Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton (October 30, 1857 - June 14, 1948) was a prominent and prolific American author, many of whose novels are based in her home state, California. Her best-seller Black Oxen (1923) was made into a silent movie of the same name. In addition to novels, she wrote short stories, essays, and articles for magazines and newspapers on such issues as feminism, politics, and war. She was strong-willed, independent-minded, and sometimes controversial.
Atherton's first publication was "The Randolphs of Redwood: A Romance," serialized in The Argonaut in March 1882 under the pseudonym Asmodeus. When she revealed to her family that she was the author, it caused her to be ostracized. In 1888, she left for New York, leaving Muriel with her grandmother. She traveled to London, and eventually returned to California. Atherton's first novel, What Dreams May Come, was published in 1888 under the pseudonym Frank Lin.
In 1889, she went to Paris at the invitation of her sister-in-law Alejandra Rathbone (married to Major Jared Lawrence Rathbone). That year, she heard from British publisher G. Routledge and Sons that they would publish her first two books. William Sharp wrote in The Spectator praising her fiction and would later invite Atherton to stay with him and his wife, Elizabeth, in South Hampstead.
In London, she had the opportunity through Jane Wilde to meet Oscar Wilde, her son. She recalled in her memoir Adventures of a Novelist (1932) that she made an excuse to avoid the meeting because she thought he was physically repulsive. In an 1899 article for London's Bookman, Atherton wrote of Wilde's style and associated it with "the decadence, the loss of virility that must follow over-civilization."
Atherton was often compared to counterparts like Henry James and Edith Wharton. James assessed Atherton's work and he found the author had reduced the typical man/woman relationship to a personality clash.
Atherton presided in her last years over the San Francisco branch of PEN, an international organization of poets, essayists, novelists and playwrights founded in England by John Galsworthy, though, as her biographer Emily Wortis Leider notes in California's Daughter, "under her domination it became little more than a social club that might have been called Friends of Atherton and (Senator) Phelan." Besides a strong advocate of social reform, and, as the grande dame of California literature, she yet remained a strong force in the promotion of a California cultural identity. She was a personal friend of Senator James Duval Phelan and his nephew the philanthropist Noel Sullivan, and often was a guest at Phelan's estate, Villa Montalvo. Among her celebrity friends was travel writer Richard Halliburton, who shared her interest in artists' rights, and whose disappearance at sea she lamented.