I had read Emilie Loring’s stories at least thirty times before I began to research her life. Then, as facts appeared in documents, interviews with her grandchildren, and visits to Boston and Maine, I realized, “She wrote about this!” I consulted my memory, identified the book, and found the page to corroborate. At first, I marked autobiographical references with colored bookmarks, but eventually, there were so many that the pages were sticking together, and reading was getting impossible, so now I type them instead.
Emilie Baker Loring’s father was George Melville Baker, a publisher by day and an amateur playwright by night. Her sister Rachel wrote plays for charity, and her brother Robert began as an actor and then wrote for the musical stage, vaudeville, and silent film. Emilie dedicated With Banners “To the playwrights and players past and present of my family” and gave her character, Brooke Reyburn, a family very much like the Bakers.
“Besides being a publisher, [Father] was a playwright for amateurs, but Sam is ambitious to write for the professional stage; he has one three-act comedy finished, that is, as finished as a play can be until it is put into rehearsal. That is why he is acting, that he may know all there is to know of stage technic.” With Banners
The Bakers gave plays for a week at a time, which required emptying their Boston parlor to accommodate a makeshift stage and seating for friends and relatives.
“Poor mother. She was a heroine; she would see her treasures trucked off to set a stage without one protest. Now that I have a house of my own, I know how it must have hurt.” With Banners
Elements in Emilie Loring’s stories serve as clues as well as confirmation. Hilltops Clear has a sunken garden where Rodney Gerard’s parents are buried. When I realized that the story was set in Blue Hill, Maine, I went on a search for a sunken garden and found it. The Owen sisters from Philadelphia bought land from the Lorings and converted the quarry on site to a sunken garden. Imagine the thrill when I visited, saw a stone cross on one side, and learned that the youngest Owen sister had been buried there.
As an outsider, I require pretty tight correspondence before I identify a passage as autobiographical, but imagine that a good friend of yours has just written a novel and included a character with your description and your first name. Among friends and family, these would be easy to see, as when Seth and Alida Milliken from Blue Hill became Seth Armstrong and Alida Barclay in To Love and to Honor. When I wonder if a reference is intended or not, or how to interpret it, I give it the context test.
Of particular importance to me are the times when Emilie Loring wrote about herself. We Ride the Gale! describes a wedding night that matches Emilie’s in fine detail.
What a night! The half moon hung in the sky like a broken silver plaque against an indigo velvet canopy sprinkled with gilt stars above shadowy ridges of hills. The earth was lightly clothed in bridal white.
A check on the weather and sky for Boston at six-thirty on the evening of December 9, 1891 confirmed a half moon and light snow. That’s fun for a researcher, but even more rewarding are the reflections she provides.
After that nothing seemed real to her, nothing but Michael’s firm clasp of her hand, his voice saying, “I do,” the feel of a ring on her finger, a sonorously rich voice intoning solemnly: “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” The feeling of unreality persisted as she poured tea for the wedding party in the library. We Ride the Gale!
Two characters, in particular, were modeled on Emilie the author. Emilie’s birth name was “Maria Emily Baker,” and she gave the fictional authors her initials, “MB.” Melissa Barclay in Give Me One Summer (1936) is a fledgling writer struggling to get her first story published, and “Molly B.” Stewart in Beckoning Trails (1947) is a famous novelist.
Another much traveled manuscript had been in an editorial office six weeks; up to this one its flights had been in the non-stop class. She had had a nervous chill every time she opened the mail-bag for fear she would find it. Give Me One Summer
“My first novel made a slight stir.” “I wouldn’t call ten printings ‘slight.’” “Heavenly day, how I worked after that. Before my husband died I was able to provide professional care for him.” Beckoning Trails
A radio interviewer asked Emilie if she had known men with the same sterling qualities as the leading men in her novels, and she answered, “Of course. Otherwise, how could I create them?” She also confided that she fell a little bit in love with Drex Hamilton as she wrote Stars in Your Eyes. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
In learning more about Emilie Loring, I have realized how much of herself she put into her writing, how personal an enterprise it was. I find that endearing, and for me, the books are the richer for it.
But they weren’t intended to be biographical studies. “I frankly declare that I write to entertain,” she said, and her success endeared her to three generations of loyal readers. Just now, I believe I would be entertained by reading a bit more about the compelling Mr. Hamilton…
“At last. I’ve waited and waited. Began to think you had lost your courage–darling, and were letting me down.” He bent as if to kiss her, whispered: “Name’s Drex. Danger.” Stars in Your Eyes