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Stoddard, Elizabeth Barstow (1823-1902)

Essayist, Novelist, Poet, Short Story Writer

Remembered as a novelist and poet, Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard was the second of nine children raised in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, a setting she drew on for her novels. She met the man who would become her husband, Richard Henry Stoddard, and after a brief courtship, the couple married in 1852 and settled in New York City. At their home in Manhattan, they hosted gatherings for people interested in literature and culture including Thomas Bailey Aldrich and William Dean Howells (Greenslet 33; Howells "First Impressions" 72). The Stoddard household was "a little literary world, for every member of it writes" (J. Barry 184). Edmund Clarence Stedman likened the circle that grew up around the Stoddards to "the traditions of Charles and Mary Lamb, the Brontes, the Howitts, the Shelleys, and the Brownings" ("Mr. Stedman's Tribute" 9). Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich observed: "I know no prototype of Mrs. Stoddard -- this singular woman, who possessed so strongly the ability to sway all men who came within her influence. Brilliant and fascinating, she needed neither beauty nor youth, her power was so much beyond such aids. On every variety of subject she talked with originality and ready wit; with impassioned speech expressing an individuality and insight most unusual and rare" (Crowding Memories 14). Elizabeth belonged to Bayard Taylor's poetic group, along with her husband and others from the crowd at Pfaff's including George William Curtis, Edmund Clarence Stedman, George Henry Boker, Fitz-James O'Brien, Christopher P. Cranch, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow (Winter Old Friends 177). Perhaps inspired by these literary associations, and encouraged by her husband, Mrs. Stoddard began writing short stories, poems, and sketches for popular periodicals like the Atlantic Monthly, the Knickerbocker, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, and Appleton's Journal.

In addition to editing books with her husband, Stoddard produced her own novels: The Morgesons (1862), Two Men (1865), and Temple House (1867); she also wrote a book for children Lolly Dinks's Doings (1874), and a poetry collection, Poems (1895). Pfaff's frequenter, Edmund Clarence Stedman, wrote an introduction to the reissued editions of her novels. While they never achieved widespread success, Stoddard's novels, rich in realistic detail, were praised by important literary figures like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Leslie Stephen; William Dean Howells maintains that her work did not achieve the recognition that it merited, "which will be hers when Time begins to look about him for work worth remembering" ("First Impressions" 72-73). Howells also admires her integrity and commitment to cultivating an authentic voice: "In a time when most of us had to write like Tennyson, or Longfellow, or Browning, she never would write like anyone but herself" (73).

Despite her critical success, Mrs. Stoddard's later life was made difficult by the poor health of her husband and the deaths of her three sons, one of whom, Lorimer Stoddard, had inherited the family proclivity for creative expression, writing plays and poems (J. Barry 104). According to the obituary penned by her husband, Elizabeth died after a lingering illness at seventy-nine years of age, four months short of the couple's golden anniversary and one year after the death of her son. E. C. Stedman records that her last words were to a family servant: "Alice, after I am gone take good care of Dick, and, for Heaven's sake, go out and buy him a couple of new shirts" ("Death of Mrs. Stoddard" 9). Stedman also records her last poem:
"Life is not hurried, nor delayed,
The wheels of time run on and will,
Never since the world was made
Have they yet turned back or one stood still" ("Death of Mrs. Stoddard" 9).