Although Ellen Glasgow never felt that she had received the critical acclaim she deserved, or at least desired, she nevertheless played an important part in the development of southern letters. A significant figure in the so-called Southern Renaissance, she provided in her novels a new picture of the South, a region reluctantly ushered into the modern world. Against a sentimentalized view of the Old South, Glasgow advocated an acceptance of the inevitability of change.
Prior to 1925, Glasgow’s critical reception was mixed—more positive than negative, but nothing that would mark her as a writer of the first rank. With Barren Ground, however, Glasgow’s reputation began to grow with both critics and readers. That novel made the 1925 Review of Reviews list of twenty-five outstanding novels of the year. Represented also on the list for 1925 were Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, Edith Wharton’s The Mother’s Recompense, Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, and Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. Glasgow’s The Sheltered Life was a best seller and greatly enhanced her reputation. Vein of Iron and In This Our Life, which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1942, helped to ensure her position as a writer of major significance.
“The chief end of the novel, as indeed of all literature,” Glasgow wrote, is “to increase our understanding of life and heighten our consciousness.” To this end she directed her artistic skills, writing with care and precision, for, as she also said, “The true novelis, like poetry, an act of birth, not a device or invention.”