Born: December 21, 1849
Died: February 18, 1925
New York, New York
James Lane Allen, one of Kentucky’s first best-selling novelists, was widely read in the United States and Great Britain in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. His writing is considered part of the “local color” era, which reflected both realism and romanticism and was characterized by attention to capturing regional vernacular. Critics of the movement complained it was dominated by nostalgia or sentimentality, but Allen’s best work often had a controversial edge.
Allen began by writing literary criticism, but after publishingFlute and Violin and Other Kentucky Tales and Romances(1891), he made a highly successful career in fiction and travel writing. He published more than 20 books over 34 years. He was a contributor to many of the most prominent magazines of his time, including Harper’s, The Centuryand The Atlantic Monthly.
Allen was born in Fayette County to Richard and Helen Jane Foster Allen. He experienced a genteel Antebellum childhood, but by his 20s the Civil War had dramatically altered that society. Allen wrote about both worlds.
Many of his early novels were set in an “idealistic, romantic world filled with stories of honor and chivalry, where gallant and noble gentlemen courted women of spotless virtue,” Kentucky historian James Klotter wrote. But Allen’s later work told of an “industrial America where, it seemed, ethics were replaced by greed, honor by corruption, purity by vulgarity,” Klotter added. Several of Allen’s novels generated controversy because they addressed touchy subjects, including evolution, religious doubt, sex, and infidelity.
Allen graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington in 1872 and finished a master’s degree there in 1877. He taught at various schools in Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia before moving to New York City in 1893 to advance his writing career.
His novel A Kentucky Cardinalwas released in 1894, making him a commercial as well as a critical success. It was followed by the best-selling novel The Choir Invisible in 1897, which received high praise. “Hardly since Hawthorne have we had such pages as the best of these,” William Morton Payne wrote of it in The Dialmagazine. Allen’s last published book, The Landmark, coincided with his death in 1925.
“Although his works were very pleasing in their flowing style, they were also substantive, dealing with important themes of the day, often at the cutting edge of discourse,” critic George Brosi wrote.
Allen is buried in Lexington Cemetery. His childhood home, Scarlett Gate on what is now Lane Allen Road, is owned by The Lexington School.
Flute and Violin and Other Kentucky Tales and Romances (1891)
The Blue-Grass Region of Kentucky (1892)
John Gray (1893)
A Kentucky Cardinal (1894)
Summer in Arcady (1896)
The Choir Invisible (1897)
Two Gentlemen of Kentucky (1899)
The Increasing Purpose (1900)
The Reign of Law (1900)
The Mettle of the Pasture (1903)
The Bride of the Mistletoe (1909)
The Doctor’s Christmas Eve (1910)
The Heroine in Bronze (1912)
The Last Christmas Tree (1914)
The Sword of Youth (1915)
A Cathedral Singer (1916)
The Kentucky Warbler (1918)
The Emblems of Fidelity (1919)
The Alabaster Box (1923)
The Landmark (1925)