John Fox, Jr.

John Fox Jr. (1862–1919)

John Fox Jr. was one of Virginia's best-selling writers in the first decade of the twentieth century. He chronicled in popular fiction the customs and characters of southern Appalachia and produced two of the first million-selling novels in the United States. Though he enjoyed enormous commercial success, especially with The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1903) and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908), today Fox is regarded as a fairly sentimental practitioner of the local-color genre, a style of writing that foregrounds place and regionalism. Still, he is fondly celebrated by the southwestern Virginia town Big Stone Gap, where he resided much of his life. The Kentucky-born, Harvard-educated Fox embodied a contrast that he often explored in his novels: the insular culture of Appalachia set against a more sophisticated outside world. MORE...

 

Born near Paris, Kentucky, on December 16, 1862, John Fox Jr. was the son of a schoolmaster in Kentucky's Bourbon County. He enjoyed the benefits of quality education in childhood and attended Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, before graduating from Harvard in 1883. Fox then worked as a journalist in New York City before returning to Kentucky in 1885 to join his brother in a land-speculation venture that took them into the mountainous areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In 1890 Fox moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and his observations about this area and its residents became the seed for several stories, including "A Mountain Europa" and "A Cumberland Vendetta," published in Century Magazine in 1892 and 1894 respectively, and "The Last Stetson," published by Harper's Weekly in 1895. According to Virginia Tech professor Edward L. Tucker, Fox's business investments in Big Stone Gap "proved to be disastrous" and "to help recover some of the money he lost, he gave public lectures. One member of his audience was Theodore Roosevelt, who, after becoming president, invited Fox to come to the White House to read his stories and to sing mountain songs to the accompaniment of his guitar."

Fox published his first full-length novel, The Kentuckians, in 1897. The book explores a recurring theme that had brought him recognition with his earlier stories and that he would continue to explore throughout his career: the uncivilized mountaineer versus the civilized flatlander. The former appears in the character of Boone Stallard, a Kentucky legislator with a mountain background and a lawless family (his mother smokes a pipe while his brother sits in jail). The latter is represented by Randolph Marshall, heir to a tobacco fortune. Conflict comes in the form of Anne Bruce, who, as daughter of the governor, is of Marshall's class but finds herself attracted, instead, to Stallard.

Six years later, Fox more firmly established his place in the era's popular literature more firmly with The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, a tale set during the American Civil War (1861–1865). In it, the mountain shepherd Chad Buford is taken in by the well-to-do soldier Major Calvin Buford, and later the two discover they are related. Little Shepherd is considered to be one of the first books printed in the United States to sell a million copies, and as a consequence it relieved Fox of his debts.

Fox interspersed his career as a novelist with stints in journalism, serving as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War (1898) and in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). His follow-up to Little Shepherd, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which examined the impact of the coal industry on Appalachia and the boom-and-bust cycle of the period, was also a best seller. The novel's central love story, between a mountain girl and a flatland man, takes place in Big Stone Gap, a setting of lawless feuding and tensions resulting from the intense (and ultimately unsuccessful) outside investment in industry, of which Fox himself had been a part. But the novel also records and illuminates the local way of life: simple entertainments, religion, agriculture, and crafts.

With an advance sale of 100,000, The Trail of Lonesome Pine eventually sold two million copies. It was adapted for the stage and produced at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1912. Cecil B. DeMille wrote, directed, and produced a film version in 1916, while other versions appeared in 1914, 1923, and 1936. An outdoor drama adaptation of the novel has appeared every summer since 1964 in the town of Big Stone Gap. The town also showcases Fox's home, built in 1888.

Following the success of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Fox married Fritzi Scheff, a star of the Metropolitan Opera, in 1908. (He had dedicated the novel to her.) Although Scheff frequently visited Big Stone Gap and became an occasional addition to local entertainment, she and Fox ended their tumultuous marriage in 1913. Fox's later works did not enjoy the same success as his two most popular novels. He died of pneumonia on July 8, 1919, and is buried in Paris, Kentucky.

Contemporary critics have taken issue with Fox's now-outdated portrayal of the mountain people he chronicled, including his presentation of women as subservient and his contribution to the "mountaineer" stereotype of Appalachian residents. He is regarded as a noted practitioner of the local-color genre, however, which was a dominant mode of American fiction writing after the Civil War, and he is mentioned alongside other local-color writers such as Kate Chopin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Thomas Nelson Page. If Fox's stories are now sometimes seen as sentimental toward his Appalachian characters and setting, the same is true of the local-color genre in general and southern regionalism literature in particular.

Major Works

  • A Cumberland Vendetta and Other Stories (1895)
  • Hell-fer-Sartain and Other Stories (1897)
  • The Kentuckians (1897)
  • A Mountain Europa (1899)
  • Crittenden (1900)
  • Blue-grass and Rhododendron (1901)
  • The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1903)
  • Christmas Eve on Lonesome and Other Stories (1904)
  • Following the Sun Flag: A Vain Pursuit Through Manchuria (1905)
  • A Knight of the Cumberland (1906)
  • The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908)
  • The Heart of the Hills (1913)
  • In Happy Valley (1917)
  • Erskine Dale, Pioneer (1920)

Time Line

  • December 16, 1862 - John Fox Jr. is born near Paris, Kentucky.
  • 1883 - John Fox Jr. graduates from Harvard University.
  • 1885 - After working as a journalist in New York City, John Fox Jr. returns to Kentucky to join his brother in a land-speculation venture that will take them into the mountainous areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  • 1890 - John Fox Jr. moves to Big Stone Gap.
  • 1898 - John Fox Jr. serves as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War.
  • 1903 - John Fox Jr.'s The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is published. The novel is considered to be one of the first books printed in the United States to sell a million copies.
  • 1904 - John Fox Jr. serves as a correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War.
  • 1908 - John Fox Jr.'s The Trail of Lonesome Pine is published. With an advance sale of 100,000, the novel eventually will sell two million copies.
  • 1908 - John Fox Jr. marries Fritzi Scheff, a star of the Metropolitan Opera. She and Fox will end their tumultuous marriage in 1913.
  • 1912 - John Fox Jr.'s The Trail of Lonesome Pine is adapted for the stage and produced at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York.
  • 1916 - Cecil B. DeMille writes, directs, and produces a film version of John Fox Jr.'s The Trail of Lonesome Pine. Other versions will appear in 1914, 1923, and 1936.
  • July 8, 1919 - John Fox Jr. dies of pneumonia and is buried in Paris, Kentucky.
Further Reading
Titus, Warren I. John Fox, Jr. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1971.
Tucker, Edward L. "John Fox Jr." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910–1945. Edited by James J. Martine. St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, New York: The Gale Group, 1981.
York, Bill. John Fox, Jr., Appalachian Author. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Davis, A. John Fox Jr. (1862–1919). (2014, May 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Fox_John_Jr_1862-1919.

  • MLA Citation:

    Davis, Aaron. "John Fox Jr. (1862–1919)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 May. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 9, 2009 | Last modified: May 27, 2014


Contributed by Aaron Davis, the executive director/curator of the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center in Clintwood, Virginia. A native of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Davis holds a master of arts in Appalachian studies from Appalachian State University.