Church, Ella Rodman (McIlvane)
CHURCH, Ella Rodman (McIlvane)
Born 1831; death date unknown
Wrote under: Ella Rodman
Ella Rodman Church's publications include novels, children's stories, and pamphlets on gardening, needlework, and bird life. Church's major novel is The Catanese; or, The Real and the Ideal (1853). Set in southern Italy, the novel presents an interesting blend of sentimental and gothic modes. Characters such as the depraved priest, Father Roberts, and the pious heroine, Phillippa, are standard Gothic types; however, in the portraits of the King and Queen of the Castel Novo, Church presents characters whose complex, imperfect relationship suggests her strong interest in exploring the subtleties of male-female liaisons.
Flights of Fancy (1853) is Church's collection of short fiction. In "First Impressions," one of the simplest but best tales, a husband and wife affectionately recall their initial negative impressions of each other. In several other tales, Church experiments with the dramatic monologue form. The best is "The Widower," in which Church traces the emotional life of a spinster through her journals and interior monologues. Of central interest in the collection is the two-part saga of the Clavers family. In the first tale, "The Wife's Revenge," a young wife leaves her husband to become a famous actress. Whereas the reader's sympathy should go to the abandoned husband who must rear their infant daughter alone, Church deftly reverses this attitude through a series of flashbacks illustrating how Duncan Clavers' obsessive drive for power, money, and a more beautiful wife created his tragedy. Eventually, his teenage daughter learns of his coldness to her mother and deserts him to live with her. The second part of the narrative, "Minna Clavers," is the story of the daughter's maturity and the backstage world of the theater.
Church is skilled in creating complex characters. She is particularly good at sketching intelligent, creative women with sophisticated patterns of motivation and conflict. Her writings deal thoughtfully with many different types of relationships between men and women. Her consistent theme is the distinction between what is possible and what is only desirable, and she prefers reality with its imperfections to unrealistic expectations.
—ROSE F. KAVO