Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis
|Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis|
A woman of the century
Mary Evalina Moore|
April 12, 1844
Talladega, Alabama, U.S.
January 1, 1909 (aged 64)|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Pen name||M. E. M. Davis|
|Occupation||poet, writer, editor|
Thomas Edward Davis (m. 1874)
Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis (pen name, "M. E. M. Davis"; April 12, 1844 - January 1, 1909) was an American poet, writer, and editor. From the age of 14, she wrote regularly for the press and other periodicals. A critic said of her that she was "more thoroughly Texan in subject, in imagery and spirit than any of the Texas poets," and that scarcely any other than a native Texan could "appreciate all the merits of her poems, so strongly marked are they by the peculiarities of Texas scenery and patriotism." In 1889, Davis became editor of the New Orleans Picayune.
Early years and education
Mary Evalina Moore was born in Talladega, Alabama, April 12, 1844.[a] She was the only daughter of Dr. John Moore and Lucy Crutchfield. Her father, born at Oxford, Massachusetts, after receiving classical training and graduating in medicine, had removed to Alabama and there entered upon the practice of his profession. Her mother's family, from a Virginia family, was resident in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and two of her maternal uncles, Thomas and William, attained the rank of colonel, the former in the Confederate, the latter in the Union army. Her father distinguished himself as pioneer in the manufacture of iron in Alabama, discovering the ore in 1848, smelting it with charcoal, and forging it into bars under a trip hammer operated by water power. A few years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dr. Moore removed to Texas with his family and engaged in the planting of cotton. It was there at La Rose Blanche Plantation, in Hays County on the banks of the San Marcos River that the early years of Davis were passed.
La Rose Blanche Plantation, she received her education from private tutors, and there her talent for versification began to display itself. With her brother, she learned not only to read, but to ride, shoot and swim.
In 1874, she married Major Thomas Edward Davis, for many years the editor of The Daily Picayune. The removed subsequently to New Orleans, and took up their residence in the centre of the old French Quarter. Here, for nearly a generation, Davis dwelt in a house historically famous. Admitted from the first by her rare gifts of mind and manner into the innermost circle of the most exclusive Creole society, she enjoyed advantages for the study of it. These opportunities she exploited to the utmost, making herself for many years a vital part of that society, whose charms she learned to understand, to love, and to reproduce with rare fidelity in a long series of affectionate studies. At the same time, not being to the manner born, but drawing the streams of her life from distant and alien sources, she was able to maintain a certain detachment and objectivity in point of view that lent especial value to her appreciations and characterizations. She was also careful to lay a solid foundation of accurate knowledge beneath her most imaginative constructions, not hesitating to dedicate months of preliminary study to the ascertainment of some historical circumstance or the elucidation of some obscure tradition or custom connected with the plot of her story.
Davis' first volume of poems, entitled Minding the Gap, and Other Poems (Houston, Texas) was published in 1867, and passed through further editions after being enlarged and corrected. Among the best known and most admired of Davis' short poems were "Going Out and Coming In," "San Marcos River," "Stealing Roses Through the Gate," "Lee at the Wilderness," and a few others found in collections of American verse. The mystic prose poem, "The Song of the Opal", the classical "Pere Dagobert," "Throwing the Wanga," "The Center rigger," and "The Elephant's Track," were written for Harper's Magazine, while many poems and sketches were published in other periodicals.
It is in the short-story that Davis has perhaps achieved her most eminent success. Many of these were written for the northern monthlies, and a goodly number were collected and republished in An Elephant's Track and Other Stories. Here she introduced a great variety of motifs as well as of incidents and characters. The lighter and more humorous aspects of life were her favorites, but the stern and terrible problems were occasionally handled with ruthless fidelity and power. As a prose writer, Davis attracted as many readers and as much admiration as when she indulged in verses. Her short stories, such as "The Song of the Opal," "The Soul of Rose Dede," and "A Miracle," were flatteringly received, and a volume of Sketches entitled In War Times at La Rose Blanche (Boston, 1888), elicited such commendations from the press as to call for a French translation for the columns of La Revue des Deux Mondes. "Keren Happuch and I" was a series of sketches contributed to the New Orleans Picayune. "Snaky baked a Hoe-Cake," "Grief" and others, contributed to Wide Awake in 1876, were among the first, if not the very first, African American Vernacular English stories which appeared in print.
The series of works in which Davis has portrayed the life of Texas and Louisiana was the following: In War Times at La Rose Blanche Plantation (Lothrop and Company, Boston); Under the Man-Fig (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston); An Elephant's Track, and Other Stories (Harper and Brothers, New York, 1897); The Story of Texas Under Six Flags (Ginn and Company, Boston, 1898); The Wire Cutters (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899); The Queen's Garden (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1900); Jaconetta (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1901); The Little Chevalier (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1905); The Price of Silence (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1907); The Bunch of Roses (Small and Maynard, Boston). Of these In War Times at La Rose Blanche Plantation and 'Jaconetta were largely autobiographical, both dealing with the early years of the author's life, but in a modest and unobtrusive fashion that enlisted the liveliest interest of the reader in the many other characters that crowd her pages rather than in her own. Jaconetta" was Davis's childhood nickname at La Rose Blanche during the American Civil War.
Under Six Flags is a charmingly written child's history of the "Lone Star State", in which the romantic features are brought out distinctly, and the mere annalistic details, without sacrifice of historical accuracy, are subordinated to humanistic interests and dramatic effect. It is in fact a Tendenzschrift well calculated to arouse the State pride of the Texan youth and stimulate him to achievement worthy of the descendant of such ancestry as he finds therein described.
The life in Texas furnishes the background for two other books in this list: Under the Man-Fig and The Wire Cutters, both to be numbered with her more important works, both ably written, and both developing ingenious and rather complicated plots through which love stories of grace and charm are guided safely to the end. Davis' novel Under the Man-Fig, was described by a reviewer as "a tale at once strongly dramatic, clean and artistic," while her work generally is described by the same writer as being "characterized by a keen sense of humor, a fine restrained pathos and a delicate play of fancy."
'In the 'Queen's Garden' (a sweet flower exhaling its fragrance amid the tombs), is an idyl whose scene is laid in New Orleans, agonizing in the paroxysms of one of those fearful visitations of yellow fever, now, thanks to the explorations of science, numbered with the past forever. It is in 'The Little Chevalier,' by many regarded as her masterpiece, and 'The Price of Silence' that Davis has made the most minute and painstaking study of Creole life, manners, and character. The former deals with those early days, in the middle of the Eighteenth Century, when the boundless colonial ambition of France stretched a long thin line of possessions, following the water courses of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a motley web of intrigue, ambition, adventure, war, treachery, devotion, death, with a great variety of incidents and characters, French, Indian, and African, and through all runs the golden thread of a romantic love. 'The Price of Silence' deals with the New Orleans of to-day, though the roots of the story reach back two generations into the past. The theme is not altogether pleasant; the tragedy of color is evoked and only deftly evaded at the close. Not every one will find the treatment satisfactory. Alone among Davis's works this seems to bear some traces of haste in composition. Nor should this circumstance give occasion to wonder; for the book was written on a couch of pain, while the writer was suffering daily and almost continually from an excruciating malady. Produced under such conditions, it seems the most noteworthy of her creations, as in fact it surpasses the rest in boldness of conception, in dramatic situations, and in sustained intensity of interest. But it may be questioned whether any of these longer works show the author at her very best.
Literary style and themes
In all of her stories, both short and long, it is the pictorial effect that is chiefly sought and most successfully attained. Davis leaves subtle psychological analysis to others, while clearly recognizing, she is little concerned with the problems of heredity and environment, of character evolution, and of the shuttlecock play of emotions and motives. The great elemental feelings in general suffice for her purposes. But she is especially desirous of producing a vivid picture in the mind of the reader. She wishes to depict a situation that shall be convincing in its lifelikeness and verisimilitude. To this end, she summons all the resources of her own personal knowledge and observation, and employs all her powers of animated description. We know or may know the exact appearance of each of her multitudinous characters, the color and curl of the hair, the shape of the nose, lips, and chin, the poise of the head, the cut of the coat, the tone of the voice, and the thousand other details that set themselves together to make up the external personality. Not only this, but she reproduces with the minute exactness of a photograph all the topographical, botanical, and meteorological conditions of the moment in question -- just how the road wound through the forest, how the river gleamed, how the shadows flitted, how the wistaria bloomed, the arbutus trailed, the magnolia breathed, the banana tree nodded; what streets were overflowed, what signs filled the shop windows, what portraits hung on the walls. One is reminded of some painting of Ernest Meissonier, some battle of Eylau, where the very buckles on the shoes of the grenadier are painted with microscopic care and conscientiousness. These descriptive passages are adorned with frequent felicity of epithet, and bear witness not only to a closely observant eye, but to a nature quickly responsive to the moods and suggestions of the outer world.
Almost equally prominent with this pictorial quality is the joy in narrative. The story-telling instinct is indeed very strong in Davis. She plunges with her readers eagerly into the stream of events and is never more delighted than when borne along at its full flood. Very happy, too, is she in the employment of Afro-American superstitions, which she uses not merely for artistic purposes, to enliven a scene or to impart local color to a situation, but also effectively often as causal agencies in the interlinkage of incidents constituting the plot of her story. She understands the Afro-American character well, and loves to depict it. Her management of the Afro-American dialect is good, but she is discreetly sparing, however happy, in her use of such forms of illiterature. "Always delicately moving" along the upper walks of Creole society, she makes no attempt to vie with "Jack Lafaiance" in rendering the humbler and more amusing aspects. But especially in 'The Price of Silence', she has given some striking impressionistic sketches of the Creole temperament and peculiarities, and has introduced into the conversations certain Creole idioms and pronunciations, unobtrusively, but with fine artistic effect. Here, as elsewhere, she has held a tight rein upon herself, has offended no propriety, carefully observing due metes and bounds and remembering the ancient wisdom.
No sectional feeling shows itself in Davis's writings. The character, Sidney Cortlandt, may possibly appear unnecessarily detestable, but he is not a Northerner, he is a Southern renegade and degenerate. The gentleness of her nature appears in the fact that she is loth to visit great punishment even upon the chief of sinners, but often allows them to escape with less than poetic justice.
In 1874, she married Major Thomas Edward Davis, of Virginia, for many years associated with the Houston Telegram, who later served as editor-in-chief of the Picayune. In 1880, the couple made their home in New Orleans, and every year their historic house in Royal Street received people in town, both French and American residents. With all her social cares, she found time for reading and study and hospitality. She was an accomplished French scholar as well as a lover and student of Spanish literature. She was president of the "Geographies", a literary circle, and vice-president of the "Quarante", a large and fashionable literary club. In both those organizations, she was recognized as a mental guide, philosopher and friend.
Moore died at her home in New Orleans on January 1, 1909.
- Brooks 1896, p. 115-.
- Wilkinson, C. W. (12 June 2010). "DAVIS, MOLLIE EVELYN MOORE". tshaonline.org. exas State Historical Association. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- Wachtell 2010, p. 192.
- Alderman, Harris & Kent 1909, p. 1273-.
- Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 232.
- Davis 1867, p. 1.
- Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 232-33.
- Davis 1897, p. 1.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Alderman, Edwin Anderson; Harris, Joel Chandler; Kent, Charles William (1909). Library of Southern Literature: Biography (Public domain ed.). Martin and Hoyt Company.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Brooks, Elizabeth (1896). Prominent Women of Texas (Public domain ed.). Werner Company.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Davis, M.E.M. (1897). The Story of Texas under Six Flags (Public domain ed.). Ginn and Company.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Davis, Mollie Evelyn Moore (1867). Minding the Gap: And Other Poems (Public domain ed.). Cushing & Cave.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Willard, Frances Elizabeth; Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice (1893). A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life (Public domain ed.). Moulton.
- Wachtell, Cynthia (2010). War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-3750-5.
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