Her life and career spanned many important periods in the nation’s history: the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the closing of the Victorian Age, her meetings with Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton and Henry James, as well as living through two World Wars, the Korean War and witnessing the rise of the
Soviet Union. Whatever the epochal event or calamity, the
“Dean of American essayists” was there to write about it and her changing
country. She also managed to do so by
balancing a worldly intellectual life (including sharing a toothbrush mug of
whiskey with poet Walt Whitman) while remaining a devout Catholic, a fete which
must have been a spiritual tightrope at times given the strict ‘disposition’ of
pre-Vatican II Catholicism.
If Repplier’s religion caused her to experience any stress within literary circles, she kept it hidden. Throughout her life the essayist whom The New York Times would call “The Jane Austen of the essay,” not only kept the faith but managed to win the praise of an acerbic wit like Dorothy Parker. By contrast, it would be difficult to imagine a devout Catholic writer doing a similar thing today, given the polarizing effect that social issues have on what it means to be devout.