Mary E. Wilkins Freeman was born on October 31st, 1852 (a great birthdate for a writer of ghost stories) and died March 13, 1930. . She lived during a time when supernatural writing by women flourished, and she was one of the best. She’s been mentioned in the company of Edith Wharton and Henry James, and won the American Academy William Dead Howells Gold Medal. Described primarily as a writer of naturalism, and particularly of regionalism (as were many women writers of the time, including Sarah Orne Jewett) she excelled at creating supernatural tales that took place in the most ordinary of places and situations, in families and small communities where women’s work is never done. Her stories, mostly told through dialogue or by first person narrators, are unsettling because of what isn’t being said. In her story “The Shadow on the Wall”, which takes place in the aftermath of a death in the family, three sisters are desperately trying to block out the creepiness in the room they are working in, and one sister says to another “Don’t speak! I won’t have it!” That’s about as overt as Wilkins-Freeman’s undercurrents of fear and dread ever get. Willful ignorance, dependent behavior, pride, and guilt, especially on the part of women, all appear in Wilkins-Freeman’s stories, and it’s so often what she doesn’t say that really creeps in to stay with you. In “The Wind in the Rose-Bush”, Rebecca Flint, who has traveled to collect her recently orphaned niece, cannot get a straight answer from anyone about where her niece actually is; in “Luella Miller”, an unreliable narrator tells us a terrifying story of a woman who literally drains the life out of anyone who helps her.
Wilkins Freeman only wrote about a dozen supernatural stories, and collected six of them into a single volume, The Wind in the Rose-Bush, but it is more than worth your while to seek out her New England ghost stories of haunted women. There’s absolutely no reason not to, since you can read them for free.
For audiobooks of many of her supernatural stories, click here
To download a free ebook of The Wind in the Rose-Bush, her collection of supernatural stories. click here
If you want all of her work collected together, Amazon sells The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, which includes her novelettes.
For much more detail on her life, click here or seek out Brian Stableford’s entry on her in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers at the reference desk of your local library.