On this day in 1936, Mary Johnston died of Bright’s disease. She is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. A writer of best-selling historical novels, Johnston broke existing publishing records by selling 60,000 advance copies of To Have and to Hold (1900), her second novel, in addition to another 135,000 during its first week of publication. This proved to be the biggest popular success between Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and Gone with the Wind, which came out the year Johnston died.
I’ve now read four of Johnston’s novels: in addition to To Have and to Hold, I’ve read her first, Prisoners of Hope (1898); her fifth, Lewis Rand (1908); and her eighteenth, The Slave Ship (1924). Entries on To Have and to Hold and Lewis Rand are forthcoming, but you can already search the encyclopedia and find primary documents associated with those novels, including a New York Times profile remarkable for the fact that Johnston refused to be quoted, an excerpt of To Have and to Hold, and a short essay on the novel’s geography by Thomas Dixon, who would go on to pen a romantic novel about the Ku Klux Klan.
IMAGE: The original dust jacket for The Slave Ship by Mary Johnston (University of Virginia Special Collections)