The Letters of Violet Abbot

This presentation and its commentary have been approved by the Violet Abbot House and the family of the subject.

Violet Abbot (1872-1963) is known as one of the best American poets of the modern era. Author of collections such as Beauty by the Seasons, Stars in the Summer Sky, and the novel Down by the Delaware, she serves as both a feminist icon and an inspiration for those on the Autism Spectrum. A number of letters from her youth are preserved at the Violet Abbot House as a reminder of her legacy. The following are a collection of letters sent by the young author during her adolescent that show the progression of the literary genius. A quick note is that only those letters containing her early poetry are featured. You could find the complete set, plus commentary, on violetabbothouse.com.

The first letter was sent in September of 1881, to her older cousin, Edward Abbot (or “Eddy,” as she liked to call him). It is recorded that she would spend her Summers at a house in New Hope Pennsylvania with her cousin and aunt, Paulina Abbot. Violet is quoted in future letters, saying that the Summers in New Hope were the best times of her life. In this letter, she shows early signs of indifference towards other children, and her desire to be left alone (a common theme in later novels). It also features her very first original poem, and displays her early genius,

Dear Cousin Eddie,

How I miss you already! The colder it gets, the less time I could spend outside. And the less time I spend outside, the more time I have to spend inside with Louise. The more time I spend with Louise, the more I time to waste having to argue with her. The more we argue, the less time I get to read. Therefore, the colder it is, the less I read. If only Father would listen to my hypothesis instead of saying “Winter’s the best time to curl up by the fire with a book.” Well, father, it’s hard to read when your sister won’t stop complaining about how much you embarrass her even though you hardly see her all year.

I already miss staying with you and Aunt Paulina in New Hope. I know Summer just ended, but I already want it back. Even though it is impossible to take entire seasons back. However, I can’t erase this pen. I miss how quiet it was. If I asked you not to bother me, you didn’t bother me. And you always laughed whenever I talked for a little too long.

My favorite memory was when Aunt Paulina took a walk with us by the Delaware River and (tried to teach us about George Washington). Remember the look on her face when I told her that the river wasn’t all that wide, and, technically, it was pathetic that anyone drowned at all. But she wouldn’t agree, so you threw off your shirt and said: “I could swim that!” And then you did!

Too bad the other children at my school aren’t like you. My teachers always push me to play with the other girls, but none of them really like me. I honestly don’t care. I’d much rather just sit by the window and think instead. I was not learning about anything interesting at the time, either. But I  did come up with a little rhyme just the other day:

The rose is red

The violet’s blue

Wait, no they’re not

Do I look blue to you?

I miss Summer, but I like how colorful all the leaves get. And when the leaves fall, it’s like the whole world is red, orange, yellow, and brown. Since I’m already running out of things to write about, I’d like to tell you about a book I’m reading about Greek mythology. My favorite goddess so far is Athena, because she’s the goddess of both wisdom, war, and crafts. I’m not that far into the book, but I hope she defeats her enemies at war by cleverly setting traps. Now that I’m officially all out of things to talk about, I can’t wait for next Summer!

Sincerely,

Violet Abbot

P.S. So Zeus and Hera are siblings, right? And all their kids are each one’s nieces and nephews? Louise won’t believe me. Can you confirm that to her? I know she’ll believe you.


The second letter is addressed to her teacher, Ms.Brausten, from the time she went to the Grandon Academy for young girls. It is accounted for that Violet flourished in academics, but had trouble socializing with the other girls. It states on her records that she “started a dispute on the verge of physical,” though some accounts state that it was prompted by her classmates, and at times needed “time-out” sessions to control her anger. Abbot’s persistence, however, lasted far into her adulthood, which showed in her dedication to workers  unions in the early 20th century. Catrina Brausten was told to be her favorite teacher. It is this woman that is said to have introduced Violet to works of contemporary literature, and was the first to teach her proper poetry. This, Violet’s first formal poem, uses the short stanzas and original takes on nature that would be often used it her later novels. It is also around this time she received her beloved childhood pet bird.

Dear Ms.Brausten December 26th

Though I’ve only been away from school for a week, I already miss you. I’m aware that sending a letter to you in the middle of winter break is foolhardy because I’ll be seeing you soon. This letter might not even reach you until I get back from holiday. But for whatever reason I can’t pinpoint, I do not care.

I mostly miss your generous understanding of how much I want to be left alone. Eating lunch in your classroom instead of the noisy canteen with the other girls is currently the best gift I’ve ever gotten. Well, other then the new fountain pen I am writing with right now, Notice how bright and neat it is? It’s almost like the print!

But I miss how you were the only teacher that would let me just sit and read or look out the window instead of talking to the other girls. I’m sure you’ve noticed that they don’t like me very much. Remember the look Shelly Stoner gave me when I told her I’d rather just sit and watch the birds? Or the dumb face she made when I tried to explain it too hard. I apologize for the “dispute” that we had the week before the holiday. Though we had to “share responsibility,” you saw how she kept pressing me (not literally). Yelling seems to be the only thing people will listen to.

Anyway, I’m much enjoying the novel you recommended me to read over Christmas. I enjoy the “I’s” and “me’s” that Currer Bell uses as if she’s recalling the story. Just yesterday I was reading the part where Jane describes how she would read in window sills behind curtains when I realized I was doing exactly that. I do not blame her, it’s the only place where Lousie does not bother me.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’ve been working on a short poem:

When from the white sky

Rains little specks of white

They stick to the ground

And make the town bright!


They come from the heavens 

And dance through the air

Before they're dropped

And scattered without care.


It lines all the branches

Of the leafless trees

That’s one of the things

Most beautiful to me


Snow covers the roofs

Reflecting the sunlight

It covers all the roads

Making the world white


Sincerely, your student,

Violet Abbot

P.S. I also received a bird for Christmas! Guess what I named him? Robin Crusoe! After a man I wish I could live just like.


The next letter was the earliest one found that was addressed to the titular Emilia Bennet, a life-long friend, possible love interest, and inspiration for the character of Charlotte in Down by the Delaware. She was the daughter of a widower and was described as shy, and slightly tomboyish as a younger child. Edward Abbot later described in a news journal that “the two would be inseparable for hours on end. She was the only one who put up with Violet’s endless talk of flowers and Austen.” The following is one of several poems left on Emilia door in 1885, the rest of which are part of Bennet’s private collection, which they prefer not to share.

Dear Emilia Bennet,

The bundles of flowers

I see every spring

Always reminds me

What warm weather brings


The roses in the garden

And the violets by the path

Would leave a person

Devoid of all wrath


The lush green growth

Under bright colors

Creates an atmosphere

That is like no other.


The world is brightened

Since the sun’s in the sky

It has the same effect

As when you walk by.


The flowers by the water

Are prettiest of all

For they seem to bloom

Until the fall.


The small wildflowers

You find in nooks

That grow in groups

Along the brooks


By the bright blue river

That stretches for miles

Though I’m just as happy

When I see you smile.


Sincerely, your best friend,

Violet Abbot.


The next letter is addressed to Emilia Bennet two years later, when both girls were aged fifteen. This poem appears to be a love poem, further hinting towards a possible relationship between the two. Actually, screw it. These two were in love. Anyway, the poem is in the sonnet form commonly used in Shakespeare. It compares Bennet to one of the Summer nights that the two would often share by the river, and the end of the poem references a particular night whose details remain disclosed.

My Dear Sweet Emilia Bennet

When the moon’s in the Delaware

I’d like someone sweet

To sit with me in the Summer air

And enjoy this Belle Nuit.


Whose smile’s just as bright

As the scampering fireflies.

And the dark sky of the night

Are the color of her big eyes.


A voice light as the wind

That makes me feel at ease

For someone just as kind

Is as light as a Summer breeze.


You’re my moon and starlight

On a beautiful Summer night.


Best wishes from your friend from New Hope,

Violet Abbot

P.S. Remember that one night by the river? For I will never forget it.


Sadly, this little love story couldn’t last forever. At the age of eighteen, Emilia Bennet got engaged to a local store owner named Patrick O’Neal. Thus ending the relationship that had lasted since the girl’s early adolescence. Rumors spread around town before reaching Abbot herself, and the only account of her reaction is in this letter. It is important to mention that after this letter was mailed, she began writing her first collection of poetry: What if?

Dear Emilia,

I’m sure that you were able to tell what this letter is about the second you got it. It’s all your mother has been talking about. It’s made it all around New Hope. Eddy even wrote to me from the navy. And I’m guessing you want to hear what I have to say to all this.

I’d like to let you know that I completely understand. It took me a little while, but I thought it through logically. You need to do what is expected of you. You need to settle down, live off an income, and reproduce enough to keep the line going. It’s what we all need to do here. You’re simply following the protocol that keeps this place from falling apart. And if you didn’t, I’m sure you wouldn’t be any better off.

But I want to let you know that I will never forget what we had. Though I admit it’s an extreme statement, my Summer days with you were some of the best of my life. They were the only days where I was with someone who knew how to “deal with me.” And I could stay your companion if you’d like. And for the love of God, I’ll never forget to write to you.

But I wanted to leave you off with one more poem:

Friendships have an end

They do not last forever

Just like every glass breaks

And every rope must tether.


Even every marriage

Is ceased due to death

So we must make the most

Of the time that we have left.


And with what is left,

You may do as you please

But be aware that the best time

Come and go like the breeze.


And remember I’m here

When you need me most

When the worst infections

Overcome the host.


Cherish all the good

And cement me among

The warm, bright memories

Of when we were young.


Though I often hypothesize,

For I’ve done my math

Just what would happen

If we chose our own path?

Sincerely, my dearest,

Violet Abbot

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