Authors: Dorothy Canfield Fisher

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Gunhild, 1907

The Squirrel-Cage, 1912

The Bent Twig, 1915

Understood Betsy, 1917

The Brimming Cup, 1921

Rough- Hewn, 1922

The Home-maker, 1924

Her Son’s Wife, 1926

The Deepening Stream, 1930

Bonfire, 1933

Seasoned Timber, 1939

Short Fiction:

Hillsboro People, 1915

The Real Motive, 1916

Fellow Captains, 1916 (with Sarah N. Cleghorn)

Home Fires in France, 1918

The Day of Glory, 1919

Raw Material, 1923

Made-to-Order Stories, 1925

Basque People, 1931

Tourists Accommodated, 1934

Fables for Parents, 1937

Four-Square, 1949

A Harvest of Stories, 1956

The Bedquilt, and Other Stories, 1996


Corneille and Racine in England, 1904

A Montessori Mother, 1912

A Montessori Manual, 1913

Mothers and Children, 1914

Self-Reliance, 1916

Why Stop Learning?, 1927

Nothing Ever Happens and How It Does, 1940 (with Sarah N. Cleghorn)

Tell Me a Story, 1940

Our Young Folks, 1943

American Portraits, 1946

Our Independence and the Constitution, 1950

Paul Revere and the Minute Men, 1950

A Fair World for All, 1952

Vermont Tradition, 1953

Memories of Arlington, Vermont, 1957

And Long Remember, 1959

Keeping Fires Night and Day: Selected Letters of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1993 (Mark J. Madigan, editor)


Life of Christ, 1923 (of Giovanni Papini)

Work: What It Has Meant to Men Through the Ages, 1932 (of Adriano Tilgher)


The prolific writer and activist Dorothy Canfield Fisher was well known in both Europe and America during the first half of the twentieth century. Fisher’s career was multidimensional. She published twelve novels, several short-story collections, a number of books of nonfiction, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. She was also a popular public speaker. Herself well educated–she earned a doctorate in romance languages from Columbia University in 1904–Fisher advocated for educational issues all her life, writing and speaking on such topics as adult education, equal education for women, and the Montessori method. She also played a key role in shaping American literary taste, serving as a member of the selection committee for the Book-of-the-Month Club for twenty-five years. Despite her many public roles, Fisher wanted to be remembered above all for her fiction.{$I[AN]9810001905}{$I[A]Fisher, Dorothy Canfield}{$S[A]Canfield Fisher, Dorothy;Fisher, Dorothy Canfield}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Fisher, Dorothy Canfield}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Fisher, Dorothy Canfield}{$I[tim]1879;Fisher, Dorothy Canfield}

Fisher’s work was greatly influenced by her parents’ careers and her family background. Her mother, Flavia Camp Canfield, was an artist who often traveled to Europe to study painting. At the age of ten Dorothy began accompanying her mother and was as a result educated partially in French schools, became proficient in several languages, and developed a lifelong love for European travel and culture. A major theme in her fiction is an exploration of cultural differences between Americans and Europeans, and she often set her novels and short stories in European countries. In Fisher’s first novel, Gunhild, for example, which depicts a group of Americans touring Norway, she uses Norse myth to structure the plot. Vivid depictions of French life are present in Rough-Hewn, The Deepening Stream, and her short-story collection Basque People. The novel The Deepening Stream and her short-story collections Home Fires in France and The Day of Glory all deal with World War I, which Fisher and her family experienced firsthand when they temporarily moved to Paris in 1916 to help with the relief effort.

Fisher’s father, James Hulme Canfield, was an educator who held various prestigious administrative positions at the university level. Fisher’s relationship with her father was particularly close, and she adopted his commitment to public issues; a favorite quotation of both father and daughter was, “The public business is the private business of every citizen.” In her nonfiction she deals with this topic, but in addition practically all her novels include a subplot having to do with education. The Squirrel-Cage criticizes an educational system that excludes girls, The Bent Twig chronicles a family life shaped around Montessori principles, and The Home-maker analyzes closely the learning processes of children and the effect that environment has on their development.

Fisher’s extended family also influenced her development significantly. Canfield ancestors had settled in Vermont in 1763, and Fisher spent many childhood summers with her great-aunts and great-uncles in Arlington, Vermont. In 1907 she and her husband moved to Arlington, at the base of Red Mountain, and they spent the rest of their lives there. Vermont is so much a part of her fiction that Fisher is often described as a Vermont writer, despite her midwestern birthplace. Understood Betsy (a novel for young adults), The Brimming Cup, Bonfire, and Seasoned Timber, as well as her short-story collections Hillsboro People and Raw Material, are rich with loving portraits of the Vermont landscape, people, and dialect. In these novels, and indeed in all of her work, Fisher reveals the artistry present in the processes and rituals of daily domestic life. Her purpose in writing fiction was to instruct her audience in what she called the “art of living,” and in story after story she depicts the two fundamentals of this art: a healthy family life based on spiritual principles rather than material goods and a valuable work life based on ability rather than gender. The issues that Fisher deals with in her fiction are timeless.

BibliographyMadigan, Mark J. Introduction to Keeping Fires Night and Day: Selected Letters of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, edited by Madigan. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. Explores Fisher’s relationships with the literary figures of her day; the letters present the author’s colorful, personal voice.Madigan, Mark J. “Profile: Dorothy Canfield Fisher.” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 9 (1992). Discusses Fisher’s career and her lifelong friendship with Willa Cather.Rubin, Joan Shelley. The Making of Middlebrow Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. Deals briefly with Fisher’s tenure at the Book-of-the-Month Club.Schroeter, Joan. “Crisis, Conflict, and Constituting the Self: A Lacanian Reading of The Deepening Stream.” Colby Quarterly 27 (September, 1991). Provides a provocative theoretical reading of one of Fisher’s best-known novels.Washington, Ida. Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Shelburne, Vt.: New England Press, 1982. This groundbreaking biography is a good place to start, for it details Fisher’s background and the many aspects of her career.Yates, Elizabeth. The Lady from Vermont: Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Life and World. Brattleboro, Vt.: S. Greene Press, 1971. A biography of Fisher.
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