Louisa Fletcher Tarkington, “The Abbess”

Louisa Fletcher TarkingtonA few weeks ago, I ran a news item about the poetry of the first Mrs. Tarkington. Just the other day, one of my search engine feeds turned up a Library of Congress photo of Louisa, specified as from the period from 1910 to 1915. It’s a newswire photo, so it was probably taken to support one or another of her writing projects (or Tarkington’s).

A link in the photo’s comment thread led me to the website of painter Tyler Alpern, one of whose muses is Louisa’s nephew Bruz Fletcher. Alpern’s site includes a sort of fan page for the Fletcher family, including a great deal of interesting biographical tidbits that never found their way into Tarkington’s biographies. Musician Bruz, who was gay, would eventually commit suicide in Hollywood, the fourth immediate family member to do so. His father Stoughton ended life as a pauper. The family story is mercurial and sad.

Here’s a bit from Alpern’s Fletcher Family Album:

[Stoughton] had 3 sisters, Julia, Hilda and Louisa. Hilda lived in a “boston marriage” in Saranac, New York [meaning she lived in a lesbian relationship]. Louisa was a poet and had a stormy first marriage to famed playwright Booth Tarkington. Their only daughter Laurel died at age 16 and was one of the first of many tragedies to mark Bruz’ s short life. Julia commited suicide in 1910 and a bitter custody battle for her children and body followed. 

Bruz’s beloved aunt Louisa [was] known to the family as Abbess. … She met Booth Tarkington when they both appeared in an amateur production in Indianapolis.

The webpage shows a striking photo of Louisa in costume. Check it out. It’s easy to see how the young Tarkington could be smitten.

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