Among the various types of literature, the short story has
become very popular in recent years. Numerous writers are
fond of the principles involved in its construction, and are
developing this form beyond many others. The short story is
not new, for it has been developed in many lands throughout
the past centuries. However, there has been a marked revival
in its production recently and Wisconsin writers have been
interested in developing this type. Among these we have already
noticed Hamlin Garland. There will be several others
mentioned in these selections, among whom the subject of this
sketch is one of the most notable.
Zona Gale, who has made her imaginative "Friendship Village"
one of the real places in Wisconsin life, was born at
Portage, Wisconsin, August 26, 1874. This city continues to
be her home; and the study of its home life, its school life, its
social, industrial, and religious life has afforded her the basis
for generalizing upon what is true of the life of our time. Her
characters are not necessarily Portage people, for they are
Wisconsin people and people of other states as well. However,
Portage and its life has furnished her many interesting starting
points for her comments upon life in general. She has
attempted to repay her community for this material furnished
her by becoming an integral part of its community life. In its
civic improvements, in its home life, in its schools and in its
churches, she has had her work and has aspired to do her best
towards making her home city beautiful and wholesome.
Zona Gale remembers much of the play life and the school
life in her home town during the eighties and early nineties
of the last century. She has recently set forth her idealized
remembrance of these early experiences in her book entitled
"When I Was a Little Girl." One of these is chosen as an illustration
of her work.
Besides the school training afforded her by Portage, Zona
Gale attended Wayland Academy at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin,
and later she entered the University of Wisconsin, from which
institution she received the Bachelor of Literature degree in
1895, and four years later the Master's degree.
After graduation Miss Gale was employed for a time on
staffs of Milwaukee and New York papers. Since 1904 she has
devoted herself to writing for magazines. She spends some
time in New York and the East, but most of her work is done
at her beautiful home, which overlooks the Wisconsin river at
Miss Gale writes an occasional poem for some magazine.
We give "The Holy Place," published in the Bookman some
years ago, as an illustration of her poetry. However, it is not
as a poet, but rather as a short story writer that we are remembering
Miss Gale's stories have appeared in the Atlantic, Appleton's,
the Cosmopolitan, Everybody's, the Outlook, the Bookman,
and other magazines. Her first arrangement of stories in
book form, "Romance Island," appeared in 1906. A year later
she published "The Loves of Pelleas and Etarre." The two
characters mentioned are an old couple of seventy or more,
who, under the protecting care of an old servant, Nichola, live
a sort of child life. Their pranks, if such they may be called,
are the kindly deeds of making others happy. The stories purport
to be told by Etarre, who would have us believe that
there is quite as much romance in the lives of two old people
busily engaged in breaking the rules of the crabbed old nurse
as there is in the lives of much younger people. They are constantly
on the alert for the romance in the lives of those about
them, and it would seem that no love match in their neighborhood
could be a success without their assistance. The spirit
that pervades the book is that of thoughtful helpfulness.
We are sure to lay aside these stories with the wish that
the kindly spirit and the rich enjoyment of Pelleas and Etarre
might be true for all old people. We wish every aged couple
might stand at the window at Christmas time and send such
telegrams of bequest as these which they send to the world:
"And from my spirit to yours I bequeath the hard-won
knowledge that you must be true from the beginning. But if
by any chance you have not been so, then you must be true
from the moment you know."
To this sentiment of Pelleas shall Etarre reply: "From my
spirit to your spirit, I bequeath some understanding of the
preciousness of love, and the need to keep it true."
Stories must happen somewhere, and the capital of Zona
Gale's character world is "Friendship Village." Here occur
the loves of her youthful romances, the gossips of the older
worldly wise. Here her clubs originate and accomplish their
tasks. In this village occur the struggles for social and industrial
reform in which Zona Gale is so much interested, and
here, too, takes place all that great conflict for civic righteousness
which brings "Friendship Village" slowly nearer the goal
of perfection as she understands it. "Friendship Village" is
probably located nowhere, but still Miss Gale has been so successful
in writing about it that we are most sure it is our town,
and some one has suggested that another good name for this
place would be "Our Home Town."
Two of Miss Gale's books derive their titles from this village
of hers. They are "Friendship Village" and "Friendship
Village Love Stories." A short description of her "Friendship
Village" will follow later. Another book based upon the
village life deals with the lesson of Christmas time. It shows
how the older people who have come to feel that they could
not afford the expense of Christmas are brought to realize the
real significance of Christmas giving.
Another series of stories is linked into book form through
the narrator, Calliope Marsh. It is entitled "Mothers to Men,"
and is an account of life at "Friendship Village."
Miss Gale writes beautiful stories of how to make the better
community; but what is more, she does with her own hands
many things which bring about the realization of her plans.
Women's club of her own city and of many other cities enjoy
her aid in their plans for better conditions. Civic federations
of statewide influence have her help as member and officer.
Further, her own county fair has enjoyed her presence and her
efforts to advance civic improvement through her friendly counsel
to those who pause to talk with her.
Her writing is here illustrated in part from her recent
book, "When I Was a Little Girl." Two of the little girls of
the neighborhood had been shut up in their rooms one fine
summer day as punishment for the infraction of some home
regulation, whereupon a discussion among the free playmates
arose as to the reason for punishment. As the discussion waxed
perplexing, the little girls happened upon Grandmother Beers,
who took up the discussion and enlightened the children. What
she had heard of their conversation caused her to break in
with the statement, "Wicked? I didn't know you knew such
a word." The following discussion then takes place: