Alice French wrote under the pen name of Octave Thanet. She was born in Andover, Massachusetts, to George Henry French and Frances Morton. George French had a successful leather business in Boston. In 1856, he moved his family to Davenport, Iowa, where he manufactured agricultural implements.
In 1866, Alice studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Abbot Academy in Andover; she completed her course in 1868 and returned to Davenport. She made good use of her uncle’s library in continuing her studies in sociology, philosophy, and literature.
Alice took the pseudonym “Octave Thanet.” She later claimed that she chose “Octave” because it was gender-neutral, and that she had seen the word “Thanet” written on a freight car in the Davenport yards.
She published stories and essays in national periodicals, and they were often republished in book-length collections. She also published several novels and a work about photography.
Early in her career, Alice published stories with philosophical or political themesas well as nonfiction. She drew on travel experiences as well.
Alice and her widowed friend Jane Allen Crawford set up a permanent winter home at Clover Bend Plantation in Lawrence County. They lived there for several months each year until 1909. “Thanford” (Thanet + Crawford), as she and Crawford called their house, was also the setting for their literary and social activities, entertaining the great and near-great with luxurious meals and fine wines in effective contrast with their wilderness surroundings.
The pieces Alice wrote as Octave Thanet are squarely set in the local color tradition. The reading public wanted romance and moral uplift with realistic details of speech, setting, and character types. For present-day readers, her work is redeemed by her narrative skill and a wry sense of humor.
She was financially successful as a writer, though her investments in banks and railroads provided most of her income. In the 1890s, Alice published ten books. Between 1896 and 1900, fifty of her stories were published, and four different publishers collected five volumes for reprinting.
In 1909, Alice and Jane gave up their house at Clover Bend. Alice traveled widely in the United States, speaking for the conservative causes she embraced, adding to them her opposition to woman suffrage. She regularly attended the reunions of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington.
She developed diabetes, and complications from the disease caused the loss of one leg and most of her eyesight. She died in Davenport and is buried in the Oakdale Memorial Park in that city.