Since this is a hill country one expects to find springs, but not to depend upon them; for when found they are often brackish and unwholesome, or maddening, slow dribbles in a thirsty soil. Here you find the hot sink of Death Valley, or high rolling districts where the air has always a tang of frost. Here are the long heavy winds and breathless calms on the tilted mesas where dust devils dance, whirling up into a wide, pale sky. Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours called cloud-bursts for violence. A land of lost rivers, with little in it to love; yet a land that once visited must be come back to inevitably. If it were not so there would be little told of it.
This is the country of three seasons. From June on to November it lies hot, still, and unbearable, sick with violent unrelieving storms; then on until April, chill, quiescent, drinking its scant rain and scanter snows; from April to the hot season again, blossoming, radiant, and seductive. These months are only approximate; later or earlier the rain-laden wind may drift up the water gate of the Colorado from the Gulf, and the land sets its seasons by the rain.
There was also a great deal in that story about a certain other celebrity, for her relations to whom the writer was blackballed in a club of which I afterward became a member, and I think it was the things Pauline said about one of the rewards of genius being the privilege of association with such transcendent personalities on a footing which permitted one to call them by their first names in one's reminiscences, that gave me the notion of writing this book. It has struck me as humorous to a degree, that, in this sort of writing, the really important things are usually left out.
I thought then of writing the life of an accomplished woman, not so much of the accomplishment as of the woman; and I have never been able to make a start at it without thinking of Pauline Mills and that curious social warp which obligates us most to impeach the validity of a woman's opinion at the points where it is most supported by experience. From the earliest I have been rendered highly suspicious of the social estimate of women, by the general social conspiracy against her telling the truth about herself. But, in fact, I do not think Mrs. Mills will read my book. Henry will read it first at his office and tell her that he'd rather she shouldn't, for Henry has been so successfully Paulined that it is quite sufficient for any statement of life to lie outside his wife's accepted bias, to stamp it with insidious impropriety. There is at times something almost heroic in the resolution with which women like Pauline Mills defend themselves from whatever might shift the centres of their complacency.
Although she was born in Carlinville, Illinois, and graduated from Blackburn College, Mary Austin spent most of her writing career in California, New York, and finally Sante Fe, New Mexico. A well-known, popular, and prolific writer, Austin published thirty-three books and three plays and was closely associated with many important literary figures of her time, including H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Jack London, and Willa Cather. Still best known today for her nature writing and southwestern cultural studies, Austin has been increasingly recognized for her work on feminist themes, including the play The Arrow Maker, the nonfiction The Young Woman Citizen, and the novels A Woman of Genius and No. 26 Jayne Street. What has been perhaps an overemphasis on Austin’s nature writing has, since her death, eclipsed the fact that Austin was known during her lifetime as a colorful, eccentric, and controversial person whose direct and outspoken opinions engaged a wide variety of topics.
Beyond Bordersdemonstrates that variety. In addition to her monographs, Austin also published her short fiction and essays in periodicals. In fact, like many a writer earning a living from her work, Austin wrote prolifically for the magazine market, producing during her career over two hundred individual pieces published in over sixty periodicals. Although a collection of her short fiction appeared in 1987, Austin’s nonfiction periodical work has remained uncollected until now.
In support of Austin’s essays, Reuben J. Ellis provides an introduction that establishes a biographical and historical context for Austin’s work. In addition, each Austin essay is prefaced by brief introductory remarks by the editor. A selected bibliography of Austin’s essays is also included.