Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852–1930)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps
This past week, Library of America posted its 500th Story of the Week selection. At the time Story of the Week launched, we had no idea how successful the feature would become, with millions of visitors from around the world, including students and teachers who use the selections in the classroom.
When we debuted the feature on January 11, 2010, one of the selections on the new site was Mary Wilkins Freeman’s classic ghost story, “Luella Miller.” By the end of the 1880s, Mary Eleanor Wilkins had become one of America’s most popular short story writers, publishing nearly fifty selections for Harper’s several periodicals and collecting many of them in two book publications. In 1902, the year she married Charles Manning Freeman and moved to his sprawling home in New Jersey, she wrote “Luella Miller,” which describes a local woman who saps the life out of everyone who cares for her and features the narrator Lydia Anderson, whose “thoughts were clothed in the rude vernacular of her native village.”
This week, we revive Freeman’s story for our many readers who may have missed it a decade ago—this time with a newly researched and expanded introduction that takes into account the mass of commentary this story has generated in recent years. As Martin Scofield writes in The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story, “What gives this story its edge is the style of the narrator: as often in Freeman, and in the American short story in general, the quality of voice (often involving regional dialect) is essential to its effect.”