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A Twentieth Century Literary "It" Couple: Charles and Kathleen Norris

By Andrea Diamond. Jan 13, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

The 1900s was a golden era for literature. Hemmingway, Cummings, and Fitzgerald are just a few of the household names that might have found themselves socializing at the same bar on any given weekend (geographical inconvenience aside). It was a time of artistic exploration and social transitions that would change the course of history and produce works that would be well-loved for years to come. While many of these 20th century writers are easily recalled by anyone who has graced a middle-school English classroom, there are others who softly faded out of memory. Though their names may not be as popular, their works are no less brilliant. Two such writers are husband and wife Kathleen Thompson Norris and Charles Gilman Norris.

Benjamin_B._Hampton,_Kathleen_Norris,_Harry_Leon_Wilson,_Charles_Gilman_Norris_-_Jun_1920_EH.jpgKathleen Thompson Norris (not to be confused with the contemporary poet, Kathleen Norris) was born on July 16, 1880 in San Francisco, California. After her parents' deaths, she became the breadwinner for her family at the young age of 19. She was no stranger to hard work. After a series of odd jobs, Norris began her writing career in 1905. What started as a few short stories and enrollment in the creative writing program at the University of California, Berkeley, blossomed into writing society columns and novels full-time.

Kathleen Norris was a strong Catholic and a crusader for a number of social issues, including women’s suffrage, and she was not afraid to share her beliefs through her writing. With her combined brilliance, wit, and creativity, it was no wonder Kathleen Thompson Norris was one of the highest paid female writers in the U.S. during her career. Some of her most popular works include Mother (1911), and Saturday’s Child (1914). During her time as a columnist in 1906, Kathleen became acquainted with New York journalist Charles Gillman Norris.

Charles Gilman Norris was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 23, 1881. Though perhaps not as famous in the writing world as his brother, Frank Norris, Charles was a successful journalist, novelist, and playwright. Some of his pieces include The Amateur (1916), Salt (1919), and Brass: A Novel of Marriage (1921).

charles-kathleen-norris-courtship-year-books-tell-you-why.jpgIn addition to the independent literary works of Charles and Kathleen, the two are known for writing love letters to one another during their year-long engagement, as they were living on opposite sides of the country. In an era during which it was not wholly uncommon for marriages of convenience to end in divorce, or to quietly endure tumultuous affairs by one or both people, Charles and Kathleen seemed to be genuinely smitten with one another.

In the opening of a letter to Charles in May of 1908, Kathleen writes:

My dear Charley, here I am showing my implicit faith in your promise - by writing you before you do me (a thing no well-regulated young person would do!) I’m writing you first because (has the girl no proper pride!) because (moi je repeat) I have really been thinking of you a great deal.”

As you can see, there is much to be learned from both the private and public writings of this lovely literary couple. Work hard, pursue your passions, stand up for your beliefs, and don’t be afraid to send the first message.

Browse 20th Century Books

Andrea Diamond
A graduate student in Wisconsin who enjoys traveling via plane, train, or pages of a book.


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