Ellen Glasgow:: Centennial Essays

Ellen Glasgow:: Centennial Essays

Ellen Glasgow:: Centennial Essays

Ellen Glasgow:: Centennial Essays

Excerpt

The year 1973 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ellen Glasgow--until late in her life she had thought she was born in April, 1874, but then she discovered that the family Bible gave the date as 1873. She was born in Richmond less than a decade after it had served as the embattled capital of the Confederate States of America, and at a time when the issues and loyalties of the Civil War were still white-hot. When she died in November, 1945, the United States of America had just finished winning a second world war, and the history of the Confederacy was a field of antiquarian inquiry.

The leading Virginia novelist in the year of her birth was John Esten Cooke, whose Virginia Comedians (1854) epitomized the antebellum romance. In the year that she died, Malcolm Cowley published the reevaluation of the Yoknapatawpha saga of William Faulkner that helped rescue his fiction from popular and critical neglect and make him our most noted twentieth-century author. When Ellen Glasgow published her own first novel in 1897, Thomas Nelson Page was topmost among Virginia writers of fiction. The year 1941, when the last work ofEllen Glasgow's to be published in her lifetime, In This Our Life, won the Pulitzer Prize, was also the year that saw publication of Carson McCullers's second novel and Eudora Welty's first collection of stories.

I cite these facts in order to suggest just how immense were the changes that took place in American life and in Southern American literature during Ellen Glasgow's lifetime; they may also help to suggest something of what her own role in that process was, and why, in the history of Southern literature, she occupies the remarkable position that she does. In 1897 The Descendant, published anonymously, was held to be a shocking, even sordid novel; she once quoted the remark of an elderly relative, "But it is incredible that a well brought-up Southern girl should even know what a bastard is." By the 1930s and 1940s, her own application of that . . .

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