Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1910. First edition. Original green publisher's cloth binding brightly stamped in gilt. A tight, square, pleasing copy with just a bit of rubbing to the lower corners and some light scattered foxing to the edges of text block. Bookplate of B.L. McMillon to front pastedown. Internally pleasing and unmarked. With eight illustrations. Signed on the title page by author Corra Harris, one of Georgia's most successful female writers.
In her own time, Corra Mae Harris was the most widely known female author in the South; and A Circuit Rider's Wife was one reason for her notoriety. Already a journalist, essayist, and novelist Harris' semi-autobiographical work harvested her own personal tragedies for its plot. A minister's wife who had herself experienced the travails of itinerant preaching, Harris' protagonist Mary Elizabeth shares a similar position. Whereas Harris' husband exposed her to scandal by committing adultery and abandoning her, Mary Elizabeth remains with her husband William until his death. From the outset, Mary Elizabeth describes herself as "if not dead to the world, only seeing through the keyhole of the Methodist Discipline...a straight and narrow path that led from the church door to the grave" following their marriage. This self-righteousness shapes her narration, as she reports on the misconduct committed by other members of the itinerancy; and her continual blame and judgment for sin falls upon women of the congregation rather than upon the men who abuse their power. Though Harris herself had apologist tendencies, her work and her own experience suggest a critique of the life that betrayed her, for she also vocally "criticized southern writers who sentimentalized a past and a culture that never existed" (New Georgia Encyclopedia). In this sense, A Circuit Rider's Wife is a more complex Southern narrative than it is often credited as being. In 1951, it served as the basis for the film I'd Climb the Highest Mountain -- which focuses on Mary Elizabeth's struggle to acclimate to a rural community and William's role as a savior to his community at a time of epidemic. Fine (Item #3487)