Caroline Gordon Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207084-Gordon.jpg Caroline Gordon Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Caroline Ferguson Gordon was one of the twentieth century’s finest minor American novelists and short-story writers and an able literary critic. Her father, James Maury Morris Gordon, a classics scholar and country schoolmaster, had married one of his former pupils, Nancy Meriwether, and Caroline Gordon was born on her mother’s family estate in Kentucky in 1895. Both parents taught in various rural schools in Kentucky and Tennessee, and Gordon’s first formal education came in the classical preparatory school her father founded in Clarksville, Tennessee. After her father gave up teaching to become a Church of Christ minister, she attended Bethany College, from which she graduated in 1916.

After a brief stint as a society reporter for a Chattanooga newspaper, Gordon moved to New York City to continue a career in journalism. There she met an up-and-coming young literary man and fellow Kentuckian named Allen Tate. They were married in 1925, and their only child, Nancy, was born in September of that year. The Tates spent the winter of 1925 to 1926 living with the poet Hart Crane in a rented farmhouse near the Connecticut border, where Crane worked on his epic poem The Bridge (1930). Gordon, who was then writing her second novel, lived in the shadow of the men. Back in the city in 1926, Gordon became a typist for the prolific British novelist Ford Madox Ford, who encouraged the Tates and other southern writers—including Katherine Anne Porter—to make full use of their cultural heritage in their writing. Ford took a special interest in Gordon’s writing and helped her by reading and criticizing her manuscripts.

In the summer of 1930 Allen Tate’s brother Ben, who had made a fortune as a coal dealer, gave his brother and sister-in-law ten thousand dollars to buy a country estate, which Gordon’s father promptly named “Benfolly.” It was in this mansion on the banks of the Cumberland River, within a short drive of her birthplace, that Gordon began her career as a fiction writer in earnest. That same summer two of her short stories, “The Long Day” and “Summer Dust,” were accepted for publication, and the Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins paid her five hundred dollars in advance for her first published novel, Penhally, which appeared the following year. Though an early work, Penhally aptly characterizes most of Gordon’s fiction. It traces the history of one family—obviously modeled on Gordon’s own—from its migration from Virginia to its homestead in Kentucky, through the...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Caroline Gordon was graduated from Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, in 1916. From 1920 to 1924, she served as a reporter for the Chattanooga News; an article she wrote in 1923 on the Fugitive writers of Nashville brought her to the attention of members of that group, especially Allen Tate, whom she married in 1924 and divorced in 1959. In 1929, she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in creative writing and traveled to England and France; during the year, she also worked, for brief intervals, as a secretary to novelist Ford Madox Ford, who was instrumental in encouraging her to publish several of her short stories and her first novel. Gordon taught at the University of North Carolina, the University of Washington, the University of California, Davis, and Purdue University. In 1947, Gordon became a member of the Catholic Church, a fact which a number of critics have seen as influencing the themes and the highly moral cast of her later writings.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Caroline Ferguson Gordon was born on a farm in Todd County, Kentucky, on October 6, 1895. Her mother, Nancy Meriwether, was a Kentuckian; her father, James Morris Gordon, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. In the 1880’s, he moved west to Kentucky and became tutor to the Meriwether family. Later, he established a classical school for boys in Clarksville, Tennessee, to which his daughter was sent. This was the beginning of her lifelong interest in classical literature, an interest that was deepened during her college years when she studied Greek literature at Bethany College (earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1916). After teaching high school for three years, Gordon took a job as reporter in Chattanooga from 1920 to 1924, an experience she said was of no help to her in learning to write fiction.

In 1924, Gordon married Tate, a poet, essayist, and author of the novel The Fathers (1938). She had met Tate through Warren, who lived on a neighboring farm in Kentucky. Her marriage signaled the beginning of an important change not only in her personal life but also in her career as a novelist, for despite Tate being primarily a poet, he also was a perceptive critic of the novel and proved to be one of Gordon’s most important early teachers. The Tates moved to New York the year of their marriage, and then, in 1928, went to France on money from Tate’s Guggenheim Fellowship. There, a friendship with Ford that had begun in New York was...

(The entire section is 503 words.)