My Thoughts on Biography and Emilie Loring

Dedication, Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom

When the last chapter was written, the story “put to bed,” as it were, there was more I wanted to say. Happy Landings is Emilie’s story, but it is my work, the result of choices made for reasons that matter to me. I share the book’s “Afterword” here:

Afterword

            I never intended to write this book. I was simply curious about Emilie Loring, and as her story grew, I felt a responsibility to share it. The process had more the feeling of a quest than a research project.

            First, I fell in love with Boston. Everything about it was different from what I had known before. I loved the old buildings, the Public Garden, and the Esplanade. I loved the Italian cafe on Charles Street and everything about the Boston Public Library. In my own town, I can tell you what used to be on a certain corner before it became what it is now, and I began to do that where Emilie lived.

            Then I met the Lorings, who shared generously from their memories, photographs, and memorabilia. From the beginning, they encouraged me to tell Emilie’s full story, without limitation. Through their hospitality and friendship over the years, I gained a sense of their grandmother that transcended her books. 

            I absolutely love research. I am curious and well-skilled. I love finding a tiny bit of information that connects in memory with another little bit and then doing the detective work that turns them into understanding. Days on end in a microfilm room or examining photos with a magnifying glass–heaven. 

            The more I discovered, the more real Emilie Loring’s books became. The more I learned, the more her books guided me to new discoveries. 

            As a professor, I taught that “everything you learn allows you to see more.” This was true with Emilie Loring. As her history fell into place, her books gave up more information. Fair Tomorrow is closest to telling the story of her romance with Victor. With Banners is about her family of dramatists, and Hilltops Clear an ode to her brother. Here Comes the Sun! is all about Blue Hill, and Lighted Windows marked the change, as her Alaska trip had done, from one outlook on life to another. 

            Blue Hill, Maine started as Emilie’s and became mine, too. As in Boston, I can look at what is and see what used to be. I know the rhythm of the tides in Blue Hill Bay, the feel of the air, the scents, sounds, and tastes of summer. You may think Emilie’s descriptions are long, but trust me, she held back.

Captain Bob Slaven

            Biography can be a lonely undertaking, but in “Captain Bob” Slaven, I had a partner in sleuthing and learned things I could never have discovered otherwise about old times and new on the east side of Blue Hill Bay. Plus, Bob witnessed the Stone House ghost, and a story like that is worth hearing first-hand. 

Doing Biography

            Telling whole lives, especially women’s lives, is tricky. We write about people because of their accomplishments but ask too little about who they were apart from those. Women’s lives are especially difficult, because their worth to biography is something other than home and motherhood, but the significance of home and motherhood to their lives may be equal or greater. We are all so much more than our public accomplishments.

Emilie Loring, 1897

            This is especially true for a woman born in the middle of the nineteenth century, who left fewer traces than we do now. What would Emilie Loring have done with Instagram? 

            Fortunately, Emilie’s unique childhood left traces. She also wrote about herself directly, as a daughter, sister, homemaker, mother, and author, and others did, too. Hers is a more complete picture than we usually see of a woman in her times.

            I abhor the idea of finding a “central theme” of a person’s life and tying everything to that. Real lives aren’t lived that way. We live moment to moment, without knowing what is ahead, and we change along the way. In hindsight, we can cherry-pick the parts that led to what resulted, but a life is more interesting if we do less of that. 

            This project took so long– too long, to my mind, and an unintended consequence was that I experienced more of what Emilie had experienced–the death of a revered father, a cherished sister, and far too many friends. When her cheery writing took those “unexpected” turns, as I used to think of them, now I understood. 

            Losses have made me acutely aware of how much I would have missed, had I not begun when I did. I was lucky to stop by Stone House when Bob Slaven’s parents still lived there. After the librarian who gave me directions, they were the ones who provided the thread in Blue Hill that I’ve pulled on ever since. They welcomed me into their home, shared their file of Stone House articles, and introduced me, right then and there, to Esther Wood, the local historian, who told me she had been Emilie Loring’s teenage maid. 

            Finding those threads is a charming part of discovery. It takes awareness and knowledge but also depends quite often on chance and the kindness of strangers. Dave Danielson could have turned me away when I stopped in at KYC, a stranger, and asked for help finding a rock. Instead, he introduced me to Bob Slaven, and we went looking for it.

            Am I sick of Emilie Loring? You’d surely think so. But I’m not. Learning about her has made her more meaningful; it’s the reason I wrote this book. Her characters were models for me in my childhood, and when it was my turn to write, Emilie’s advice got me through. 

            I like writing but wrestling this biography down has been a much bigger task than I ever imagined. The pure slug work to get to the end has been… well, just that.

            I am sure I have made errors. When two events are known, the temptation is to assume a straight line between them, but the unknown “between” may be very different. I have discovered this error many times, and there is no way around it.

This is my story of Emilie Loring.

            This is my story of Emilie Loring. I have read her books more than fifty times each, and I have spent more than twenty years researching her life with access that can never again be given. I am confident that I am the world’s expert on Emilie Loring. Nevertheless, I know that mine is only one lens.

“The fact is, that no man is the same under different aspects, and never the same to those who know him best and those who know him least.” (John Neal, Portland Illustrated, 1874)

How I See Her Now

            I admire Emilie Loring. She strove with sincerity, worked hard to improve, and kept her sense of humor doing it. She had her faults and her down days, but how else could we identify with her? Behind a good book is good character, and hers are very good books. 

            We need books that entertain, lift spirits, and restore optimism, not only in times of crisis but for a steady wind in our sails. I wish the literary world treasured them more.

            Is Emilie Loring the best author ever? Of course not. Who could claim it? But something special is afoot when two generations of women read an author’s books over and over again, love them from childhood through old age, and pass them down to their daughters and granddaughters. 

            The passing of eras is a little sad. We read some authors from the past, but it’s such a small subset of those we could. Now that Emilie Loring e-books are available, new readers can discover her. I hope they do.

            Emilie Loring had the qualities of a good friend: intelligent, inspiring, and insightful, with good taste, charming manners, and light-hearted humor. Her books are like cardigan sweaters–classic, comfortable, never too much or too little. Not trend-setters, but somehow, always just right. 

            Patti Bender

Happy Landings, everyone!


16 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Biography and Emilie Loring

  1. Patti,

    Congratulations on completing this arduous but beloved task. Thank you for sharing this epilogue. I very much admire your ability to see it through to completion. I write as part of my work on public policy matters. It is strenuous enough to compose a report on a fairly well defined topic, of maybe 50 pages, double space, with adequate evidence, properly cited. But to write a book of a person’s life over 80 years and to dig into those private areas, where few know much if anything–hence, they are private–is quite an unbounded task.

    When I wanted to learn more about Emilie, I would scour the web over the years (well since the advent of the web in the late 90s!). I came across this website of the world’s expert on Emilie Loring. I found a community of fellow EL readers who appreciate the quality of her writing and the quality of characters and character development she includes. We appreciate the values she embodies in her writings. We found her heroines as role models. And so on.

    Maine isn’t around the corner for many of us. (It was’t for you either.) Thank you for making the journey, digging for stories, information, connecting with her family, showing how beloved EL is still today. Thank you for sharing the photos and stories of your journeys to Blue Hill, Maine. Thank you for writing this book.

    I am excitedly awaiting its release! Happy Landings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patti, I can’t wait to read the biography. Your research you’ve shown here on your blog has been so interesting and I know the book will be as well.

    I too have read Emilie many many times–this year I finally did in sequential order!

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Vicki. I’ve appreciated your support here. How did you like reading the books in order? I love seeing the times change, and I reflect that I’m seeing her thoughts in her fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties—so hopeful!

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  3. Aloha! I truly enjoyed this post. You have given me such an extra appreciation for Emilies books. Her stories offer a piece of her integrity and humor. It is sad that a new generation has missed the gems of a bygone time. I hope your book will awaken new ones to investigate what they are missing. I too am a researcher. My husband had a bad stroke in 2000. I have cared for him at home since then. My research skills, (and many blessings), have allowed me to ask the right questions and understand the answers. It has been a real interesting and deeply disturbing process. Along the way I was introduced to a retired doctor and scientist who taught medical students at Oregon state university. His instruction has been invaluable. He taught me many things but also gave me further research skills. Sometimes I can’t help, pulling on the thread, as you said. It is a journey of discovery that many of my friends just don’t understand. But I enjoy it all but sometimes wish I didn’t have that curiosity to search just a little further. One woman I really became interested in was Isabella Lucy Byrd. I found her book in a thrift store in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I had just been through the Cheyenne mountain histories and The Garden of the Gods park. We used to live there years ago and I was busy raising three little girls and we didn’t make time to check out our own histories, except to hike and such. So when we went back for a visit about ten years ago, it was fun to play tourist. I realized I missed a lot, but also was so happy that we had trekked around the mountains and enjoyed the wild places. When I read Isabella’s book about her life in the Rocky Mountains, I could identify some of the places she described, and smell the pines and recall the sunsets from the trails, sense the altitude effects on my body and feel the trail crumbling under my feet. She also traveled to Hawaii, where I was raised and her experiences were quite believable from the history I learned in school and the experiences of old timers that I heard about growing up. These are the stories and histories, even if imperfect in the telling, that make life rich. It saddens me when I see people who live their lives never having their own tactile or visceral reactions to what is a gift around them. Life is so full of treasures, I think your book will be one more treasure to enjoy! I’m not able to go to Maine or the east coast but I have been to other places Emily spoke of, and your photos and vignettes have sparked my imagination. I thank you for the work you are doing. I look forward to it. By the way, my husband just rolled next to me in his wheelchair, curious as to whom I am writing to. I told him it was the lady who sent me the box of books that I read at bedtime every night. We have been married 51 years and he still doesn’t understand why I read every night in bed. He has learned to accept it better when he sees me with my Emilie books. He will ask about the story with interest. It very cute. I explained what your goal is with the biography and that has made her books seem more worthy of his attention. It is a delight to see him interested in something more than Louis Lamour! ( of whose books I have read all! I began reading them out loud to him on camping trips and after he had the stroke, I bought him the audio versions. We actually lived in the area of southwestern Colorado for a while and could identify the locales in his stories too. This replay has meandered a bit but I have enjoyed your frequent emails. I don’t have time for Facebook or instagram so the emails are special. You might laugh, but when I know I have received it, I plan to read it with my feet up in my comfy chair after hubby is settled so I can enjoy it with no interruptions, a small gem to sparkle my evening. Thank you and I hope you have an exciting and happy week. May you have good health, aloha, Pam

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I pre-ordered it in hardback (instead of Kindle) because I want the book to reside with my “Emmys” as they are known to the women in my family. I love that your curiosity sucked you down into a beautiful living whirlpool of information and that you in turn shared your adventure. I am looking so very forward to it.

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    1. Oh, I’m glad of that, Stephanie. The format will be ever so much nicer to read in hardback–my text to one side, quotes from Emilie in sidebars (just counted again: 413 of them!), and 125 photographs. I can’t wait to hear from you when you’ve had a chance to read it.

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  5. Oh yes, teared up!
    So beautifully you have honored her, and the people who knew her and shared with you their memories of her. Thus, touching your life and legacy to her and her family. Thank you, Patti, your work her Biography will be a treasure to readers –like me –that were inspired by Emilie’s values and outlook on life through the characters in her books. And still are , as we revisit her books again and again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I so appreciate your sentiments and feel glad, once again, to have found fellowship with other Emilie readers. When I started, it was only my sister and I; now, I feel the interest and support of so many more and can’t wait for the conversations we’ll have when you’ve read the biography.

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