Andrew Nelson Lytle (LI-tuhl) was one of the least productive of the group of Vanderbilt University students who as “The Fugitives” formed in the 1920’s the nucleus of what was to become a dominant force in contemporary American literature. He was one of twelve southern writers, including John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson, and others, who published I’ll Take My Stand (1930). This was the manifesto of that small group of intellectuals who, fearing that finance capitalism was leading the nation to a totalitarian state, urged a return to economic agrarianism and social patricianism. (The same group published Who Owns America in 1936.) Lytle was later a member of the “47 Workshop” in playwriting at Yale, an amateur actor in the new little theater movement of the 1920’s, and eventually a teacher of English, including creative writing, at colleges in the East and South.
None of Lytle’s four novels received serious critical attention. The Long Night, a powerful study of personal passions and deep regional feeling, has as its theme the change of character the Civil War forced on many men. The hero recovers his former humaneness but loses all purpose. At the Moon’s Inn is a naturalistic portrayal of the actions of men searching for gold with Hernando de Soto. A Name for Evil symbolizes the plight of Western civilization in a ghost story dealing with a couple who restore a southern mansion. The Velvet Horn, set against a background of rural Tennessee shortly after the Civil War, is rich in regional feeling and mythic implications in its account of the perennial search for personal identity and wholeness.
Lytle continued to assert his voice well into his ninth decade. In A Wake for the Living: A Family Chronicle, Lytle traced the roots of his family heritage from the eighteenth century to the 1940’s. Kristin, Lytle’s reading of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter (3 volumes, 1920-1922; translated 1923-1927), was published in 1992—the year Lytle turned ninety—and provides readers with a critical lens through which the aesthetic intricacies of Lytle’s fiction can be deciphered.