Wit and Spunk Revisited
By Greta Petry(April
Holley's writing desk, her "writing jacket"
in the background right, at the Jefferson
County Historical Society.
Marietta Holley is making a comeback, if
Kate Winter has her way.
Holley was the "female Mark Twain" of
Jefferson County, N.Y., in the 1800s who combined
wit and humor with the colloquialisms of the
North Country to become a best-selling author.
Kate Winter of the UAlbany Department of English
is on a mission to bring back Holley's
works to English classrooms in high schools
and colleges around New York State and beyond.
Toward that end, Winter scripted, appeared
in, and completed work on a one-hour WPBS documentary
about Holley. That documentary was aired on
the Watertown public television station March
28. The DVD may be purchased through the WPBS
Web site, and is now being distributed to other
local PBS stations around the country.
Winter plans to set up an Albany premiere
of her film on Holley to get the word out to
teachers that materials are available so that
Emily Dickinson isn't the only female
19 th century author whose picture graces the
walls of the English classroom.
Winter, a full-time lecturer at UAlbany who
joined the English department in 1981, has
written several books, and recently finished
a novel about Mark Twain's time in Hawaii.
Winter has also taught at the University of
Ellen Shevalier, shown here in a
Saratoga Springs garden, plays the
elder Marietta Holley in the WPBS
documentary. Kate Winter made
Winner of a 2004 Excellence in Teaching Award,
Winter each spring teaches a 300-level writing
course, and a 400-level American Literature
course, and teaches three courses in the fall.
She runs the English department internship
program as well as the departmental honor society.
Holley's style comes across loud and
clear in the short story Unmarried Female,
in which she describes Betsey Bobbet "a
neighborin' female" of character
Josiah Allen's wife.
Holley writes that Betsey "is awful
opposed to wimmin's rights – she
thinks it is wimmin's only spear to marry,
but as yet she can't find any man willin' to
lay holt of that spear with her." Holley
describes Betsey's physical appearance: "Time
has seen fit to deprive her of her hair and
teeth, but her large nose he has kindly suffered
her to keep, but she has got the best white
ivory teeth money will buy, and two long curls
fastened behind each ear, besides frizzle on
the top of her head; and if she wasn't
naturally bald, and if the curls was the color
of her hair, they would look well."
One "couldn't squeeze a laugh
out of her with a cheese-press," and
Betsey believes the only right a woman needs
is the right to marry.
"For take the men that are the most
opposed to wimmin's havin' a right,
and talk the most about its bein' her
duty to cling to man like a vine to a tree,
they don't want Betsey to cling to them;
they won't let her cling to ‘em," Holley
Winter is the author of Marietta Holley:
Life With "Josiah Allen's Wife," which
won two awards, and The Woman in the Mountain,
about the relationship of the Adirondacks to
the region's women writers.