Bohemia Returns

by Vince Farinaccio

In 1864, Edward and Marie Howland departed the New York City Bohemian scene and set sail for Europe to live within the co-operative system of French industrialist and reformer Jean-Baptiste Andre Godin, an experience they would carry with them to South Jersey.

The exact amount of time the couple spent in Guise, France at Godin’s Familistere isn’t known, but it was long enough to be both educational and rewarding. A self-contained community for workers and their families, the Familistere was comprised of a factory and three four-story buildings that provided housing and recreational facilities.

According to Carol Farley Kessler’s Daring to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women Before 1950, the Howlands were married while in Europe and honed their journalistic skills in the form of observations they submitted to U.S. periodicals.

Following the conclusion of the American Civil War, the Howlands returned to the U.S. and, in 1868, settled in Hammonton. According to Garrets and Pretenders: Bohemian Life in America from Poe to Kerouac by Albert Parry, the Howlands lived on a small farm called Casa Tonti in the southern portion of Hammonton.

They were soon traveling to Vineland and establishing new friendships as well as renewing old ones. Parry’s book contains an account by the Howlands’ niece that acknowledges “most of the habitues of [NYC’s] Pfaff’s Cave came to Casa Tonti at one time or another.”

Pfaff regular Ada Clare, an actress and writer, not only visited Casa Tonti, she was buried there in 1874 near her infant son, who had died earlier that year. The Howlands’ niece, who was living with her aunt and uncle at the time, attended the funeral and confirmed that the burial was at the farm.

The book Hammonton Through the Eyes of J.G. Wilson provides insight into why Clare and her son were laid to rest on the Howlands’ property and not in the nearby Greenmount Cemetery: “In her will she left request for burial within the tenets of spiritualism. But the cemetery trustees denied the request and she was buried off 11th Street near the cemetery.” This would place the Howland farm in the vicinity of 11th Street and First Road.

The Howlands’ niece revealed that “when my uncle and aunt went to Topolobampo, Mexico, in 1888…they removed the railings around the two Casa Tonti graves and obliterated all surface traces thereof. The graves were located north of the house, toward the railroad.”

During their time in South Jersey, the couple contributed to Victoria Woodhull’s Weekly, but that wasn’t the only writing they were doing in Hammonton. The long-term influence of Godin’s experiment in social reform led Marie to translate into English the French industrialist’s 1871 book Solutions Sociales.

While in Hammonton, Marie also authored Papa’s Own Girl, a novel about a father and daughter living in New England. Online sources assess the book as a reflection of her outlook on the responsibilities of individuals, communities, workers and relationships, but ideologies aren’t the only personal aspects of the novel. In the second paragraph, the narrator states, “We lived then, as you know, in L_____, Massachusetts,” clearly a reference to Marie’s years as a resident of Lowell.

An impressive aspect of the book is Marie’s manipulation of the narrative early on by introducing a narrator who is not the protagonist, as was common in literature at the time. The narrator explains that the story will be about her friend Clara Forest and that “I shall not appear again in the first person after I have described my first acquaintance with her.” She says that she will become “one of the characters, but it does not matter which one.”

The novel, allegedly controversial upon its release, was published in the U.S. in 1874 while the Howlands were still residents of Hammonton.

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