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Frances Parkinson Keyes

(1885–1970)

Writer Frances Parkinson Keyes in 1925. Learn more

Frances Parkinson Keyes was born in Virginia, grew up in Vermont and Boston, and lived most of her adult life in and around Washington, D.C., but her fiction and historic restorations link her firmly to Louisiana. The author of several best-selling novels, Keyes is perhaps best known for her 1948 murder mystery, Dinner at Antoine’s, which is set in New Orleans. Also famous for her gracious hospitality, Keyes meticulously restored a French Quarter home, now known as the Beauregard-Keyes House, to entertain her many guests. She was an advocate for historic preservation and restoration throughout her life.

Early Life

Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 21, 1885, Frances Parkinson Wheeler was the child of John Henry Wheeler and Louise Fuller Johnson Wheeler. After her father, a professor of Greek, died in 1887, her mother returned to their native New England. Keyes’ education was largely informal, but she acquired considerable linguistic skills as well as a deep appreciation for living in historic homes. When she was eighteen, she married Henry Keyes, a man of forty, who became governor of New Hampshire in 1916 and later served as U.S. senator until shortly before his death in 1938. Frances Keyes spent the early years of her marriage raising their three sons, and despite her husband’s disapproval of her writing ambitions, she managed to publish her first novel, The Old Gray Homestead, in 1919.

In Washington, Keyes became involved in numerous civic projects, including the restoration of Arlington; in 1921, she began writing a popular series for Good Housekeeping, “Letters from a Senator’s Wife,” which ran for fourteen years and included accounts of her extensive world travels. Having published several volumes of fiction and nonfiction, Keyes finally wrote a bestseller, Honor Bright (1936). The next year, she wrote the first of several biographies of religious figures, Written in Heaven: The Life on Earth of the Little Flower of Lisieux (1937), and in 1939, she became a Roman Catholic.

Keyes in Louisiana

Keyes first visited New Orleans during Carnival in 1940, at the invitation of Clarence Bussey Hewes, a diplomat from Jeanerette. She was enthralled by the city, and the novel Crescent Carnival (1942) resulted, followed by a dozen romances set in Louisiana, including her most famous novel and only mystery, Dinner at Antoine’s (1948). The River Road (1945), Steamboat Gothic (1952), and Blue Camellia (1957) were also set in the Pelican State. One notable feature of Keyes’ fiction was the extensive research that she did to immerse herself—and her readers—into an authentic milieu. Often including prefaces and bibliographies to explain her sources, Keye’s attention to detail gave a rich materiality to her fiction, though it sometimes encumbered her plots. Personally aloof and disappointed by her lack of critical success, Keyes was dedicated to her craft and maintained a rigorous writing schedule despite chronic pain; she eventually completed more than fifty novels, biographies, and memoirs.

In 1945, as Keyes was spending more and more time in New Orleans, she rented and later purchased an elegant French Quarter mansion known for an earlier famous tenant, Confederate General P.T. Beauregard. The Beauregard-Keyes House, as it is now known, remains a testimony to Keyes’ dedication to historic preservation in architecture as well as in fiction. She died there on July 3, 1970.

Author: Barbara C. Ewell

Cite this entry

Chicago Manual of Style

Ewell, Barbara C. "Frances Parkinson Keyes." In knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published February 24, 2011. http://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/frances-parkinson-keyes.

MLA Style

Ewell, Barbara C. "Frances Parkinson Keyes" knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 24 Feb 2011. Web. 23 May 2017.

Suggested Reading

Hogan, Pendleton.Lunch with Mrs. Keyes: A Short Biography of Frances Parkinson Keyes. New Orleans, LA: Keyes Foundation/Beauregard-Keyes House, 1989.

Maniero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers, Vol. 2. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1981.

 

Major Works of Frances Parkinson Keyes

The Old Gray Homestead (1919)
Letters from a Senator’s Wife (1924)
Queen Anne’s Lace (1930)
Lacy Blanche Farm (1931)
Silver Seas and Golden Cities: A Joyous Journey Through Latin Lands (1931)
Honor Bright (1936)
Capital Kaleidoscope: The Story of a Washington Hostess (1937)
Written in Heaven: The Life on Earth of the Little Flower of Lisieux (1937)
Pioneering People in Northern New England: A Series of Early Sketches (1937)
Parts Unknown (1938)
The Great Tradition (1939)
Bernadette of Lourdes (1940)
The Sublime Shepherdess: St. Bernadette Soubirous (1940)
All That Glitters (1941)
Senator Marlowe’s Daughter (1942)
Crescent Carnival (1942)
Fielding’s Folly (1943)
The Old Gray Homestead (1943)
Came a Cavalier (1947)
Once on Esplanade (1947)
Along a Little Way (1948)
Dinner at Antoine’s (1949)
All This is Louisiana: An Illustrated Story Book (1950)
The Cost of a Best Seller (1950)
St. Therese of Lisieux (1950)
The Safe Bridge (1950)
The Grace of Guadalupe (1951)
Joy Street (1951)
Steamboat Gothic (1952)
Larry Vincent (1953)
The Royal Box (1954)
The Frances Parkinson Keyes Cookbook (1955)
St. Anne: Grandmother of our Savior (1955)
Blue Camellia (1957)
The Land of Stones and Saints (1958)
Clowns (1958)
The Gold Slippers (1958)
Mother Cabrini (1959)
Station Wagon in Spain, also published as The Letter from Spain (1959)
Keeping Christmas (1960)
Roses in December (1960)
The Chess Players (1961)
The Ambassadress (1961)
The Rose and the Lily: The Story of Two South American Saints (1961)
Shelter (1961)
If Ever I Cease to Love (1962)
Therese: Saint of a Little Way (1962)
Sylvia Cary (1962)
The Career of David Noble (1962)
Madame Castel’s Lodger (1963)
Three Ways to Love: The Story of Three Great Women (1963)
Christmas is Everywhere (1964)
The Explorer (1965)
Christmas at Home (1965)
I, the King (1966)
Christian Marlowe’s Daughter (1967)
The Heritage (1968)
Honor Bright (1968)
Vail D’Alvery (1970)
The River Road (1970)
All Flags Flying: Reminiscences of Frances Parkinson Keyes (1972)

 

External Links

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Additional Data

Coverage 1885–1970
Category Literature
Topics
Regions Greater New Orleans
Time Periods Bourbon Era, Late-20th Century, Long Era
Index letter K

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