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Alice French papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Thanet

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Alice French papers consist of one box of correspondence, primarily incoming; six boxes of works and miscellaneous material, including twelve diaries written between 1905 and 1931; two reels of microfilm; and an oversize container. The letters are from friends and family members, publishers, admiring fans and literary and/or social associations. Besides the diaries recording daily activities, there are typescripts of unpublished fiction and several short pieces, speeches and articles. There is a generous collection of reviews of her work.


  • Creation: 1871-1934



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Alice French papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Alice French papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Alice French (pseudonym: Octave Thanet)

American author, primarily of short stories, who published under the name Octave Thanet.

Alice French was born in New England in 1850, but grew up in Davenport, Iowa. A talented writer, she early found her metier in the genre of the short story, and because short fiction was immensely popular in the late nineteenth century she had no difficulty in finding an audience. Between 1887 and 1911, French was particularly prolific with nine collections of her stories gleaned from the periodicals that had been publishing her work since 1878, such as Century Magazine, Harper's Monthly, Scribner's Magazine and Atlantic Monthly. Although French wrote three novels, two volumes of non-fiction sketches of Arkansas plantation life and "American types" and numerous articles of social commentary, it was the short story upon which her reputation rests.

French might be described as a "local colorist," and she called herself a "realist," for she attempted to bring to life the lives and problems of the different people she observed around her in Iowa and on her Arkansas plantation. Interested in the social caste system, in her early writing she recorded dialect and explored regional themes. After the turn-of-the-century, she concentrated on domestic scenes and the lives of workers and women, centering on conflicts between personal and social responsibility. However, French was no progressive; her work shows an inherent superiority of the upper classes as she develops plots around industrial and labor problems, the effects of slavery and race relations, immigration, women suffrage and other societal matters.

By 1911 with the publication of Stories That End Well, French's popularity began to decline due to the emergence of naturalism in contemporary literature and a waning reader interest in local-color, somewhat over-dramatic, didactic tales that usually resolved in happy endings. She continued to be active in her friendships and in her public life, as she was much admired by many of her contemporaries. She was entertained by Teddy Roosevelt at the White House, assisted Hamlin Garland (for whom she had acted as a mentor) in founding the Society of Midland Authors in 1914, and was involved in the activities of the Octave Thanet Society at the University of Iowa in the 1920's and 1930's. Alice French died in 1934.

Although Alice French is not among the first rank of American authors, she should be remembered for her authentic depictions of the language, domestic life, social issues and personal relationships of a particular region and time.


4.3 Linear Feet (7 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, diaries, literary manuscripts, clippings and other miscellaneous material relating to Alice French, author of short stories, novels and essays, who wrote under the pseudonym Octave Thanet.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, approximately 1892-1932
Box 1
Series 2: Works and Miscellaneous Material, 1878-1934
Boxes 2-8

Collection Stack Location

1 33 4


Gift of Grace French Evans, 1951.

Processed by

Amy Nyholm, 1953; Virginia H. Smith, 2000.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Alice French papers, 1871-1934
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-08-18: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States