I first read Alice Brown as one of the contributors to The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors. The book was William Dean Howells’ attempt to get his friends to play nice together and produce a literary work; it was interesting, but definitely uneven. However, The Whole Family did lead me to some of our more obscure American writers, especially the ones with three (or more) names: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, John Kendrick Bangs, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. And then there was Alice Brown: such a plain name, but in keeping with her (then) popular “local color” stories of New England. Sarah Orne Jewett did it better, but I enjoyed Tiverton Tales enough to continue on to Country Neighbors.
As with Jewett’s stories, not much happens in Alice Brown’s tales — and that is part of the charm of these vignettes of New England country life towards the end of the nineteenth century. The people live their quiet lives, and occasionally, they have their moments of illumination and clarity. There is a certain sameness to many of the stories, and some are just down right sentimental — but their sincerity, and gentleness, soothe the soul. Sometimes, that is all I need.