Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 142/365 Rough on Rats

Tonight I've found a bit of a mystery in an apparently widely-known, obscure Southern author.

How can Edna Henry Lee Turpin be both widely-known and obscure?

I'd never heard of her before I picked up Peggy of Roundabout Lane this evening, and I'm a Virginian.

Miss Turpin was born on July 26, 1867 (somewhere), growing up in those horrible years after the Civil War, coming of age during Reconstruction, and becoming at some point an independant well-respected woman author.She wrote children's books (Honey-Sweet), school textbooks (Brief biographies from American history, for the fifth and sixth grades for elementary schools of New York state education department), agricultural reference texts (Agriculture, its fundamental principles), and teen series books such as The Old Mind's Secret and the afore-mentioned Peggy of Roundabout Lane.

I just know there's a fascinating life story here.

There is a university library collection with "A Christmas card from Miss Edna Lee Turpin, explaining that she was very impressed with Miss Densell's illustrations, and she'd would be in Blacksburg (Va) soon and would like to discuss them".

And there's a book called The Promise of the New South, by Edward L. Ayers, which contains a reference to Miss Turpin, a reference made casually and without further explanation, so that it is apparent that the reader would of course recognize her name:

Edna Turpin wrote to a former student to tell of a difficult evening with "three old maids, the Misses Noel," who insisted their visitors taste various things, from cod liver oil to tomatoes. Turpin became uncomfortable, "but the dear old souls seem so anxious for you to enjoy their dainties (?!) that I verily believe they could inveigle me into making a meal on Rough On Rats." "Rough on Rats," as it colloquial name suggests, was a widely advertised vermin posison, familiar to everyone who read a Southern newspaper." The Promise of A New South, Edward L. Ayers

That's it.

That's all I can find about this once famous author.

Oh, except - she died on June 7, 1952, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetary, in Richmond Virginia.

She's buried in among others who must be family members, possibly her brother, a sister and sister's husband, and possibly her sister's daughter. Edna outlived them all. The daughter died before her time, her father following two years later.

And this is the lady herself, busy conducting research in a library (maybe her own), with a lovely corsage on one shoulder (highly fashionable at the time).

Other than this - I got nothing.

I can't find anything else about her.

How did she become an author? Was she the unmarried spinister sister who choose between marriage or independence for love of writing? Or did she turn to writing when it became apparent married life was not in her future (this was, after all, just after the Civil War, and an entire generation of men were decimated by the War Between the States, particularily in the South)? How did it come to pass that she saw her entire family pass away before she did?

I love a good mystery.

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