Chapter 3: Nineteenth Century to 1865

Harriet Prescott Spofford

Paul P. Reuben
October 16, 2016

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Source: Violet Books

Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835-1921), a prolific author of short stories for The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Bazaar, and other periodicals for almost sixty years, began writing short fiction to support her parents and four younger brothers and sisters when she was in her early twenties. Born in Calais, Maine, she had six years of schooling before her father left for Oregon hoping to make his fortune. When he returned a penniless invalid in 1856, he was dependent on his family's efforts to earn money running a boardinghouse in Newburyport, Massachusetts. To supplement their meager income, Spofford began to place her earliest stories anonymously in Boston newspapers.

Her career officially began when The Atlantic Monthly published "In A Cellar" in its February 1859 issue. A year later Spofford also completed her first novel, a gothic romance titled Sir Rohan's Ghost. In her productive lifetime she published more than thirty books of poetry, long fiction, essays, and plays as well as 275 short stories. Today Spofford is remembered for a few works of short fiction, including "Circumstance" and "Her Story," a forceful account of a woman driven to insanity by her marriage. "Her Story" appeared in Lippincott's magazine in 1872 and was a forerunner of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."

From Fiction HPS 

Primary Works

The Amber Gods and Other Stories, 1863; A Scarlet Poppy and Other Stories, 1894; Old Madame and Other Tragedies, 1900; Old Washington, 1906; The Elder's People, 1920.

Selected Bibliography

Bennett, Paula, and Vernon A. Rosario. eds. Solitary Pleasures: The Historical, Literary, and Artistic Discourses of Autoeroticism. NY: Routledge, 1995.

Bode, Rita. "Shut-Ins, Shut-Outs, and Spofford's Other Children: The Hester Stanley Stories." in Elbert, Monika. ed. Enterprising Youth: Social Values and Acculturation in Nineteenth-Century American Children's Literature. NY: Routledge, 2008.

Coleman, Robert. "A Miniaturization of Epic Proportions: Harriet Prescott Spofford's 'Circumstance.'" in Harrington, Ellen B. ed. Scribbling Women & the Short Story Form: Approaches by American & British Women Writers. NY: Peter Lang, 2008.

Elbert, Monika M. ed. Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2000.

Kimbel, Bobby E., and William E. Grant. eds. American Short-Story Writers before 1880. Detroit: Gale, 1988.

Kerr, Howard, John W. Crowley, and Charles L. Crow. eds. The Haunted Dusk: American Supernatural Fiction, 1820-1920. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1983.

Knight, Denise D., and Emmanuel S. Nelson. eds. Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997.

Kuribayashi, Tomoko, and Julie Tharp. eds. Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women's Writing. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997.

Jeffrey Andrew W. Scare Tactics: Supernatural Fiction by American Women. NY: Fordham U, 2008.

Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.

Weinstock, Jeffrey A. Scare Tactics: Supernatural Fiction by American Women. NY: Fordham UP, 2008.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 3: Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835-1921) " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: (provide page date or your date of logon).

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