KELLEY, EDITH SUMMERS
Edith Summers Kelley was born in 1884 in Toronto, Canada, and died in 1956. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1903 and then moved to New York where she met Upton Sinclair and became his secretary. She was familiar with Sinclair's circle at Helicon Hall, a Socialist commune inspired by the ideas of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She married Allan Updegraff and had two children with him. After they separated, she became the common-law wife of the sculptor C. Fred Kelley. They later had a son, and Kelley wrote her first novel, Weeds (1923), between childcare and other household duties. Kelley also wrote The Devil's Hand, published posthumously in 1974. Both novels are about farm life.
Weeds is an aching tale of a young woman who is cosmically misplaced into a world of cultural expectations that will eventually demand the sacrifice of her will and artistic genius if she is to survive. Judith Pippinger is the preternaturally bright child of a man cast in the genial mode of Rip Van Winkle and of a mother who dies when she is only twelve. Surrounded by docile and intellectually sluggish siblings, Judith stands out with an “energy that craved constant outlet” (15). Judith is an artist who draws incessantly with “great vigor and clarity of vision, ” and she scandalizes her relatives with “her contempt for the decent and domestic” (25). She finds no encouragement for or understanding of her gifts and her predisposition to the life of the mind.
In Scott County, Kentucky, in the first decades of the twentieth century, a strong gender paradigm is in place. The free-spirited, tomboyish Judith talks like the boys, with obscenities and vulgarities, and is scolded by her sister for not acting like a girl should. Judith resists the categorization, “Well, anyway, I don't feel like one” (57). When their older brother Crawford brings gifts to the younger sisters, it is “for the pleasure of listening to their excited squeals of delight and feel