19th-century Regional Writing in the United States

Ruth McEnery Stuart

Many thanks to the scholarship of Lisa Bompiani for generating all the materials on this page.


I. Biographical Information About Ruth McEnery Stuart

II. Characteristics of Her Writing

III. Gender Implications

IV. Racial Implications

V. Chosen Stories of Ruth McEnery Stuart

A. "Moriah's Mourning"

B. "The Widder Johnsing"

C. "Weeds"

D. "The Women"

VI. Bibliography Used for This Information

A. Ruth McEnery Stuart

B. Local Color Writing

VII. Additional Listings

VIII. Bibliography of Ruth McEnery Stuart

IX. Websites Related to Ruth McEnery Stuart


I. Biographical Information About Ruth McEnery Stuart

Mary Routh McEnery was born at Avoyelles Parish, Marksville, in Louisiana on February 19, 1852; however, this date is questionable, with most critics placing it between 1849 and 1860. She was the daughter of a wealthy family of planters and slaveholders, as well as lifelong residents of Louisiana. The oldest of eight children born to Mary Routh Stirling McEnery (a Scot) and James McEnery (an Irishman), she was educated at private and public schools in New Orleans. These experiences provided the information for her tales about Creoles and Italians. After the war, the financial burden caused her to work as a school teacher at Loquet-LeRoy Institute, a finishing school for ladies. She remained in New Orleans until she married Alfred O. Stuart, a three-time widower with eleven children, in 1879. Twenty-eight years her senior (she=30, he=58), he moved his wife to his cotton plantations in Washington, Arkansas. This town became the inspiration for Stuart's Simpkinsville. Remaining there from 1879-1883, E.F. Harkins quotes Stuart as saying, "We lived right among them -- there were hundreds of Negroes to one white person" (258). Not surprisingly, these Negroes formed her character studies for her writing.

In 1883, a son Stirling was born to the Stuarts. Sadly, Alfred died on August 5, 1883, of a stroke, and Stuart moved to New York with Stirling and her sister Sarah. Stanhope Sams described him as "a fine-looking, athletic, young fellow" who was worthy of Stuart's devotion and repays it with the gentle consciousness of a Southern gentleman (205).

She began writing after her husband's death. According to several interviews, she wrote before breakfast and afterwards until lunch, then exercised in the afternoon. She did not write at night because she could not sleep. Of course, she used a typewriter. Her first story, "Uncle Mingo's Speculations," was published in February 1888 in New Princeton Review, with "Lamentations of Jeremiah Johnson" following in May 1888.

Stuart travelled to such places as Chicago, Denver, and New Orleans to give public readings of her stories and monologues until she became ill as a result of poor health and hard work. In an interview with Sams, she said that there was nothing keener than having a story developing under her brain and hands, and she always hoped to do better work.

She died in 1917.


Contemporary Writers

Mary Johnston

Ellen Glasgow

Kate Chopin

Francis Hodgson Burnett

Sarah Barnwell Elliot

Grace King

Sarah Orne Jewett

Mary Wilkins Freeman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Louisa May Alcott

Julia Ward Howe

Sherwood Bonner

Thomas Page Nelson

Joel Chandler Harris

Charles Dudley Warner

Richard Watson Gilder

W.D. Howells

Hamlin Garland

Mark Twain

George W. Cable

Irwin Russell

Herbert Spencer

Bronte sisters

Harriet Monroe

II. Characteristics of Her Writing

Judy E. Sneller writes that a contemporary journal of Stuart, Bookman, proposed that Stuart was more widely known and read than other female writers, and had a further reaching personality. As Sams notes, "her characters are real, and she touches the hearts of readers because she writes from the heart" (203). As for her work, Stuart wrote picturesque Southern Literature, and about "the simple folk because they please her more" (Sams 204). Her work appears in three major forms: 1) Lyrics based on Southern songs, 2) Local Color sketches of blacks or whites, and 3) Extended stories that are not quite novels. Within these forms, her writing can be grouped into three categories: 1) New Orleans with influences from the cosmopolitan Southern cities, 2) The plantations of Southern and Central Louisiana with the black slaves and displaced ex-slaves, 3) The imaginary Arkansas town of Simpkinsville, a rural farm and plantation village of impoverished white folks.

The plots of her stories revolved around sentimental reunions, middle-aged courtships, pathetic struggles for survival, Christmas Time, marriages, and a lot of family life and activities. Stuart enjoyed the story-telling tradition, using dialogue and situations to develop character. Also, she wrote with an intriguing humor and dialect. Her tales about blacks are domestic and realistic, include no interracial conflict, and have no vicious blacks. However, controversy arises over her depiction of the stereotypical illiterate, happy-go-lucky, good-natured Negro of the South. Regardless, most critics spoke positively of her style. Joan Wylie Hall states that her tales provide a detailed picture of post-Civil War life, and according to Sams, her "Negroes have always the genuine Negro humor, which is unconscious, while her po' white trash are equally amusing and pathetic in their plentiful lack of humor" (203).

Harkins claims that her writing shows an appreciation of the "curious rhythm of the plantation song" (257), but he appears non-politically correct by saying that her writing's faithfulness to these songs stamps it as "truthful expositions of those unintellectual and simple minds that few Americans know well enough to interpret" (257). On the other hand, Edwin Lewis Stevens believes Stuart was the first to show the Negro apart from the white man, in his independent home life, and not hold him up for ridicule. Nonetheless, as did many writers of the time, Stuart appears caught between the Northern desire for the "happy darky" and her Southern lifestyle. Hall notes that she had her own reasons for preserving the pre-Civil War folklore; however, Helen Taylor's work focuses on Stuart's writing as being written to please her Northern audience, and presenting the Louisiana regional identity as marginal to a national culture. On the whole, Charles Dudley Warner sums up the general opinion of Stuart by saying that her reproductions of Louisiana are the best we have.



III. Gender Implications

Hall states that Stuart's most successful stories are those that focus on a strong woman in times of personal and societal upheaval. Stuart has been given greater attention recently because critics are looking at what these women say in her stories, not how they say it. Hall believes Stuart's The Cocoon: A Rest-Cure Comedy, written in standard dialect and epistolary format, to be closer to Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper," rather than local color fiction. This becomes a more solid statement once the subjects of Stuart's story -- marriage, divorce, eugenics, and infertility -- are realized.

Taylor examines the links between weak white women and feminized black men in Stuart's work. The black male, by nature of being economically powerless, dependent, and often sick and dying demand the same sympathy as does the white bourgeois woman. Also, women equate marriage to slavery, furthering the black man/white woman tie. Taylor reminds readers, though, that the black woman was not protected from the exploitations of work and domestic life as were the white women. Nevertheless, the connections between the two arise from helpless dependency, lack of autonomy, and confederate humiliation.

Generally, although a supporter of women's rights, Stuart's attitude towards race clashed with that towards gender, which is evident in her writing.



IV. Racial Implications

In the 1880's, black comic figures took over the cultural scene, with animal-like portrayals replacing the earlier human-like depictions. Replacing the Irishman as the butt of jokes, the black was laughed at with good humor, but no sensitivity. Taylor writes that Stuart's blacks are loyal, affectionate, and desexualized, making them celebrities in female discourse of the period. However, Sneller points out that Stuart reinforced and challenged existing ideologies simultaneously since "the paternalistic impulses of slavery had been placed within the framework of emancipation" (216). She continues by writing that "Stuart's humor not only reflects the deteriorating social, economic, and political relationship between Southern blacks and white bourgeois society after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and into the new century, but also provides images and stereotypes which contribute to the increasing pressure to exclude blacks from the good life of the reconstructed south" (217). Taylor summarizes that the blacks are marginalized because the culture that is reinforced is bourgeois white supremacy, and the stories which race and gender intersect are those dealing with black women.



V. Chosen Stories by Ruth McEnery Stuart

Since Stuart's work is unknown to most and recently being rediscovered, I centered this page around the two greatest issues of her work: race and gender. Below, I highlight four stories that are great starting points for study concerning Stuart and these two topics.


A. "Moriah's Mourning." from Moriah's Mourning and Other Half-Hour Sketches. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. Originally 1898.

This sketch deals with widowhood from the perspective of a black plantation widow. She has been the picture of mourning, and is now explaining to her mistress how she managed to rope in another husband within a month of her husband's passing. The tale is being related to the reader by this mistress. In her relation, the reader can identify certain rules for mourning, motives for remarriage, and stereotypes, especially with the illustration.


B. "The Widder Johnsing." from A Golden Wedding and Other Tales. ?: Harper & Brothers, 1893.

This tale also deals with widowhood from the view of a black plantation woman, but with a decidedly different approach. This sketch opens with the death and funeral of Jake Johnson. His widow, Liza Ann, has quite a reputation for stealing husbands, and already has seen three husbands to the grave. However, at Jake's funeral, the sight of his abandoned wife and child sets her into a deeper mourning; she vows only to go after unattached men. Shocked by her change in behavior, the people of the town watch her closely and wait for her deviltry to appear. She begins to attend church, and, in a way similar to Moriah's catching her new husband, ends up snagging the young and available minister!


C. "Weeds." from In Simpkinsville Character Tales. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. Originally 1897.

This tale looks at widowhood from the angle of a white women, as well as the widowhood of a white male. It takes place in the cemetery in which Elijah Tomkin's wife and Miss Christian's husband are buried. Through their interactions, the differences in rules and behavior related to mourning and remarriage can be identified and compared to that of the first two tales. Elijah promised his dying wife that he would plant a rosebud on her grave each morning. Miss Christian discovers this fact, and Elijah fears she will blab it to the entire town, leading to his being ridiculed for being a sentimental fool. However, as he learns, Miss Christian proves to be a very trustworthy friend.


D. "The Women." from Sonny's Father. NY: The Century Co., 1915.

This is the only sketch/tale in which Stuart's avid support for the upsurge in women's rights is apparent. However, the views are shared by Sonny's father, an aging man who is talking to his Doctor about his belief in the women getting what they want. Throughout the sketch, Sonny's father explains his views on what he has witnessed at the women's meetings, to which he has been admitted because of his age and donation of some money. At the close, he expresses his support for the women, seemingly validating their cause.



VI. Bibliography

Ruth McEnery Stuart

Bassett, John. Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary. Ed. Robert Bain, Joseph M. Flora, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1979. 437-39.

Hall, Joan Wylie. "Ruth McEnery Stuart." Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. 10.1 (1993): 47-56.

Harkins, E.F., and Johnston, C.H.L. "Ruth McEnery Stuart." Little Pilgrimages Among the Women Who Have Written Famous Books. Boston, MA: L.C.Page, 1902. 255-265.

Lemons, J. Stanley. "Black Stereotypes as Reflected in Popular Culture, 1880-1920." American Quarterly. 29.1 (Spring 1977): 102-116.

Sams, Stanhope. "Ruth McEnery Stuart in New York City." Women Authors of Our Day in Their Homes. Ed. Francis Whiting Halsey. NY, NY: James Pott & Company, 1903. 201-208.

Simpson, Ethel C. "Introduction." Simpkinsville and Vicinity: Arkansas Stories of Ruth McEnery Stuart. Fayetteville, AK: The University of Arkansas Press, 1983. 1-20, 213-14.

Sneller, Judy E. "Bad Boys/Black Misfits: Ruth McEnery Stuart's Humor and the 'Negro Question' ." Images of the Child. Ed. Harry Eiss. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994. 215-228.

Taylor, Helen. "Introduction." Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. 1-27.

---------. "Ruth McEnery Stuart." Chapter 2. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. 84-137.



Local Color Writing

"Brief Outline Guide to Forms of Nineteenth-Century American Fiction." English 413. Internet. November 15, 1997. http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl413/forms.htm. January 22, 1998.

Dike, Donald A. "Notes on Local Color and Its Relation to Realism." College English. 14.1 (October 1952): 81-89.

Harmon, William, and Holman, C. Hugh. "Local Color Writing." A Handbook to Literature. 7th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. 295.

"Local Color Fiction 1865-1895." English 413. Internet. November 15, 1997. http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl413/lcolor.html. January 22, 1998.



VII. Additional Listings

Brown, Dorothy H. "Ruth McEnery Stuart: A Reassessment." Xavier-Review. 7.2. (1987): 23-36.

The Comic Imagination in American Literature. Ed. Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Forum Series. Washington, D.C.: Voice of America, 1974.

Fletcher, Mary Frances. "A Biographical and Critical Study of Ruth McEnery Stuart." Diss. Louisiana State University, 1955.

Frisby, James R., Jr. "New Orleans Writers and the Negro: George Washington Cable, Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, Kate Chopin, and Lafcadio Hearn, 1870-1900." Dissertation Abstracts International. Ann Arbor, MI: 1972, 33, 2890A (Emory).

Simpson, Ethel C. "Ruth McEnery Stuart: The Innocent Grotesque." Louisiana Review: A Review of Literature and Humanities. 4.1. (Spring 1987): 57-65.

Sneller, Judy. "Old Maids' and Wily 'Widders': The Humor of Ruth McEnery Stuart." American Humor: New Studies, New Directions. Ed. David Sloane. University of Alabama Press.

Sneller, Judy. "Transforming 'the undesirable gift': The Power of Women's Humor." Silver Anniversary Anthology. Ed. Thomas J. Gasque. Brookings, SD: South Dakota Humanities Council, 1997: 147-158.

Sneller, Judy. " 'Sambo' and 'The Southern Lady': Humor and the (Re)Construction of Identity in the Local Color Fiction of Ruth McEnery Stuart." in Race, Class, and Gender. Eds. Craig Barrow, et. al. Chattanooga, TN: Southern Humanities Press, 1993: 237-245.

Starke, Catherine Juanita. Black Portraiture in American Fiction: Stock Characters, Archetypes, and Individuals. NY: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1971.

Stevens, Edwin Lewis. "Ruth McEnery Stuart." Library of Southern Literature. XI. (1907): 5145-5161.

Tutwiler, Julia R. "The Southern Woman in New York." The Bookman. 18. (February 1904): 624-634.

Wheeler, Candace. "American Authoresses of the Hour: Ruth McEnery Stuart." Harper's Bazar. 32. (December 16, 1899): 1083-84.



VIII. Bibliography of Ruth McEnery Stuart (stories noted when known)

"American Backgrounds for Fiction: VI - Arkansas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Country." Bookman. 39. (August 1914): 620-30.

Aunt Amity's Silver Wedding and Other Stories. NY: The Century Co., 1903.

* Aunt Amity's Silver Wedding
* "Petty Larceny"
* The Hair of the Dog
* Thanksgiving on Crawfish Bayou

Carlotta's Intended. NY and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1891.

* Carlotta's Intended
* Bud Zunt's Mail
* Christmas Geese"
* Caesar
* Aunt Delphi's Dilemma
* Duke's Christmas
* Poems - Rose
- Winnie
- Voices

The Cocoon. NY: Hearst's International Library Co., 1915.

Daddy Do-Funny's Wisdom Jingles. NY: The Century Co., 1916.

George Washington Jones. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Company, 1903.

Gobolinks or Shadow Pictures for Young and Old. With Albert Bigelow Paine. NY: The Century Co., 1896.

A Golden Wedding and Other Tales. NY and London: Harper & Brothers, 1905.

* A Golden Wedding
* Lamentations of Jeremiah Johnson
* Uncle Mingo's "Speculations"
* The Widder Johnsing
* Christmas Gifts
* "Blink"
* Jessekiah Brown's Courtship
* Crazy Abe
* Queen Anne
* Camelia Riccardo
* The Woman's Exchange of Simpkinsville
* "Oh, Shoutin's Mighty Sweet"
* Lucindy

The Haunted Photograph; Whence and Whither; A Case in Diplomacy; The Afterglow. NY: The Century Co., 1911.

Holly and Pizen and Other Stories. NY: The Century Co., 1899.

* Holly and Pizen
* Queen o' Sheba's Triumph
* A Note of Scarlet
* Uncle Still's Famous Weather Prediction
* Picayune: A Child Story

In Simpkinsville: Character Tales. NY and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1897.

* An Arkansas Prophet
* Weeds
* The Unlived Life of Little Mary Ellen
* The Dividing Fence
* The Middle Hall
* Miss Jemima's Valentine
* A Slender Romance

Moriah's Mourning and Other Half-Hour Sketches. NY and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1898.

* Moriah's Mourning
* An Optical Dilemma
* The Second Mrs. Slimm
* Apollo Belvedere. A Christmas Episode of the Plantation
* Nearest of Kin (on the Plantation)
* The Deacon's Medicine
* Two Gentlemen of Leisure
* The Reverend Jordon White's Three Glances
* Lady. A Monologue of the Cow-Pen
* A Pulpit Orator
* An Easter Symbol. (A Monologue of the Plantation)
* Christmas at the Trimbles'
* A Minor Chord

Napoleon Jackson, the Gentleman of the Plush Rocker. NY: The Century Co., 1901.

Plantation Songs and Other Verse. NY: D. Appleton and Co., 1916.

The River's Children: An Idyl of the Mississippi. NY: The Century Co., 1904.

The Second Wooing of Salina Sue and Other Stories. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1905.

* Tobe Taylor's April Foolishness

Snow-cap Sisters. NY and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1901.

Solomon Crow's Christmas Pockets and Other Tales. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1896.

* Duke's Christmas
* Solomon Crow's Christmas Pockets

Sonny, a Christmas Guest. NY: The Century Co., 1894.

Sonny's Father. NY: The Century Co., 1910.

The WomenThe Story of Babette: A Little Creole Girl. NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1894.

The Unlived Life of Little Mary Ellen. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1910."Value of Folklore in Literature." New York Times Review of Books. (October 12, 1913): 544-45.

Woman's Exchange of Simpkinsville. NY and London: Harper & Brothers, 1899.



IX. Websites Related to Ruth McEnery Stuart
(This is by no means a complete list, but the ones that I have checked out as far as Internet searches:)

A listing of Stuart's work found in the LSU Libraries Special Collections. http://www.lib.lsu.edu/la/s.html

The home page for the University of Warwick's Centre for the Study of Women and Gender; Helen Taylor is a faculty member. http://www.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/cswg/staff.htm

A description of the Old Washington Historic State Park in Arkansas, the site of the Stuarts' plantation home. http://www.gorp.com/gorp/location/ar/parks/old.htm

A listing of the Tulane Manuscripts Department's holdings of Stuart. http://www.tulane.edu/~lmiller/Literature.html

A link set up to automatically let you search for Stuart by using specific search engines. http://www.plgrm.com/history/women/list1.HTM

A list of some of Stuart's work. http://www.coe.uca.edu/ArkansasAuthorsIndex/stuart.html

The E-text version of In Simpkinsville: Character Tales, complete with illustrations. http://www.sunsite.unc.edu/docsouth/stuart/stuart.html

A general overview of "Literature of the American South," a part of the Digitized Library of Southern Literature: Beginnings to 1920. http://www.sunsite.unc.edu/docsouth/Literature.html

The introduction to the series for "Generations: A Cultural and Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life" by James T. Sear, PhD. Although it came up in my search, I could not find Stuart's name on the site. http://www.jtsears.com/genintr.htm

A listing for Ruth McEnery Stuart by Hall, ISBN 0805745890 in the Open Group Books page. http://www.opengroup.com/open/lxbooks/o80/0805745890.shtml

A selection from "Contructions of Race" discussion thread in which Stuart is mentioned. http://www.georgetown.edu/tamlit/collab_bib/race_thread.html

A short write-up about Crescent City Literature that mentions Stuart in the midst of other New Orleans writers. http://www.neworleanscvb.com/nawp2004.html


The preceding sources were used when compiling information about Stuart for this page which is based on an American Literature presentation in March 1998. If you have any questions, please contact me at: bompi@westol.com

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"Nineteenth-century Regional Writing in the United States" is the work of Dottie Webb. For suggestions, complaints, cattle-rustling schemes or gossiping over the fence in neighborly fashion, send your e-correspondence to drdotwebb@traverse.net

This document was last modified 8/23/98.

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