Gone-Away Lake Essay - Critical Context

Elizabeth Enright

Critical Context

Although well received by reviewers at its publication, Gone-Away Lake has never attracted as much critical attention as Elizabeth Enright’s first major book for children, Thimble Summer (1938), which won the Newbery Medal and which also focuses on a single summer in the country. That novel combines the family themes with two external forces: drought and the Great Depression. In her later family stories, Enright concentrated more on family and less on outside problems, with the result that many young readers prefer her Melendy family books to Thimble Summer. Like Portia and Foster, the Melendy children begin as an urban family, in The Saturdays (1941), then move to the country for Four-Story Mistake (1942) and Then There Were Five (1945). Enright’s final Melendy book, Spiderweb for Two (1951), shows the older Melendy children launching into adolescence and inventing a mystery for the younger two—a departure from her usual plotting that she never repeated.

Gone-Away Lake received a New York Herald Tribune Festival Award; the book’s success with readers encouraged Enright to write a sequel, Return to Gone-Away, about the events following the Blake family’s move to Villa Caprice. Some critics have suggested that Enright’s predominantly white, middle-class characters do not represent a cross-section of American society. Others laud the books’ sensitive language, family relationships, and descriptions of nature. Gone-Away Lake, like the Melendy books and Thimble Summer, was reissued in paperback in the 1980’s. The intergenerational theme of the Gone-Away books continues to have appeal, as this theme became a significant one in juvenile books of the later twentieth century.