Study Guide

Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207083-Godwin.jpgGail Godwin Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Gail Godwin is one of the foremost novelists of her generation. Her career has done much to advance the acceptance of women as writers of serious literature. She was raised in Asheville, North Carolina, by her mother, Kathleen Krahenbuhl, a divorced journalist, teacher, and writer of romances, and her maternal grandmother. Both of these women proved to be strong influences on Godwin’s fiction, and each has served as the model for one or more of her fictional women. Her fiction also shows the influence of her father, Mose Godwin, who is a model for Uncle Ambrose in Violet Clay, and her stepfather, Frank Cole, whom Godwin’s mother married in the late 1940’s. Both Ray in The Odd Woman and Ralph in A Southern Family owe something to Cole.

Godwin was educated at Peace Junior College and the University of North Carolina, where she earned a B.A. in journalism. She was a reporter for the Miami Herald for a year, worked for the U.S. Travel Service at the American embassy in London, and eventually returned to the United States, earning a Ph.D. in English at the University of Iowa. Like another premier novelist from Asheville, Thomas Wolfe, Godwin is considered an autobiographical novelist. Her novels bear a striking resemblance to events or locales from her personal experience. A typical Godwin theme is that of the modern woman and her dilemma in defining self and others in an era when the old frameworks and definitions have broken down. The conflicts she portrays most often arise between a character’s work, usually of an artistic nature, and her desire for security, love, and connection, most often through a relationship with a male. Thus, the theme of the woman struggling for identity divides into two separate thematic strands: identity as artist and identity as lover.

Godwin’s characters also long, in many cases, to penetrate the identities of others. Yet these characters are conscious of the questionable morality of such invasion. Finally, her most important theme is the role of the artist in relation to self, others, and art itself. Her main characters tend to be self-conscious “artists” even when they are lawyers or psychiatrists or unemployed. They make life itself into an art.

The Perfectionists and Glass People feature women who are trapped in bad marriages, who do not have meaningful work, and who are too insecure to make the inevitable and necessary break from their spouses to pursue an independent life. In The Odd Woman,...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)

Gail Godwin Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Gail Kathleen Godwin was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 18, 1937. She attended Peace Junior College in Raleigh, North Carolina, before matriculating at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received a B.A. in journalism. For two years she was employed as a reporter for the Miami Herald, during which time she married Douglas Kennedy, a photographer. The marriage ended in divorce less than a year later. After leaving the Herald, Godwin worked and traveled in Europe for six years, settling in London, where she worked in the U.S. Travel Service at the American Embassy in London. She married Ian Marshall, a British physician; they were divorced the following year. Godwin returned to the United States and entered the graduate writing program at the University of Iowa in 1967. She received her M.A. degree in 1968 and her Ph.D. in English in 1971, after which she devoted herself full time to writing, although she also accepted teaching positions at Vassar College in 1977 and Columbia University in 1978 and 1981.

Gail Godwin Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gail Kathleen Godwin was born on June 18, 1937, and was reared by her mother and her widowed grandmother in Asheville, North Carolina. She attended Peace Junior College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in 1959 graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the alma mater of Asheville’s other great native writer, Thomas Wolfe). After working as a reporter for the Miami Herald, she lived in London and worked with the United States Travel Service at the American embassy. After returning to the United States, she took an M.A. (1968) and a Ph.D. (1971) in English at the University of Iowa, where she later served on the faculty of the Writers’ Workshop. She has taught English and creative writing at Vassar College and at Columbia University.

Godwin has been married twice, to Miami Herald photographer Douglas Kennedy and to British psychotherapist Ian Marshall. Her one-year marriage to Marshall is the basis for her first novel, The Perfectionists, as her early years with her mother and grandmother are the basis for parts of Glass People and The Odd Woman. Godwin has also used her relationships with her father and her stepfather in her fiction, especially in Violet Clay and The Odd Woman, respectively. Events in her novella Evenings at Five, published in 2003, closely resemble those in Godwin’s own life surrounding the death of her longtime companion Robert Starer in 2001. Since 1976, she has resided in Woodstock, New York.