ELLEN ANDERSON GHOLSON GLASGOW was born on April 22, 1873, in Richmond, Virginia.The eighth of ten children of Anne Jane Gholson Glasgow and Francis Thomas Glasgow, she was born into a southern aristocratic family of wealth and social prominence. Due to her extreme shyness and painful headaches, Glasgow was irregularly schooled, but she would, throughout her life, read and travel widely in Europe and the Mediterranean.From childhood on she wrote poetry and grew intensely serious about becoming a writer, although she would later wonder why she chose prose, and not poetry.
In her novels Glasgow rebelled against the genteel tradition of sentiment and nostalgia for the antebellum South. Her realistic depiction of life in her native Virginia contrasted the old society and the new in the period following the Civil War.Her first novel, The Descendant, was published anonymously in 1897. Her second novel, Phases of an Inferior Planet, appeared shortly thereafter. During this time, reading Maupassant, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, Glasgow sought to develop what she would call a "philosophy of fiction." In The Voice of the People ( 1900), she began a series of novels that would form a social history of Virginia from 1850. The most noteworthy of the five novels written for this project are The Battle-Ground ( 1902) and Virginia ( 1913); the latter, covering the years 1884 to 1912, is a tragicomic portrait of a girl being pointlessly groomed for a genteel way of life that has all but disappeared. The other novels in the series are The Deliverance ( 1904), The Romance of a Plain Man ( 1909), and The Miller of Old Church ( 1911).
Not until 1925, with the publication of Barren Ground, did Glasgow gain serious attention from critics. Two comedies of manners followed: The Romantic Comedians ( 1926) and They Stooped to Folly ( 1929). The Sheltered Life ( 1932) and Barren Ground are generally considered her best work. Vein of Iron was published in 1935. For her last novel, In This Our Life ( 1941), she brought the history that had begun in 1850 with The Battle-Ground up to the autumn of 1939; for this novel Glasgow won the 1942 Pulitzer Prize. Glasgow collected the prefaces to her novels in a volume called A Certain Measure ( 1943), which she called a "book of self-criticism"; some of its passages are repeated in the autobiography she began in 1934.