Poetry, History, and Dime Novels: The Literary Works of the Fuller Sisters

Metta Victoria Fuller (source)

Metta Victoria Fuller (source)

Sisters Frances Auretta and Metta Victoria Fuller both made their mark on the literary world of the 19th century. Frances became well-known for writing history, particularly of the Northwest, while Metta wrote primarily popular fiction, including the newly popular Dime Novels. Although they made their mark writing in different genres, they began their careers in much the same way, writing for local publications in Ohio and for the Home Journal (now Town and Country), founded by Nathaniel Parker Willis and George Morris. By 1848, they had moved to New York City together where they met with immediate success.

“One in spirit and equal in genius, these most interesting and brilliant ladies – both still in earliest youth – are undoubtedly destined to occupy a very distinguished and permanent place among the native authors of this land.” ~ N. P. Willis

Frances was born in Rome, New York, on May 23, 1826, the oldest of five daughters of Adonijah and Lucy Fuller. The family moved several times, including to Erie, Pennsylvania, where Metta, the third daughter, was born on March 2, 1831. They finally settled in Wooster, Ohio in 1839, where the girls were able to attend a female seminary. There they both discovered a love of literature and a talent for writing. By the time they moved to New York City in 1848, they were both published and welcomed into literary circles.

Around the same time the sisters moved to New York, Frances published her first novel, Anizetta of Guajira: or The Creole of Cuba. In 1851, she published jointly with Metta a book of poetry, Poems of Sentiment and Imagination. Later in life, Frances referred to it as “mistaken kindness which induced  her friends to advise the publication of these youthful productions.” The time Frances spent in New York was shortened, however, because their father died in 1850 and she needed to return to Ohio to help the family,

Metta’s first novel, The Last Days of Tul, a story about Mayan civilization, had been published in 1847, when she was only fifteen. When Frances returned home, she decided to remain in New York and over the next couple of years her success surpassed that of her sister with the publication of several novels including, The Senator’s Son, or, The Maine Law; a Last Refuge (1853) a temperance novel, and Mormon Wives (1856) a fictional attack on polygamy. In 1856, she married Orville James Victor and began work with him as an editor of Cosmopolitan Art Journal. She also served as the editor at Home magazine, a Beadle & Company monthly.  In 1860, she took over editing the art journal so that Orville. would be free to develop a new series of books for Beadle in the new  “Dime novel” genre.

Together Metta and Orville had nine children, but it didn’t keep her from writing. In 1860 alone, she wrote three “dime novels” and she went on to publish over 100 under the pseudonym Seeley Regester. Her books were very popular. Two of her best-known works are Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” (1862) and The Dead Letter (1866). She also wrote for periodicals of the time including Godey’s Lady’s Book. Over the decades she was able to adjust her style of writing to suit the times, from reform literature to satire and whimsey. By 1870, she supposedly received $25,000 for a group of stories.

Frances Fuller Victor (source)

Frances Fuller Victor (source)

After Frances left New York, the family moved to St. Clair, Michigan where she met Jackson Barritt from Pontiac. They were married on June 16, 1853, and took up homesteading near Omaha, Nebraska. The marriage didn’t survive and Frances decided to rejoin Metta in New York. When she arrived Orville had begun to edit Beadle’s dime novels and Frances fit right it. In 1862, she wrote two novels for the series that portrayed Nebraska farm life, East and West; or, The Beauty of Willard’s Mill (1862) and The Land Claim: A Tale of the Upper Missouri (1862). She also obtained a divorce in March of 1862 and in May married Orville’s brother Henry Clay Victor.

Henry was a naval officer and in 1863 was reassigned to San Francisco, California. There Frances became a regular contributor to the San Francisco Bulletin and the Golden Era, a literary weekly. One of her contributions was a series of society articles under the pseudonym Florence Fane which were evidently quite humorous.

In 1865, after Henry resigned from the navy, the couple moved to Oregon, where Frances discovered her literary strength in writing history. In addition to submitting stories and poems to western periodicals, she wrote The River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek (1870) a biography, and a travel book entitled All Over Oregon and Washington (1872). In doing her research, Frances conducted interviews with many of the pioneers who were still living as well as going through family papers and archives amassing a huge amount of material.

Henry was lost at sea in 1875 and Frances had to make her living through her writing. She collected many of her stories and poems written for periodicals and published them under the name The New Penelope (1877) through the Bancroft Publishing House. She had known Hubert Howe Bancroft for many years and he was aware of her writing and desire to publish a history of Oregon. He planned to publish a series of books on the History of the Pacific States and asked her to come work for him. In need of money, Frances took his offer and moved back to San Francisco.

Frances remained with Bancroft until 1790 through the publication of the twenty-eighth volume of a planned thirty-nine. Although Bancroft claimed authorship of the entire series, it has been established that Frances was the author of both volumes on Oregon; the volume on Washington, Idaho, and Montana; the volume on Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming; and much of the material in the volumes on California, the Northwest Coast, and British Columbia.

In 1890, Frances returned to Oregon to live the remainder of her life. Metta had died of cancer on June 26, 1885, and Frances had no children, so she continued her literary efforts in the place she had come to love. She revised some of her earlier work and was commissioned by the state legislature to produce The Early Indian Wars of Oregon, published in 1894. She continued writing for the Oregon Historical Quarterly until her death on November 14, 1902.

The Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, Oregon, 15 Nov 1902, Sat • Page 6

The Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, Oregon, 15 Nov 1902, Sat • Page 6

Resources
“Victor, Frances Auretta Fuller” by Franklin Walker, Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III, eds. James, Edward T. et al.
“Victor, Metta Victoria Fuller” by William H. Taylor, Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III, eds. James, Edward T. et al.
Historian of the Northwest. A Woman Who Loved Oregon: Frances Fuller Victor” by William A. Morris, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 3.
Victor, Metta Victoria Fuller“, by Orso, Miranda (2002).

The Momentous Discovery of Agnes and Margaret Smith

Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt by Berthold Werner (source)

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt by Berthold Werner (source)

In St. Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai, there is a special decorated box with an outer wooden cover and an inner glass cover. Inside the box, carefully wrapped in silk is a manuscript which is the oldest extant copy of the four canonical gospels in Syriac. This manuscript was first discovered and photographed by Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson, two middle-aged ladies who undertook the journey by camel to the monastery in the late 19th century.

This wasn’t the first journey they had taken. Agnes and Margaret Smith, identical twins, were raised by their father who had a love of travel. Their mother died soon after their birth on January 11,1843, and he decided to raise them on his own. This included educating them “as though they were boys.” At some point he discovered that the girls had a talent for languages and told them that when they learned a language, he would take them to the country where it was spoken. With this incentive, they learned French, Spanish, German, and Italian and were rewarded with wonderful travels.

Irvin in the early 19th century, about 30 miles southwest of Glasgow where the sisters grew up (source)

Irvin in the early 19th century, about 30 miles southwest of Glasgow where the sisters grew up (source)

John Smith was a self-made man, a solicitor with a client base that gave him a respectable income. All of this changed when one of his clients, John Ferguson, died leaving what was at the time, the largest estate to be settled in the courts of Scotland. Ferguson was the recipient of the fortunes of four unmarried uncles who died intestate. He was also a distant relative of John Smith. This event made two great changes in the lives of the sisters. First, on the death of their father, they would become very wealthy, and second their father had to go to America to settle much of the estate. The girls were put into a boarding school, Birkenhead, near Liverpool, having to leave the small town of Irvine where they had grown up.

After the return of John Smith, the sisters continued their education at Birkenhead, then went on to a year of finishing school in London. The family moved to Kilbarchan, a village closer to Glasgow from which Smith could administer the foundation which received the bulk of Ferguson’s wealth. He also might have been thinking of the sister’s futures, hoping to introduce them to appropriate society for young women of wealth. Smith was a practical man, their lifestyle didn’t change drastically, and he framed his will so that the girls wouldn’t be left destitute in the event they married fortune hunters. Sadly, this became important sooner than expected. John Smith died when the girls were only 23 years old.

Bereft of their beloved father and without close relatives to interfere, the sisters decided to take a trip to Egypt. Some may have considered their trip too soon after their father’s death, but they had been raised not to worry too much about what others thought, and traveling brought back many wonderful memories of him. They had been raised strict Presbyterians and Egypt at the time, prior to many ancient archaeological discoveries, was considered the Holy Land, and with a planned trip to Jerusalem after sailing down the Nile, this silenced many critics. This trip (worthy of a post all its own) confirmed for the sisters a maxim that they would abide by for the rest of their travels, that you shouldn’t travel in countries where you don’t know the language. Their journey overland in Europe, down the Danube to Constantinople, then by steamer to Alexandria went without difficulties as the sisters spoke most of the languages they encountered. However, when they reached Egypt, they didn’t speak Arabic. This is something they would remedy on returning home.

Traveling party on a later trip to Cyprus (source)

Traveling party on a later trip to Cyprus (source)

When Agnes and Margaret returned home, there wasn’t much to hold them in the small town of Kilbarchan, so they moved to London. Over the next 15 – 20 years, the sisters would continue their studies learning ancient Greek and Hebrew, but also learning to speak Arabic and modern Greek. Of course they also continued to travel, including one interesting adventure to Cyprus and Greece where they traveled over the Peloponnese on horseback.

It was also during this time that both sisters met and married wonderful men who were very well-suited to them. After a 12 year courtship, Margaret married James Gibson in 1883. Unfortunately, he died only three years later in October of 1886. Margaret was so distraught that Agnes was afraid to leave her alone. Needing to get away, but not wanting to take a long trip, the sisters went to Cambridge for a month. It was here that Agnes met Samuel Lewis, who she married the next year.

Samuel Lewis was an administrator of the Parker Library, an expert in ancient texts, a collector and an inveterate traveler. He also was very gregarious and frequently brought home guests, introducing Agnes and Margaret to academic circles which were usually closed to women. Ironically, Agnes’s marriage also lasted only three years, ending with Samuel’s death in 1891. As had become their pattern, the sisters began planning another trip, this time to Sinai to travel in the footsteps of Moses.

Mount Sinai, the designated place where Moses saw the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments, was also the site of St. Catherine’s monastery. Agnes and Margaret were aware of the recent discoveries at the monastery, including Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by Constantin von Tischendorf in 1859, and hoped to gain access to manuscripts. A friend and paleographer, Rendel Harris, had recently been to the monastery and had a good relationship with the monks. He told Agnes about a cache of manuscripts written in Syriac which he had not had time to examine. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic once spoken over much of the Middle East, and you won’t be surprised to learn that Agnes began to study it.

Over the months of planning, Agnes obtained a working knowledge of Syriac, and Harris also convinced the sisters to learn to use a camera. Once in Cairo, Egypt, (this time able to speak Arabic) they were able to hire an excellent dragoman, to organize their trip across the Sinai desert to the monastery, as well as introduce themselves to the Patriarch of the Greek Church. Supplied with letters of introduction from the Archbishop and Rendel Harris, the sisters set out for Suez. On January 28, 1892, they began their nine-day journey across the Sinai desert by camel.

Two pages from the Sinaitic Palimpsest (source)

Two pages from the Sinaitic Palimpsest. You can see how the underwriting from the original text shows through. (source)

The party was warmly received by the Prior of the monastery and Galaktéon, the librarian who fondly remembered Rendel Harris. Once their camp was set up in the garden, the sisters attended the afternoon church service, but on Monday February 8, they began the work they had come to do. Although Galaktéon didn’t understand why they wanted to see the oldest manuscripts as opposed to the beautiful illuminated volumes, he gave them access to the dark closet Rendel Harris remembered. There Agnes found an intriguing volume whose pages were stuck together.

Using their tea kettle to steam the pages, they were able to open the manuscript and discovered it was a palimpsest. A palimpsest is a manuscript whose pages have been recycled. The vellum has been scraped to remove the original text and been written over. Over time, however, the original words begin to show through. Agnes could read enough of the underlying Syriac to tell that she was looking at an old copy of the four canonical gospels. The upper layer was a text about the lives of women saints dated 778 CE, so the underlying gospels must be much older.

Agnes and Margaret photographed the entire manuscript as well as other documents, taking 1000 pictures over all, and hurried back to England to tell scholars about their find. Their challenges weren’t over. They had to develop their photographs, which they did themselves, and Agnes had to convince Professors Robert Bensly and Francis Burkitt, Syriac experts, of the value of their find. This she did and the next year a second expedition was mounted, this time including Bensley and Burkitt with their wives, and Rendel Harris.

The second expedition resulted in the transcription of the manuscript, and cataloging of all of the Syriac and Arabic texts in the library. These catalogs translated from Syriac to Greek by Agnes and and Arabic to Greek by Margaret were invaluable to the monks and to future scholars. Although, the expedition was filled with tension and mutual suspicion, eventually the manuscript was published.

The Syriac Sinaiticus, or Sinaitic Palimpsest, as it is now called, dates to the late 4th century and is the oldest known copy of the gospels in Syriac. It was the most important manuscript find since the Codex Sinaiticus and over time launched Agnes and Margaret into serious careers. Their work wasn’t honored by the University of Cambridge, which didn’t admit women, but they received honorary degrees from the universities at Halle, Heidelberg, Dublin and St. Andrews.

Resources

Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice
Professor Janet Soskice videotaped 52 minute lecture at Catholic University’s Mullen Library (2009)
(I highly recommend both the book and the lecture by Professor Janet Soskice.)
How the Codex Was Found by Margaret Dunlop Gibson at Internet Archive
“Sisters of Semitics: A Fresh Appreciation of the Scholarship of Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson” by Rebecca J. W. Jefferson, Medieval Feminist Forum (free download)

Would you be interested in reading more about the sisters adventures? If so, let me know in the comments.

Agnes Smith Lewis, original photo by Kaihsu Tai (source)

Agnes Smith Lewis, original photo by Kaihsu Tai (source)

Margaret Dunlop Gibson, original photo by Kaihsu Tai (source)

Margaret Dunlop Gibson, original photo by Kaihsu Tai (source)

“Les Trois Grandes Dames” of Impressionism – Part 3 – Berthe Morisot

"Berthe Morisot Painting" (1865) by Edma Morisot (source)

“Berthe Morisot Painting” (1865) by her sister Edma Morisot (source)

The Salon de Paris was the official annual exhibition of the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris. Sponsored by the government (until 1881) and judged by academicians, it was the place to be recognized as an artist in France of the 19th century. As time went on the juries became more conservative, specifically they were not receptive to the artists who came to be called Impressionists. So these artists broke away and held their own exhibitions beginning in 1874. Three of the women, dubbed “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism by Gustave Geffroy, were among these artists: Mary Cassatt, Marie Bracquemond, and Berthe Morisot.

Unlike Cassatt and Bracquemond, Berthe Morisot’s artistic aspirations were supported by her family. Her parents were even warned by Joseph Guichard, the artist who gave Berthe and her sisters lessons, “Given your daughters’ natural gifts, it will not be petty drawing-room talents that my instruction will achieve; they will become painters.” Of the three daughters two of them did just that, Edma and Berthe. Although Edma gave up painting after her marriage to a naval officer, Berthe went on to an illustrious career. Edma always supported Berthe’s decision to continue painting, even after her marriage, and they remained close throughout their lives.

Born on January 14, 1841, Berthe was the third child of an affluent bourgeois family. After the daughter’s initial instruction, and in spite of Guichard’s warning, Edma and Berthe followed in the footsteps of other artists and registered as copyists at the Louvre where they met and became friends with other artists. Both are thought to have studied under Camille Carot, who encouraged them to begin painting outdoors (plein air) and under Achile Oudinot, both painters of the Barbizon School. Berthe also briefly studied sculpture as well, but none of her pieces are known to survive.

"The Mother and Sister of the Artist" (1869/70) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“The Mother and Sister of the Artist” (1869/70) by Berthe Morisot (source)

Berthe’s first acceptance in the Salon was in 1864 when she was 23 years old. Edma was also accepted and they both exhibited together until Edma married in 1868. Berthe continued to exhibit regularly at the Salon until 1873, and beginning in 1874 exhibited with the Impressionists. By 1872, her career was firmly established when a private dealer, Druand-Ruel, purchased 22 of her paintings.

"The Cradle" (1872) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“The Cradle” (1872) by Berthe Morisot (source)

Edma wasn’t the only one to fall in love in the 1860s. At some point (sources vary) the sisters became acquainted with Édouard Manet. The families became close with Manet and Morisot influencing each others painting over time. Through Édouard, Berthe met his brother Eugène Manet. They married in 1874 and had one daughter, Julie, born in 1878.

"Eugène Manet à l'Ile de Wight" (1875) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“Eugène Manet à l’Ile de Wight” (1875) by Berthe Morisot (source)

Berthe worked in oil, watercolor and pastel and tended to paint domestic life and portraits. She frequently used family and friends as models, including her daughter Julie. Her selection of subjects was somewhat hampered by her gender and social status, although she did eventually paint nudes later in her career. But what was appreciated by many and in fact made her work stand out, were her feminine subjects and style.

"Child Among the Hollyhocks" (1881) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“Child Among the Hollyhocks” (1881) by Berthe Morisot (source)

Eugène Manet died in 1892 and Berthe’s own health wasn’t good. She followed him in death on March 2, 1895. Julie was just 15 years old and was left in the care of Stéphane Mallarmé, the French poet and critic, and good family friend.

"Reading" (1873) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“Reading” (1873) by Berthe Morisot (source)

“Only one woman created a style, and that woman is Madame Morisot. Her pictures are the only pictures painted by a woman that could not be destroyed without creating a blank, a hiatus in the history of art.” ~ George Moore

Resources

Berthe Morisot“, The Famous Artists
Edma and Berthe“, Women in the Act of Painting