As a child in a prosperous Massachusetts family, Mary (Gowen) Brooks impressed her parents and their friends with her uncanny skill at memorizing and reciting poetry. Betrothed to John Brooks upon the death of her father in 1809, she moved with to Maine, where she lamented her own passionless marriage and fell in love with a Canadian army officer.
In 1820 she began to publish anonymously; her first book was Judith, Esther, and Other Poems by "A Lover of the Fine Arts." When her husband died in 1823, she traveled to Canada to pursue her young officer, but the failure of this affair drove her to despair and two suicide attempts. She set sail for Cuba, where she had inherited a coffee plantation. There she adopted the name Maria and composed Zóphiël; or, The Bride of Seven—an "Oriental romance," parts of which she published in 1826 under the name "Mrs. Brooks."
Her close friend and fellow poet Robert Southey, who affectionately invented her pseudonym "Maria del Occidente," offered to supervise the publication of the rest of Zóphiël, and he encouraged her to write a novel based on her life while she resided at his home in England. The resulting work was the revealing romantic autobiography, Idomen: or, The Vale of Yumuri. Though Idomen appeared in installments in Boston's Saturday Evening Gazette, not even prestigious editor Rufus Griswold could find a publisher willing to print a complete single-volume edition of it, for while Griswold, Southey, and other critics praised her work as the most sophisticated of its genre and time, she never achieved a large popular audience.
Having returned to Cuba upon the deaths of her son and stepson in 1843, she died there two years later.
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