Caroline Gordon 1895–1981
American novelist, short story writer, and critic.
Gordon was affiliated with the Southern Literary Renaissance, a movement composed of authors who were united by their belief in the traditional agrarian values of the American South and by their common practice of formalist literary techniques as defined by the New Critics. The loss of morality, dignity, and family unity associated with the pre-Civil War South is a major theme of Gordon's fiction. Stylistically, Gordon's works display the formalist influence in her precise word choice, objective narration, and subtle presentation of themes. In addition, Henry James is often cited as an important influence on Gordon, particularly in her complex character portrayals, use of multiple levels of meaning, and in her mastery of James's technique of relating a story from the viewpoint of a perceptive central character. The novel Aleck Maury, Sportsman (1934) is recognized by most critics, including the eminent Southern author Robert Penn Warren, as Gordon's finest work.
A recurrent theme in Gordon's works is the search for a principle of moral and social order similar to that which existed in America before the Civil War. Critics have found that Aleck Maury, the protagonist of Aleck Maury, Sportsman and several short stories, is Gordon's most successful vehicle for developing this theme. Maury is presented as a representative of the agrarian South struggling with the moral and spiritual vacuousness of the modern, industrial order. A classics teacher and avid outdoorsman, he seizes art and nature as a defense against the moral decay that he perceives in his contemporaries. While some critics find that the importance of the agrarian way of life to Maury makes him a specifically Southern character, others hold that the mythological symbolism employed throughout Aleck Maury, Sportsman and the short stories is intended to convey Maury's universality as a character. In Gordon's other novels as well—including Penhally (1931), Green Centuries (1941), and The Glory of Hera (1972)—critics have emphasized Gordon's use of mythological allusions and have used Carl Jung's theory of universal archetypes to illuminate character motivation in her works. In 1947 Gordon converted to Catholicism, and critics stress the impact of this conversion on her subsequent novels The Strange Children (1951) and The Malefactors (1956), which depict emotionally stifled characters who find fulfillment through religious experiences. The publication of Gordon's Collected Stories (1981) has renewed critical and popular interest in her work.
(See also CLC, Vols. 6, 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 4, 9; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981.)