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford

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Harriet Prescott Spofford
Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford.jpg
Born (1835-04-03)April 3, 1835
Calais, Maine
Died August 14, 1921(1921-08-14) (aged 86)


Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford (April 3, 1835 – August 14, 1921) was a notable American writer remembered for her novels, poems and detective stories.


Born in Calais, Maine, in 1835 Spofford moved with her parents to Newburyport, Massachusetts, which was ever after her home, though she spent many of her winters in Boston and Washington, D.C. She attended the Putnam Free School in Newburyport, and Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire from 1853 to 1855. At Newburyport her prize essay on Hamlet drew the attention of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who soon became her friend, and gave her counsel and encouragement.

Spofford began writing after her parents became sick, sometimes working fifteen hours a day. She contributed story papers for small pay to Boston. In 1859, she sent a story about Parisian life entitled "In a Cellar" to Atlantic Monthly. The magazine's editor, James Russell Lowell, at first believed the story to be a translation and withheld it from publication. Reassured that it was original, he published it and it established her reputation. She became a welcome contributor to the chief periodicals of the United States, both of prose and poetry.

Spofford's fiction had very little in common with what was regarded as representative of the New England mind. Her gothic romances were set apart by luxuriant descriptions, and an unconventional handling of female stereotypes of the day. Her writing was ideal, intense in feeling. In her descriptions and fancies, she reveled in sensuous delights and every variety of splendor.[citation needed]

In 1865, she married Richard S. Spofford, a Boston lawyer. They lived on Deer Island overlooking the Merrimack River at Amesbury, where she died on August 14, 1921.

When Higginson asked Emily Dickinson whether she had read Spofford's work "Circumstance", Dickinson replied, "I read Miss Prescott's 'Circumstance,' but it followed me in the dark, so I avoided her."[1]


Residence of Harriet Prescott Spofford in c. 1910
  • Sir Rohan's Ghost, 1860
  • The Amber Gods, and Other Stories, 1863, republished 1989
  • Azarian: An Episode, 1864
  • New England Legends, 1871
  • The Thief in the Night, 1872
  • Art Decoration Applied to Furniture, 1878
  • The Servant Girl Question, 1881
  • Marquis of Carabas, 1882
  • Poems, 1882
  • Hester Stanley at St. Mark's, 1883
  • Ballads About Authors, 1887
  • A Scarlet Poppy, and Other Stories, 1894
  • Stepping Stones To Happiness, 1897
  • Old Madame, and Other Tragedies, 1900
  • That Betty, 1903
  • The Ray of Displacement and other stories, 1903
  • Old Washington, 1906
  • The Fairy Changeling, 1910
  • A Little Book of Friends, 1916
  • The Elder's People, 1920

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Atlantic Monthly, October 1891.


External links[edit]