Ellen Glasgow 1874-1945
(Full name Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow) American novelist, shory story writer, essayist, and autobiographer.
Considered one of America's leading regional writers, Glasgow was a realist who also employed satire and irony in her depictions of southern society during the period of economic and social transformation after the Civil War. Rebelling against the romanticized portraits of the Old South prevalent in the writings of many of her contemporaries, Glasgow portrayed both realistically and critically what she saw as a decaying civilization clinging to outmoded manners, opinions, and methods in the face of rapid industrialization and a rising middle-class. The place of women in such an environment is a central concern in her fiction, and her short stories in particular explore the difficult relationships between men and women that result from their different sensibilities, social attitudes, and mores. Glasgow's renown is primarily as a novelist, but her twelve short stories also reveal her acuity as an observer of manners who masterfully represents the complexities of the human struggle through her female characters.
Born into a well-established family in Richmond, Virginia, Glasgow was predominantly self-educated, in part because her health was too delicate for her to attend school regularly. She read widely in the classics from her father's extensive library and was guided in her reading in philosophy and science by her brother-in-law. She began writing with little encouragement, as it was considered inappropriate for young Southern women to have literary ambitions; at age eighteen she secretly wrote and destroyed her first book, and she published her first novel, The Descendant (1897), anonymously. After the death of her mother in 1893, Glasgow suffered severe depression as well as partial loss of her hearing, conditions she struggled with the rest of her life. Except for a few years in New York—from 1911 to 1916—and frequent but brief travels, during which she made the acquaintance of other prominent writers, Glasgow lived in the family home in Richmond. She was engaged briefly during her forties to a Southern lawyer, Henry Anderson, whose influence on Glasgow's fiction has been noted by critics. Although the two never married, their friendship lasted until Glasgow's death. Glasgow's autobiography suggests that she faced many of the same dilemmas as those of her fictional female characters: whether or not to marry, whether or not to abandon a career for marriage, whether or not to maintain independence. Glasgow was dealing realistically with these and other "feminist" issues long before women's rights became a subject of national discussion.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Glasgow's first published work was a short story written when she was twenty-two years old, "A Woman of Tomorrow." The theme of a woman's conflict between marriage and a career was to figure prominently in all her fiction. Two other short stories appeared early in her career, but in 1897, after the publication of The Descendant and on the advice of her editor, Glasgow halted her work in the short story genre, avowing, "I shall write no more short stories and I shall not divide my power or risk my future reputation. I will become a great novelist or none at all." She did not entirely keep her promise, but she did thereafter concentrate on writing novels. Glasgow published thirteen novels between 1898 and 1922, many of them popular; but only one, the historical work Virginia (1913), received serious critical attention. The only collection of short fiction published during her lifetime, The Shadowy Third and Other Stories (1923) was a compilation of seven pieces written mostly between 1916 and 1923. The tales emphasize the supernatural, and in them Glasgow often satirizes men, whom she characterizes as insensitive, insipid, or treacherous, in contrast to her sensitive and independent female characters. Many of the themes addressed and techniques explored in her short fiction were developed most fully in the critically acclaimed novels written during her "high period," the best of which are considered Barren Ground (1925), about the emotional and economic survival strategies of a young woman working a depleted farm; The Sheltered Life (1932), an exposition of the evasive idealism of the agrarian South; and Vein of Iron (1935), which is often cited as one of the best fictional treatments of life during the Depression. The experiments she undertook in the short stories, including exploring the psychological depths of her characters and presenting strong women protagonists, were polished in the subtle portrayals of women in the later novels.
Glasgow enjoyed a popular following throughout her thirty-year writing career, but never found the serious critical consideration she sought. Five of her twenty novels were bestsellers, and in 1942, essentially in recognition of her considerable literary output, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel In This Our Life (1941). Although her short stories were almost always favorably received during her lifetime, for many decades after her death even her most sympathetic critics considered them mediocre and unworthy of attention. The first essay to offer an in-depth analysis of her work in this genre was Richard K. Meeker's introduction to The Collected Stories (1963). No sustained criticism of the stories appeared again until Julius Rowan Raper's discussion in The Sunken Garden in 1980. Since then, appreciation of Glasgow's facility as a writer of short fiction has grown, and, even while she is still considered foremost as a novelist, her stories have been praised for their psychological insight, early feminist sensibility, and bold experimentation as they grapple with themes and ideas that subsequently appear in her novels.
The Shadowy Third and Other Stories 1923
The Collected Stories 1963
Other Major Works
The Descendant (novel) 1897
Phases of an Inferior Planet (novel) 1898
The Voice of the People (novel) 1900
The Battle-Ground (novel) 1902
The Freeman and Other Poems (poetry) 1902
The Deliverance (novel) 1904
The Wheel of Life (novel) 1906
The Ancient Law (novel) 1908
The Romance of a Plain Man (novel) 1909
The Miller of Old Church (novel) 1911
Virginia (novel) 1913
Life and Gabriella (novel) 1916
The Builders (novel) 1919
One Man in His Time (novel) 1922
Barren Ground (novel) 1925
The Romantic Comedians (novel) 1926
They Stooped to Folly (novel) 1929
The Sheltered Life (novel) 1932
Vein of Iron (novel) 1935
In This Our Life (novel) 1941
A Certain Measure (essays) 1943
The Woman Within (autobiography) 1954
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SOURCE: A review of The Shadowy Third, in The New York Times Book Review, October 28, 1923, p. 16.
[In the following early review of The Shadowy Third, the critic finds Glasgow's ghost stories uncommonly believable because of their blend of naturalism and supernaturalism.]
In these days when perturbed spirits refuse to rest, when they obey that impulse to self-expression even to the point of saying it with flowers, it is pleasant to come upon such well-behaved and considerate spooks as those who people the principal stories of Ellen Glasgow's The Shadowy Third. But be it understood that Miss Glasgow refrains from adventuring deliberately into the pseudoscientific side of psychic phenomena. She merely adopts the device—and in her hands it becomes a highly effective one—of making the dead who continue to live in the memory assume at times a visual form. Miss Glasgow accomplishes the transition so smoothly, and blends the natural with the unnatural so skillfully, that her tales lack entirely the self-consciousness and patent artificiality that one invariably associates with the ghost story. Indeed, the atmosphere and mood in "Whispering Leaves," for instance, or in "The Past," places the reader in such a receptive state of mind that he accepts the shifting or the image from the mental membrane to the retina as nothing glaringly untoward or even very much out of the way....
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SOURCE: "Gentleman, the Ladies!" in The New York Times Book Review, December 23, 1923, p. 23.
[In the following excerpt from a review of the works of four women writers, Collins praises The Shadowy Third, comparing Glasgow's style and technique to that of Guy de Maupassant.]
[Ellen Glasgow] has told the truth about life as she has observed it and . . . she has done it in pure, chaste, limpid, grammatical English cast in form that constitutes art. She has made herself master of a style that has no superior and few peers among the fiction writers of the day in this country. This distinction of style has been characteristic of all her work since The Descendant, but it is particularly true of The Miller and the Old Church, Virginia, and The Shadowy Third. In addition she knows the value of atmosphere, she is an expert character builder with original ideas and she has learned the value of perspective. Moreover she knows when to let the reader make synopses, inferences, and conclusions. She neither preaches nor predicts, threatens nor moralizes. In the vernacular of the day, her people are "real folks." She knows them, understands them, likes them, sees behind their motives and animations and sympathizes with them. She takes pride in exhibiting them to us, showing us how they surmount difficulties, resist temptations, throw off handicaps and overcome obstacles. But reporting...
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SOURCE: "Ghosts and Others," in The Bookman, Vol. 58, No. 5, January, 1924, pp. 573-74.
[In this excerpt from a review of four collections of stories about ghosts and the occult, Willcox admires Glasgow's ability to convey convincingly "place and speech " in her writing.]
Miss Glasgow has four forthright ghost stories and three psychological tales. Her writing retains its customary distinction and freedom from all affectation and use of clichés; such English is a refreshment to mind and spirit, coming as it does from the fine tradition of Addison and Matthew Arnold, unvulgarized by current slang, unvilified by current bad grammar. An environment of long established customs, manners, and traditions has given her what few writers of her day have—both soil and atmosphere; a soil in which her roots are deeply set, and an atmosphere where she is sure of climate, vegetation, human types, manners, customs, and traditions. When she writes of Virginia her touch is as sure, her tone as perfect as was George Eliot's when she wrote of mid-England or Arnold Bennett's when he describes the five towns. "Dare's Gift" as well as the grim and terrible "Jordan's End" are fine examples of this truth to place and speech. "The Difference" is a study of that disastrous breach between the concentrated feminine temperament and the more diffuse masculine instinct, and both "A Point in Morals" and "Jordan's End" deal with a...
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SOURCE: "Fiction of the War Years and After," in Ellen Glasgow and the Ironic Art of Fiction, University of Wisconsin Press, 1960, pp. 127-45.
[In this excerpt from the first book-length study of Glasgow's oeuvre, McDowell dismisses all but two of her short stories as insignificant.]
Miss Glasgow seems to have needed the leisured form of the novel to develop her characters and situations, so that, as a short story writer, she is not particularly adept.12 With two exceptions her stories, collected in The Shadowy Third and Other Stories (1923), are negligible because in this form she turned primarily to an investigation of the supernatural, an inquiry which did not consort well with her predominantly realistic bent of mind. Most of the stories deal with the occult, but too baldly and literally. The subtlety which frequently distinguished Miss Glasgow's studies of moral conflict and of the manners of the aristocracy is absent from most of these thinly imagined tales.
In "The Shadowy Third" a child appears as an apparition to his mother and to the nurse-narrator of the story, although he remains invisible to the father, Dr. Maradick. When his wife insists that she still sees the spirit of her infant son, her husband thinks she is suffering from delusion and has her put in an asylum. After his wife's death, Dr. Maradick plans to marry a shallow woman who had rejected...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Collected Stories of Ellen Glasgow, edited by Richard K. Meeker, Louisiana State University Press, 1963, pp. 3-23.
[In the following essay, which is the earliest substantial consideration of Glasgow's short fiction, Meeker argues that the stories mark an important transition in Glasgow's development as a writer.]
On November 22, 1897, after publishing her first novel, The Descendant, Ellen Glasgow wrote to Walter Hines Page, then an editor on the Atlantic Monthly, "As regards my work I shall follow your advice in full. I shall write no more short stories and I shall not divide my power or risk my future reputation. I will become a great novelist or none at all."1 Literary history has already recorded and applauded the eighteen novels which she wrote thereafter; however, history has failed to notice how often Miss Glasgow broke that promise to Page. As a matter of fact, she published eleven short stories by 1925 and left another one in manuscript.2 Nevertheless, only a few paragraphs have been written about them, and editors of anthologies usually have passed them by for a piece from The Sheltered Life, if they have represented her at all.3 A partial collection, The Shadowy Third and Other Stories (1923), has been out of print for over twenty years. It is time to consider whether such neglect of Ellen Glasgow's...
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SOURCE: "The Words for Invisible Things: The Short Stories (1916-1924)," in From the Sunken Garden: The Fiction of Ellen Glasgow, 1916-1945, Louisiana State University Press, 1980, pp. 53-78.
[In the first sustained piece of criticism on Glasgow's short stories since Richard K. Meeker's 1963 essay, Raper argues that Glasgow's stories were written during a time of aesthetic and emotional crisis and reflect her search for a new language to express the workings of the deepest reaches of human consciousness.]
The short stories of Ellen Glasgow have attracted little critical attention, aside from the introduction Richard K. Meeker wrote for The Collected Stories of Ellen Glasgow. This neglect exists in large part because the stories do not lend themselves to easy grouping. Glasgow scattered them through thirty years of her career. Some seem to be simple love stories while others are rather transparent ghost stories, and neither approach was typical of her career as a novelist. Nevertheless, there exists one group of stories that played a role in Glasgow's development of far greater significance than they have been accorded. Despite the popular magazine quality of several, this group constitutes a series of experiments in characterization—experiments that opened up essential new realms of behavior for the novelist's later exploration. From discoveries she made here emerged the psychological...
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SOURCE: "Poems and Short Stories," in Ellen Glasgow, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1982, pp. 175-88.
[In the following excerpt, Thiébaux considers the chief interest in Glasgow's stories to be their treatment of themes developed more fully in her novels.]
Early in Glasgow's career, her editor, Walter Hines Page, urged her to put her best efforts in her novels, and for the most part she followed his advice:
I shall write no more short stories and I shall not divide my power or risk my future reputation. I will become a great novelist or none at all. For which determination you are in part responsible.2
It is true that she liked to explore history, heredity, the long, unfolding causes of things. For this she needed the spaciousness of the novel; the compression the short story demanded was less congenial. After publishing three stories in her early career, she did not publish another for seventeen years. The remaining ten were written or appeared between 1916 and 1924, a period during which her novel writing was at a low ebb. The stories' main interest lies in their treatment of themes that she developed more fully and skillfully in the novels.
The stories are of three general types, with some overlapping. There is the ethical dilemma story "A Point in Morals." Eight stories are about the difficult and rarely...
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SOURCE: "The Years of the Locust," in Ellen Glasgow: Beyond Convention, University of Texas Press, 1982, pp. 50-70.
[In the following excerpt, Wagner maintains that Glasgow's short stories emphasize characterization—particularly strong women characters—rather than plot development and experiment with ideas subsequently integrated in her novels.]
For all Glasgow's earlier reticence about focusing on women protagonists, she draws a variety of effective female characters in her stories. As Richard K. Meeker points out in his introduction to the collected stories, many of these women prefigure characters from the later novels.25 Perhaps more significant at this period of Glasgow's career, the stories gave her a means of drawing numerous different women. Many of these female characters were quite changed from her earlier protagonists, and, accordingly, served as exploration for some characters who might meet the cultural obstacles with those more "indirect" methods of which she had spoken in 1916, those of "indirect influence or subtlety."26 By this stage in her life, Glasgow had learned that any woman's ability to make successful choices, like that of the artist, was crucial. She had also learned that pleasing herself and pleasing a reading audience was not always possible. If some readers would idealize the Virginias, and feminists demand the Gabriellas, Glasgow knew too...
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SOURCE: "The Daring Gift in Ellen Glasgow's 'Dare's Gift'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring, 1984, pp. 95-102.
[In the following analysis of "Dare's Gift, " Carpenter sees the story as not merely a tale of the supernatural but as an exploration of one woman 's struggle to express her independence and individuality.]
In addition to her novels, Ellen Glasgow wrote short fiction, including several tales of the supernatural which appear in The Shadowy Third and Other Stories. These stories have won little critical scrutiny and less praise; their dismissal by many Glasgow critics suggests consensus with Frederick P. W. McDowell's argument that the stories lack subtlety, that they treat the occult "Too baldly and literally."1 However, a closer look at one of these stories, "Dare's Gift," will reveal a work as complex on a small scale as the epic novels so widely admired.
At first glance, "Dare's Gift" may appear to be a straightforward tale of the supernatural: a woman, driven mad by the suggestive atmosphere of a haunted house, betrays her husband. But is the story as straightforward as it first appears? The events of the story are narrated and analyzed for the reader by two professional men, a lawyer and a physician, whose credentials as rational observers would seem impeccable. Indeed, in her recent study of Glasgow, Marcelle Thiébaux writes...
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SOURCE: "Visions of Female Community in Ellen Glasgow's Ghost Stones," in Haunting the House of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by American Women, edited by Wendy Kolmar and Lynette Carpenter, University of Tennessee Press, 1991, pp. 117-41.
[In the following excerpt, Carpenter argues that Glasgow's ghost stories, which are particularly critical of men and sympathetic toward women, showcase her feminist concerns.]
In 1916, with her father and closest sister recently dead, Ellen Glasgow returned to the family home in Richmond, Virginia, and entered into one of the most difficult periods of her life. She felt keenly the loss of her family, and the war played upon her imagination. Her physical and mental health worsened; she became even more painfully self-conscious about her deafness. She felt herself haunted by the ghosts of dead loved ones, as she described it later in The Woman Within: "Ghosts were my only companions. I was shut in, alone, with the past." She added, "This is not rhetoric. This is what I thought or felt or imagined, while I stood there alone, in that empty house" (237).1
Yet the house was not always empty. Anne Virginia Bennett, who had nursed Glasgow's father and sister, stayed on in the house as Glasgow's private secretary. A frequent visitor was Henry Anderson, Glasgow's close friend and probable fiance. Anderson's influence on the...
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SOURCE: "Ellen Glasgow's Outline of History in The Shadowy Third and Other Stories," in The Critical Response to H. G. Wells, edited by William J. Scheick, Greenwood Press, 1995, pp. 125-38.
[In the following essay, Rainwater asserts that Glasgow's Gothic stories were influenced by the works of H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe.]
In several letters in her autobiography, The Woman Within (1954), Ellen Glasgow mentions reading the works of Poe and Wells.1 In contemplating these two authors' works, she joined what has now become a wide network of writers whose art bears complex intertextual connections centering around a mutual literary debt to Poe and, frequently, also to one another.2 Glasgow admits to feeling a "curious . . . kinship with Poe,"3 and although she calls Wells's novels "dull" (WW 203), she owned at least five of them along with an early edition of The Outline of History (1920). Apparently, she found the Outline intriguing enough to consult in more than one of its many versions.4 Glasgow's well-known fascination with Darwin might part-ly account for her interest in Wells's ideas about history, for Outline is firmly rooted in Darwinian evolutionary theory. This same interest in Darwinian concepts and their social and philosophical applications might also partially explain her homage to Poe in several short...
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SOURCE: "From Jordan's End to Frenchman's Bend: Ellen Glasgow's Short Stories," in Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture. Special Issue: Ellen Glasgow, Vol. XLIX, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 319-32.
[In the following essay, MacDonald suggests that Glasgow's uneasy friendship with her one-time fiancé Henry Anderson unconsciously informs the themes of many of her short stories.]
1 One of the best things to happen to Ellen Glasgow was Henry Anderson. In her earlier fiction she had juxtaposed the virile self-made man and the effete aristocrat, her heroines usually giving their hearts to the former but marrying the latter. Now here under her minute scrutiny was an exemplar of both fictional males, a well-born man who had not gone to seed but had risen from the ashes of Reconstruction and like a good Virginian had reverted to being an "Englishman," very much as her brother Arthur Glasgow had done. She had fixed her romantic imagination on other males earlier, notably on her brother-in-law, the idealistic Walter McCormack, and on a married man, "Gerald B." She had tried very hard to feel something for the Reverend Mr. Paradise, liking his name. Now on this most auspicious day, Easter of 1916, she was studying a man she knew she would not like; she noted every detail about him; "his skin was burned like his hair, to a deep sand color." She was close to forty-three, no longer young, not...
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MacDonald, Edgar and Inge, and Tonette Bond. Ellen Glasgow: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986, 269 p.
Bibliography of writings by and about Glasgow from 1897-1981.
Godbold, E. Stanly, Jr. Ellen Glasgow and the Woman Within. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972, 322 p.
Auchincloss, Louis. Ellen Glasgow. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964, 48 p.
Lucid, balanced assessment of Glasgow, her work, and her achievements with very brief mention of the short stories.
Branson, Stephanie. "Ripe Fruit: Fantastic Elements in the Short Fiction of Ellen Glasgow, Edith Wharton, and Eudora Welty." In American Short Story Writers: A Collection of Critical Essays, pp. 61-71. New York: Garland, 1995.
Compares Glasgow's treatment of the supernatural with that of Wharton and Welty.
Matthews, Pamela R. "Glasgow's Joan of Arc in Context in Ellen Glasgow, 'A Modern Joan of Arc'." Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture. Special Issue: Ellen Glasgow XLIX, No. 2 (Spring 1996):...
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