(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Romantic Comedians was the first of Glasgow’s comic novels—written, she said later, to amuse herself. The pleasure she had in writing it was shared by her readers; The Romantic Comedians was one of her best-selling novels.

Like Barren Ground, The Romantic Comedians deals with the conflict between men and women in a society that defines their roles and their relationships. While Barren Ground was tragic in tone, however, The Romantic Comedians is comic. The protagonist of Barren Ground was a woman who could find contentment in life only by denying her natural feelings. The central character in The Romantic Comedians is a man who, despite the disastrous results of his marriage to a young woman, at the end of the book is still pursuing happiness and the opposite sex.

Interestingly, although the tone of the earlier novel is tragic, Glasgow obviously considers the ending a happy one, while in the second novel, although the tone is comic, it is suggested at the end of the book that the next young woman with whom the protagonist becomes involved will probably be the death of him.

In The Romantic Comedians, as in all Glasgow’s other fiction, the conflict between the sexes is an integral part of the conflict between an old world, which is dying, and a new world, which is coming into being. Despite his pride in what he considers enlightened views, the protagonist of the novel, sixty-five-year-old Judge Gamaliel Bland Honeywell, lives by the standards of the Old South and is appalled at the moral decay that he perceives all around him.

In his world, women of good family adhered to rigid rules and were rewarded for good conduct with the respect and protection of the men in their class. As an example of proper conduct, the judge need look no further than the memory of his late wife, Cordelia Honeywell. After her death, Queenborough society expects the judge to marry another exemplary lady, Amanda Lightfoot, who had been his fiancé until a foolish...

(The entire section is 847 words.)

The Romantic Comedians Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

As Judge Honeywell walks home from church on the first Easter morning after his wife’s death, he is surprised by his own reactions to the Virginia springtime. He feels quite young for sixty-five, and his life with his wife, now dead, seems so remote as never to have happened. In fact, he feels relieved, for his wife had seldom let him lead an existence of his own.

The Judge has for some time hospitably looked after Mrs. Upchurch and her daughter, Annabel, because they are kinswomen of his late wife, but shortly after this memorable Easter morning, he begins to think of twenty-three-year-old Annabel in quite another way. His change in attitude had begun because he is secretly sorry for her. She had been engaged to a young man who left her almost at the altar, and this had hurt her bitterly, as the Judge and her mother know.

As time passes, Judge Honeywell finds himself thinking more and more of Annabel Upchurch and also of Amanda Lightfoot, his childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately, the Judge’s sister, Mrs. Bredalbane, tries to convince him that falling in love with Amanda would be the sensible thing to do. The Judge promptly closes his mind to Amanda and begins thinking more of Annabel, who has asked the Judge to help her open a flower shop.

Soon the Judge has purchased a house with a large garden for Mrs. Upchurch and her daughter so that Annabel might practice landscape gardening. When he tells the girl about the house, he adds that the only reward he expects is that of seeing her happy; however, when she takes her leave, he kisses her.

By the time Mrs. Upchurch and Annabel are settled in their new home, the Judge knows that he is in love with Annabel, who is more than forty years younger than he. He buys new clothes and has his hair and beard trimmed to lessen the amount of gray that shows in them. He feels that he could give Annabel everything she needs—love, tenderness, security, and wealth.

The number and quality of the Judge’s gifts soon make apparent to Annabel and her mother what is on the old man’s mind. Annabel thinks at first that it would be more suitable for him to marry her mother; however, as she informs her mother, marrying an older man is certainly better than living in an atmosphere of shabby gentility. Annabel decides to visit Amanda Lightfoot. Knowing that Amanda has never married because she had been in love with the Judge, Annabel wishes to find out if the older woman still loves him. If she does not, Annabel decides, she herself will marry him. Amanda, however, almost refuses to say anything at all. Annabel is disappointed but secretly relieved. When she arrives home, Judge Honeywell is waiting with a present for her, a sapphire bracelet. Before he leaves the house, he tells Annabel that he loves her, and she accepts him.

After they are married, the Judge and Annabel travel in England and in...

(The entire section is 1184 words.)