Major, Charles (1856-1913) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
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 married Alice Shaw of Shelbyville. The newly married couple chose to stay in Shelbyville and Major set up his law practice. Major also served one term as 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.
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 202: Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Kent P. Ljungquist, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The Gale Group, 1999. pp. 179-184.