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Major, Charles, 1856-1913



  • Existence: 1856 - 1913

Biographical Information

Charles Major was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 25, 1856 to Stephen and Phoebe (Gatskill) Major. Stephen Major, an attorney, moved the family to Shelbyville, Indiana in 1869. Charles Major completed his schooling in Shelbyville before attending the University of Michigan to study law in 1872. Major returned to Shelbyville in 1875 to work at his father’s law firm while studying for the bar. In 1877 he passed the bar exam and chose to stay in Shelbyville to set up his law practice. Major also served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1886-1887.

Charles Major had always been interested in history and historical fiction, being a keen admirer of Sir Walter Scott’s work. In his spare time he wrote his first novel When Knighthood Was in Flower and had it published by Bowen Merrill in 1898. It was very popular and sold quite well; remaining on the best sellers list for fourteen months. In 1899 the novel was dramatized by Paul Kester for the popular actress Julia Marlowe. A revised version of the play opened in New York in 1901 to positive reviews. Film versions were produced in 1908 and 1922, and in 1953 When Knighthood Was in Flower was the basis for Walt Disney's The Sword and the Rose.

Because of the success of this first novel, Major was able to cut back on law practice and the majority of his time was devoted to writing. The fame brought about by his first novel resulted in many opportunities for the Major family. In 1901 the couple was invited to the White House to meet President William McKinley and dined with Samuel Clemens "at the famous Delmonico's in New York City."

Major’s next novel was The Bears of Blue River. It tells the story of Little Balser Brent, a young child in Indiana and recounts his adventures in the early 1800s. This novel was distinguished by its "Hoosier" character. His third novel was Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, which was an historical romance. His other novels include: A Forest Hearth, 1903; Yolanda, Maid of Burgundy, 1905; Uncle Tom Andy Bill, 1908; A Gentle Knight of Old Brandenburg, 1909; The Little King, 1910; Sweet Alyssum, 1911; and The Touchstone of Fortune, 1912. Some reviewers criticized his writing as hokey, while others felt it was "fine, readable fiction." However, all reviewers seemed to agree that Major’s historical research was impeccable.

Charles Major passed away from liver cancer on February 13, 1913.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Charles and Alice Shaw Major papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 82
Scope and Contents The Charles and Alice Shaw Major Papers (1847-1949; 51.25 cubic feet) document the personal and professional life of Charles Major and his wife Alice Major. Charles Major was an author and a member of the Purdue University board of trustees. The papers consist of Charles Major's literary works, materials from various theatrical productions, poetry written by Major, sketches, and materials from Major’s law career. The Majors' personal life is represented by the materials collected by Alice...
Dates: 1847-1949; Majority of material found within 1890-1924; Event: Date acquired: 11/30/1926