Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Helen Halsey, or The Swamp State of Conelachita: A Tale of the Borders >> Helen Halsey, or The Swamp State of Conelachita: A Tale of the Borders >> End Matter

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Novella | Burgess, Stringer & Co. | 1845


                While one of the lesser-known of Simms’s border romances, the novella Helen Halsey is nevertheless a strong work, indicative of the overall project the author undertook in that series.  The first mention of Helen Halsey in the Letters was in June 1843.  By September, Simms told James Lawson that the work was “nearly ready.”  Helen Halsey was “to follow up” Simms’s ghost story Castle Dismal, a work he announces in the same letter to be sending to “the Harpers.”[1]  Letters to Lawson from this time period indicate that the author was interested in shopping both novellas around to various publishers in hopes of procuring the most advantageous deal; both were eventually brought out by Burgess, Stringer & Co. of New York, with Castle Dismal appearing in late 1844, and Helen Halsey in early 1845.  Even though the frontier adventure of Helen Halsey is vastly different in both setting and tone from the gothic Castle Dismal, biographer John Caldwell Guilds notes that the two works’ proximity likely contributed to the limited success of Halsey.  This work was published two months after Castle Dismal, and “the timing,” Guilds notes, likely contributed to Helen Halsey not being “reviewed so widely or so favorably as Castle Dismal.”[2] This was to Simms’s chagrin, as he wished that Halsey would have been published first because “I think ‘Helen Halsey’ much the best, and [Burgess, Stringer & Co] promised otherwise.”[3] While it’s unclear exactly what Simms means by “promised otherwise,” it seems likely that he wanted Helen Halsey, a work he seemed to think superior to Castle Dismal, to be published first.  In this, Simms seems to be anticipating Guilds’s thinking that publishing two works so closely together would limit the critical, and possibly commercial, reception of one of them. Further evidence that Simms thought very highly of Helen Halsey is exemplified by his noting in June 1844 that, “as a rapid and truthful domestic story I think it one of my most successful performances.  Besides, its style is, I am disposed to believe, particularly good.”[4]  Upon its publication, Helen Halsey was at least politely received by some critics, though letters from as late as February 1846 find Simms frustrated by the novella being ignored by significant journals like the Democratic Review.[5]