Search for Books by:  


Bookshop - contact us - home


Join Our E-Mail Announcement List!

Frances Parkinson Keyes

WHEN ASKED-AS I VERY FREQUENTLY AM-WHERE I COME from or where my home is, I often find it difficult to answer this seemingly simple question without completely confusing my interrogator. The facts of the matter are that my mother, Louise Fuller Johnson, was a New Yorker transplanted to Newbury, Vermont, a little village which had been settled by her paternal ancestors, and my father, John Henry Wheeler, was a Bostonian transplanted to the South, where he became head of the Greek department of the University of Virginia. There they lived in James Monroe's house and there I was born, thus making me a Virginian. After my father died, however, my mother remarried, another Bostonian, and I spent my winters in Boston and my summers in Newbury, with the exception of two years in Europe. When I married, I moved to my husband's home in New Hampshire and that still remains my legal residence. When my husband was elected to the Senate, we went to Washington and, from there, it seemed just a step across the Potomac to Alexandria in my native Virginia. Later, after his death, when it became evident that I would have to spend the greater part of my winters in Louisiana, because of my work there, I established a writing center in historic Beauregard House in New Orleans.

According to present standards, I am afraid my formal education would be considered somewhat sketchy. My father's mother, for whom I was named, taught me to read from the Bible and supplemented what formal schooling I did have with lessons in Latin, French and mathematics, which have proved invaluable to me. During the winters in Boston, after my father's death, I did attend private schools-at one of which, incidentally, three of my granddaughters are now pupils. These winters were broken by trips to many parts of the United States and two years, about a decade apart, which were spent in Europe, where I studied in Geneva and Berlin, besides travelling a great deal on the Continent and in England. When we were not in Boston or travelling, we were at "The Oxbow" in Newbury, living in the house built by my great-grandfather and which has been in our family ever since. (In the summer of 1956, we celebrated the sesquicentennial of its building.) When we were not in Vermont, I was instructed by a German governess, who was a graduate of the Sorbonne; and her teaching, plus my sojourns abroad, laid the foundation for any linguistic ability I may possess.

When I was eighteen, I married Henry Wilder Keyes, whose home, "Pine Grove Farm," was near Haverhill, New Hampshire, just across the river from Newbury and only five miles from "The Oxbow." Until my husband became Governor of New Hampshire in 1917, our family-by this time we had three sons, two of them born before I was twenty-one-lived at the Farm both summer and winter, except for occasional visits in Boston, where my mother-in-law opened a house and where I continued to keep in touch with members of my father's family, my former schoolmates and other friends. (When my novel, Joy Street, was published in 1950, many of these were among the guests at the "birthday dinner" for that book.)

I have always felt that my writing career really began at the age of seven when a young friend and I collaborated on a "pageant" which, unfortunately-at least from our point of view-had only a "one-night stand" in my mother's drawing room! However, it is my firm belief that there can be no true vocation without a long novitiate and those unbroken years at the Farm formed a valuable period of apprenticeship for me. Despite the fact that I was the companion, as well as a nurse and teacher to my children, there were very few days when I did not manage to write a little, for my determination to be an author dated back to the production of that "pageant," and was not intensified by the need of adding to the family budget.

My first novel, Old Gray Homestead was published just after my husband entered the Senate. As I became more and more familiar with the different phases of life in Washington, it seemed to me that there must be many isolated women throughout the country who would be interested in reading about it and that, perhaps, I could write about what I was seeing and doing in a way which would please and interest them. The editor of Good Housekeeping agreed with me and thus Letters From a Senator's Wife came into being. The response to these Letters was so immediate and so generous that, in spite of the publication of a second novel and a series of short stories, I suddenly found myself switched from fiction to current events, both national and international. Consequently, I began to spend more and more time in ranging the world. Eventually, however, after years of working on it in odd moments on trains and ocean liners, a novel of Washington life, Queen Anne's Lace, was finally on paper and was published in 1930. After that, there was less and less political writing and more and more fiction and, in 1936, Honor Bright became a national best-seller in the United States. (I had become a best-seller in England sometime previous to this, with the publication of Senator Marlowe's Daughter.)

For a long time, Normandy had been one of my favorite provinces in France and I have often referred to it as my "second home." I had become interested in the Little Flower first, when I attended her beatification in Rome and later, when I read her autobiography. A friend suggested that I report this feeling to my publisher and, when I did so, he immediately asked me to write a book about her. I retorted that I was much better fitted to write about sinners than about saints, but he urged me to make the attempt. The result was a summer spent with the Benedictines of Lisieux, in the course of which I wrote Written in Heaven, which was published by Messner in 1937, and reissued in revised form in 1960 under the title of Therese: Saint of the Little Way.

The warm reception accorded Written in Heaven. so encouraged both my publisher and me that, in 1938 and 1939, I went to France again, with a companion volume as my objective and although, in the course of the latter trip, I was caught in the second World War, I managed to secure the material for The Sublime Shepherdess, the life of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and for Along a Little Way, a more personal record, before returning home. (When the former book was reissued in a revised version in 1953, under the title of Bernadette of Lourdes: Shepherdess, Sister and Saint, and received a Christopher Award, I was deeply touched, as well as greatly honored.)

With Therese and Bernadette so warmly welcomed, it seemed natural that I continue working on religious subjects and I turned to Our Lady of Guadalupe; consequently1940 found me on the way to Mexico to write the story of Juan Diego and his devotion to the Queen of Heaven. It was published by Messner in 1941 under the title of The Grace of Guadalupe, and was the Catholic Book Club selection for March of that year.

The next few years seemed to indicate a return to fiction_ again until one of my personal Christmas cards, which I always write myself, entitled "Our Lord Had a Grandmother, Too," brought numerous requests for a book on "Good St. Anne." Research on this took me to shrines in the Holy Land, in Greece, in France, in England, in Spain, in Canada, and in various parts of our own United States; to museums in most of these countries, as well as in Italy, Belgium and Holland; and the search still goes on for material to be included in each new edition of St. Anne: Grandmother of Our Saviour, which already has gone into three.

I now have three more books of religious character on my present agenda, one with Spain as its setting; one telling the story of our own North American Saint, Mother Cabrini; and one about our South American Saint, Rose of Lima. My newest novel, with a Louisiana setting, Blue Camillia, was published in the Spring of 1957; and, in addition to the three religious books mentioned above, I am also under contract to write several more novels.

I have had to curtail my speaking engagements to a very large degree because of the uncertainty of my health and the pressure of other work; and though I do not write as many articles as I did in former years, I always try to find time to wedge in those whose subject is of particular interest or appeal to me. All in all, I have written twenty novels and five books of religious character; I have also written four books of non-fiction, which include travel, politics, and personal and professional experiences as their themes, besides a cookbook, a juvenile and a volume of verse.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Mrs. Keyes, a convert, was received into the Church in 1939; her Along a Little Way (Kenedy, 1940) gives an account of the steps that led to her conversion.]

contact us | home