Saturday, December 16, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: December 16, 1862 - John Fox, Jr.

 Image from

From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
John Fox, Jr., a popular writer at the turn of the century who chronicled the folklife of the Cumberland Mountains, was born December 16, 1862, at Stony Point in Bourbon County , Kentucky. He was the first child of John W. Fox, head of Stony Point Academy, and his second wife, Minerva (Carr) Fox, of Mayslick, Kentucky. After attending his father's private boarding school, Fox studied for two years at Transylvania University in Lexington. In September 1880 he entered Harvard as a sophomore and graduated cum laude in June 1883, the youngest member of his class. Following brief periods as a reporter for the New York Sun and the New York Times and as a student at Columbia University Law School, Fox returned to Kentucky in 1885 because of poor health. For several months he taught in his father's school and did some private tutoring.

Fox had been introduced to mountain people and their folk ways during the summer of 1882, when he lived in Jellico, Tennessee, where his brothers had mining interests. In 1888 he joined his family when they moved their mining and real estate operations to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, near Cumberland Gap. There Fox joined a local vigilante group that succeeded in bringing order to a lawless region. He also began walking tours of the Kentucky-Virginia border country, in particular the Kentucky mountain counties of Letcher , Harlan, Leslie , and Perry, fascinated by the people and their way of life. Encouraged by a former Transylvania professor, the writer James Lane Allen, Fox started writing short sketches of mountain life and in 1892 published his first short story, " A Mountain Europa," in Century magazine. At the age of thirty, he became an overnight literary success, publishing stories, articles, and sketches in popular magazines of the day, including Scribner's Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Harper's Weekly, and Harper's Monthly.

Although Fox was retiring, even shy, by nature, he made friends with many prominent men of his day, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who on several occasions invited him to the White House to give readings and to sing mountain songs. Fox was popular in public readings of his stories in the East and South, sometimes teamed with other writer-performers such as James Whitcomb Riley.

In 1895 Fox published his first book, A Cumberland Vendetta And Other Stories, followed in 1897 by his first novel, The Kentuckians, set principally in the Bluegrass. In 1898 he covered the Spanish-American War in Cuba for Harper's Weekly, an experience that gave him the background for his 1900 novel, Crittenden: A Kentucky Story Of Love And War. In 1901 he published Bluegrass And Rhododendrum, a collection of essays on mountain life.

Fox's 1903 novel, The Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come, was perhaps the first in the United States to sell a million copies. The novel has all the ingredients of popular fiction at the turn of the century: a masculine but sensitive hero, a dastardly villain, two lovely but contrasting heroines, and an adventure story set against the background of clashing cultures and civilizations, climaxing in war. Despite a contrived plot and stock characters that frequently melt into sentiment, the book is a well-known American novel. It has been reprinted in numerous editions and reproduced as a successful play and at least four motion pictures.

In 1904 Fox went to Japan and Manchuria to report on the Russo-Japanese War for Scribner's Magazine. His six travel articles appeared in Scribner's in 1904 and 1905 and were published in 1905 as a book, Following The Flag: A Vain Pursuit Through Manchuria.

Fox's 1908 novel, The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine, is a love story based on Fox's own experiences during the boom-and-bust era at Big Stone Gap. The story is that of a Bluegrass Kentuckian, a mining engineer whose work takes him to the mountains. There he falls in love with an unlettered young woman whom he helps to transform into an educated, cultured lady. After being separated by a series of entanglements, including a feud, they are reunited under the lonesome pine on top of the mountain where they first met. The novel was adapted for the stage in 1912 by Eugene Walter and was filmed three times, in 1916, 1922, and 1936. It was also the basis for a popular song.

Fox's easily accessible writing style blended humor and pathos in the manner popular with local colorists of his time. He probably knew his settings and subjects better than most regional writers, and in his best fiction he painted faithful and moving portraits of life in the southern mountains. None of his subsequent works equaled the success of The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine.

In December 1908 Fox married Fritzi Scheff, a Viennese opera singer; they were divorced four years later. In 1919, while on a fishing trip near Norton, Virginia, Fox developed pneumonia and died two days later, on July 8, at his home in Big Stone Gap. He was buried in Paris, Kentucky. 

WADE HALL, Entry Author

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Moore, Elizabeth Fox. John Fox, Jr.; Personal and Family Letters and Papers. Lexington, Ky., 1955. Print.
PS1703 .M6 1955, Young Library - 5th Floor

Green, Harold Everett. Towering Pines the Life of John Fox, Jr. Boston: Meador, 1943. Print. SOLINET/ASERL Cooperative Microfilming Project (NEH PS-20317) ; SOL MN02233.07 KUK.
B F832, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

West, Wallace. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. New York: Lynn, 1936. Print.
PS3545.E8336 T730 1936, Special Collections Research Center

No comments:

Post a Comment