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Olive Higgins Prouty

OLIVE HIGGINS PROUTY (1882-1974) was born in 1882 into a wealthy Massachusetts family. Educated at Smith College, she wrote fiction aimed primarily at women readers that, unusually for her day, emphasized the importance of women’s independence and included feminist themes. Of her ten novels, the best-known are Stella Dallas (1923), which became the basis for three films and a long-running radio serial, and Now, Voyager (1941), a best-seller translated into a film starring Bette Davis in 1942. Prouty’s memoir Pencil Shavings (1961) reveals her struggle to balance her writing, which she worried was “selfish,” with the needs of her family and later her philanthropic work. After a breakdown in 1925, her psychiatrist encouraged her to take her writing seriously, and her ensuing recovery led to further novels. The proceeds of her work went to a range of charities, and she established a scholarship at Smith, one of whose recipients was Sylvia Plath, who later portrayed her patron and mentor unflatteringly in The Bell Jar. Prouty wrote her last novel, Fabia, in 1951 and up until her death in 1974 lived in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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