Katrina Trask: The Gilded Age of Philanthropy
Keywords:philanthropy, American women writers, Arthurian legends, Faustian influence, Gilded Age New York
Katrina Trask (1853-1922) is best known for founding—both financially and idealistically—Yaddo, the artist retreat located in Saratoga Springs, New York. Spencer and Katrina Trask’s sense of service and philanthropy was informed by her love for Arthurian legends and the medieval notion of patronage, wherein the wealthy fund and support artists and writers. Trask devoted her life to serving, so much so that her own literary career has become a footnote to her charity. She began her writing career after the loss of her four young children, and over the span of her lifetime wrote essays, plays, poetry, and novels—in addition to being a prolific chronicler of events. Historical and scholarly attention on Trask should be extended beyond references to her wealth to include her literary accomplishments, not as a mere footnote but rather as an independent aspect of her life worthy of its own critical attention. In this essay, I argue that the legends of King Arthur and Faust and the ethics associated therewith directly inform Katrina Trask’s literary works and the larger notion of service throughout her lifetime.
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