Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers

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Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers. By NANCY C. PARRISH. Southern Literary Studies. FRED HOBSON, Editor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. xix, 234 pp. $16.95 paper.

THIS thoughtful, balanced, and thorough study traces the origins of the literary works of Lee Smith and Annie Dillard to the years each spent at Hollins College. Author Nancy C. Parrish explores how the convergence of an excellent faculty and the encouraging sisterly community of the college helped to turn two talented students into professional writers.

Parrish places the experiences of Smith and Dillard within a framework that includes a discussion of the history of Hollins and of southern female higher education. She presents a careful account of the evolution of the college from its nineteenthcentury origins as a small female academy through its years as a proprietary college owned and administered by members of the Charles Cocke family to its transformation in the 1930s into its current incarnation as a trustee-owned institution. Parrish ably traces the regionalism that shaped the educational policies of the college and explores the disparity between southern women's colleges and their northern counterparts, particularly the Seven Sisters (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley). It is here that her generalizations are weakest reflecting little in-depth knowledge of the histories of those northern schools and reliance on secondary information about them.

Parrish shifts from institutional history to explore the influence of a number of individual members of the Hollins faculty on Dillard and Smith, devoting an entire chapter to one of them, Louis Rubin, in which she places his decade at Hollins in the context of his life's work. To support her thesis, Parrish also provides detailed biographical information about Annie Dillard and Lee Smith and engages in a close analysis of the specific influence of their training at the school on the works written by each at Hollins that were eventually published outside the college walls.

In tracing the history of Hollins and setting it in the context of the history of education for women in the South as a whole, and in Virginia specifically, Parrish explores the ways in which the college reflected stereotypes of women, particularly the image of the southern lady, so ably described in the work of Anne Firor Scott, and points out ways in which the school departed from those societal norms. Parrish clearly delineates the paternalism that undergirded the college in 1963 when the so-called Hollins Group, a particularly intellectual and talented group of young women, entered as freshmen. Her discussion of that paternalism reflects feminist criticism and approaches and does not consider that the concept of in loco parentis, which was central to that paternalism, was not confined to women's colleges but also operated on men's and coeducational college campuses across the country until the 1970s when the legal definition of the age of majority changed. …