Mary Lee Settle's Beulah Quintet - Cover
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Mary Lee Settle's Beulah Quintet

The Price of Freedom

Southern Literary Studies

203 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Literature - American

  Hardcover / 9780807116746 / October 1991

In the mid-1950s, when Mary Lee Settle published The Love Eaters and The Kiss of Kin, critics hailed her as a sharp and acidic writer. However, when in subsequent novels the focus of her work shifted from contemporary social realism to historical fiction, the same critics who previously had praised her work lost enthusiasm.

In Mary Lee Settle’s Beulah Quintet: The Price of Freedom, Brian Rosenberg examines Settle’s work—especially Prisons, O Beulah Land, Know Nothing, The Scapegoat, and The Killing Ground—to show the magnitude and artistic merit in a single, continuous fiction—a fiction of major importance.

According to Rosenberg, the Beulah quintet is one of the few grandly ambitious works of historical fiction written by an American woman. In the novels, Settle attempts to apply a European tradition of historical re-creation to American experience and, in so doing, to adapt a largely conservative form to the demands of a revolutionary history and ideology. Although the immediate subject is the history of a region in West Virginia, the deeper subject is nothing less than the history of America: the beliefs, conflicts, and illusions that gave rise to, and continue to distinguish, American culture.

Rosenberg also treats the reaction to the Beulah quintet among literary critics. He looks at the neglect and misjudgment the novels have suffered by being labeled historical fiction, a genre often though to consist largely of “romance novels,” and explains why the quintet should be placed among the canonical works of contemporary American literature.

Rosenberg includes in his book the transcript of an interview he conducted with Settle in which she reflects on both her intentions as a writer and the reception of her work.

Mary Lee Settle’s fiction has for too long been misperceived. Brian Rosenberg’s thorough analysis of the Beulah quintet will allow a larger audience to understand the nature and scope of her achievement. 

Brian Rosenberg is associate professor of English at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

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