Frances Parkinson Keyes’ 655 page memoir began on the day of her marriage—near the turn of the century. As she described her life on a New England farm, I knew I’d hit a gold mine. What insight into real, everyday life nearly 100 years ago! Add to that the fact that her husband was elected governor of New Hampshire, then served as U.S. Senator from that state for many years and the record of her life read like a Who’s Who in my American History books! The historian in me loved her remembrances of famous people from her interaction with them.
From a writing standpoint, I discovered she started small, and out of financial necessity. Her articles ended up in Good Housekeeping, Delineator, and other magazines for years, writing about Washington life and politics, both national and international. She traveled around the world in a time when international travel was much more difficult. She wrote amidst problems with her health, raising three boys, traveling, and maintaining a grueling Washington social life. And like a gold thread glinting in the sunlight, her faith weaves through the pages of her life.
Frances died in 1970, before the pages recalling her life ended. She only managed to record her history through the early 1930s—just as her fiction began to be published and enjoyed.
Her son summed up the last 40 years of her life in three pages. I would have loved to read Frances’ own description of those years, but that would have made a hefty volume indeed!
I loved the insight into life in other eras. I loved the brushing up against historical figures and events. I loved the picture of her as a wife and mother as well as a writer. I loved the fact that she lived before she wrote those amazing novels, created those real characters. That is the key, I think. Characters should be crafted from real life—from what people really say and do, how they act and re-act. Then they ring true. Then they become our friends.
Frances Parkinson Keyes does that in her novels. But I’m so glad she put pen to paper late in her life to let us get to know her, as well.