The Dispossessed as Raw Talent
Ellen Glasgow was an advocate of progress and a modern South where reality would tear away fantasy and science would bring economic benefits to the lives of impoverished people. At the same time, her ties to the romance of the Old South were strong, and therein lies the major conflict in her novels. She was never to quite work out a satisfactory compromise.
The dichotomy seems to have been set up at birth. From her mother, whom she describes as "a perfect flower of the Tidewater in Virginia," she inherited a gentility and noblesse oblige, and from her father, "a descendant of Scottish Calvinists," a hard‐ headed perseverance she came to call the "vein of iron" (The Woman Within 139). Thus one part of her looked back on a lost civilization idealized into "heroic legend," the other looked forward to a New South where scientific farming could revolutionize and revitalize a region impoverished by long misuse, a devastating war, and the economic decline that followed.
Because of this, she seems the quintessential southerner, seeking valiantly to hold onto the old while embracing the new, never fully acknowledging that a belief in one might well preclude a belief in the other. "I had grown up in the yet lingering fragrance of the Old South, she writes in A Certain Measure, and I loved its imperishable charm, even when I revolted from its stranglehold on the intellect." She adds:
In the Old South, this inherited culture possessed grace and beauty and the inspiration of gaiety. Yet it was shallow-rooted; for all its charm and goodwill, the way of living depended, not upon its own creative strength, but upon the enforced servitude of an alien race. In the coming industrial conquest, the aristocratic traditions could survive only as an archaic memorial. It was condemned to stand alone because it had been forsaken by time. (12-13)