Authors: Mary Johnston

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Prisoners of Hope, 1898

To Have and to Hold, 1900

Audrey, 1902

Sir Mortimer, 1904

Lewis Rand, 1908

The Long Roll, 1911

Cease Firing, 1912

Hagar, 1913

The Witch, 1914

The Fortunes of Garin, 1915

The Wanderers, 1917

Foes, 1918

Michael Forth, 1919

Sweet Rocket, 1920

Silver Cross, 1922

1492, 1922

Croatan, 1923

The Slave Ship, 1924

The Great Valley, 1926

The Exile, 1927

Hunting Shirt, 1931

Miss Delicia Allen, 1933

Drury Randall, 1934


The Goddess of Reason, pb. 1907


Pioneers of the Old South, 1918 (history)


Mary Johnston was born in 1870 in Buchanan, Virginia, the eldest child of Major John W. Johnston, a Confederate veteran whose family was connected with that of General Joseph E. Johnston and Elizabeth Alexander. A delicate child, educated by governesses and tutors, she lived at home until she was nineteen; browsing in her father’s library, she became an avid reader, particularly of history. She traveled in Europe and the Middle East with her widowed father and in 1893 moved to New York. During her four-year residence there she was bedridden, and in default of an active life she began to write. Her first novel, Prisoners of Hope, written to help the family financially, was little noticed; her second, To Have and to Hold, a romantic story of the Virginia Colony, sold more than half a million copies. Her third novel, Audrey, repeated this success. Although her subsequent work was less enthusiastically received, she was henceforth provided with an independent career. She never married. Upon her father’s death, she moved to Richmond and afterward to Three Hills, the house she built at Warm Springs, Virginia. There, after an operation, she died on May 9, 1936.{$I[AN]9810001465}{$I[A]Johnston, Mary}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Johnston, Mary}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Johnston, Mary}{$I[tim]1870;Johnston, Mary}

In the United States the historical novel, largely because of its influence on major realistic writers, has earned a place of fairly high repute. In its own right, the genre has also received the approval of a large reading public and many authors have achieved commercial success. If the achievements of Mary Johnston do not now seem remarkable, the reason is that new generations have surpassed them; in the early twentieth century, they were extraordinary.

Johnston will be remembered as a creator of historical verisimilitude and as a skillful narrator. Although she did not confine herself to American locales and events, she was at her best when depicting them. The Long Roll and its sequel, Cease Firing, are romances of the Civil War period. Her zeal in the cause of women’s rights prompted her two feminist novels, Hagar and The Wanderers. The heroine in Hagar is a financially successful southern writer; Hagar is widely considered her most interesting novel. Johnston’s socialist pacifism produced Foes, which was the first of a series of novels having mystical bearings, indebted in some measure to her interest in Buddhism; of these, the most noteworthy are Michael Forth and Sweet Rocket.

BibliographyCella, C. Ronald. Mary Johnston. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Part of Twayne’s United States Authors series. Criticism and interpretation of Johnston’s work.Jones, Anne Goodwyn. Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981. Includes interpretations of Johnston’s works.Longest, George C. Three Virginia Writers: Mary Johnston, Thomas Nelson Page, and Amelia Rives Troubetzkoy. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978. An extensive bibliography and a helpful reference guide.“Mary Johnston and the Historic Imagination.” In The Dilemma of the Southern Writer, edited by Richard Kilburn Meeker. Farmville, Va.: Longwood College, 1961. Addresses Johnston’s skill in historical research and verisimilitude.Wagenknecht, Edward. Cavalcade of the American Novel. 1952. Reprint. New York: Holt, 1965. The spiritual dimensions of the author’s works are explored briefly.
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