Circumstance first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in May 1860, one of her earliest of short stories, and was included in William Dean Howells’s The Great Modern American Stories (1921). Based on a true incident in her family history – Spofford’s great-grandmother was brutally attacked by a black panther one night – this story is set in the liminal space of woods in Maine, and follows an unnamed protagonist who, after caring for a sick neighbour, travels home through the woods where she comes into contact with the Indian Devil. It impressed Emily Dickinson as “the only thing I ever read in my life that I didn’t think I could have imagined myself!” Spofford treats the sensational or implicitly ‘romantic’ event realistically and was very much a forerunner of the realist writers that followed her. She also challenged contemporary stereotype views of the feminine in literature.
Spofford published profusely and variously over sixty years, but she is now known more for her short stories than her novels.