Caroline Gordon Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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

Caroline Gordon was a distinguished novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and literary critic. In the field of literary criticism, she is admired for her contributions to New Criticism and to theories of form and symbolic structure. Her most famous work of literary criticism, written with her husband, Allen Tate, is The House of Fiction: An Anthology of the Short Story (1950), an anthology of short stories designed to illustrate methods for reading and interpreting fiction.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Caroline Gordon’s novels and short fiction reveal her concerns with a sense of order and tradition in a world where those qualities are increasingly at risk, the world of the rural South. Her interest in those themes and settings reveals her intellectual ties to the New Critics; like them, she rejected popular, sentimental pictures of the region, finding meaning instead in rituals such as hunting and fishing, which gave dignity and moral order to a chaotic world. Her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1947 gives an extra dimension to her later work. Her careful style and concern with point of view have also caused her to be compared with Henry James. During her lifetime, Gordon received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in creative writing, won the O. Henry Short-Story Award for “Old Red,” and was given honorary doctorates by Bethany College, Purdue University, and St. Mary’s College. In 1966, she received a grant of ten thousand dollars from the National Council of Arts.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Caroline Gordon was primarily a novelist, she wrote a number of superb short stories, several of which have been reprinted in anthologies for use in the classroom; “Old Red” is perhaps the best known, though “The Captive” and “The Last Day in the Field” have also received wide circulation. These and other Gordon stories were published originally in quality journals such as Scribner’s Review, Harper’s, Sewanee Review, and Southern Review, and they have been reprinted in three collections, The Forest of the South (1945), Old Red, and Other Stories (1963), and The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon (1981), with an introduction by Robert Penn Warren.

Gordon lectured and published commentaries on the fiction of others, but she was not a literary critic in the usual sense; her interest was in setting forth and illustrating her theories about a method of writing fiction. These are contained in two works: The House of Fiction: An Anthology of the Short Story (1950, edited with Allen Tate) and How to Read a Novel (1957).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Caroline Gordon’s reputation was firmly established by the publication of her first novel, Penhally, particularly after it was reviewed by the English writer Ford Madox Ford in Bookman. Ford hailed Gordon as one of the important contemporary novelists writing in the United States. The succession of novels and stories that followed Penhally, her marriage to the poet Allen Tate and her association with the Vanderbilt Agrarians, her lectures, and the short-story textbook The House of Fiction are all a measure of her significant contribution to the Southern Renaissance.

Gordon has been particularly admired for her craftsmanship, for the skill with which—in the tradition of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway—she is able to create impressions of life that are at once realistic and symbolic. Following her chief master, James, Gordon was a scholar of the novel, and her fiction emphasizes technique above plot and character, so much so, in fact, that with few exceptions, her books have never had popular appeal. Aleck Maury, Sportsman attracted an audience of hunters and anglers, partly because of its subject but also because the hero of the book is an appealing character. None Shall Look Back also attracted readers, particularly in the South, because of its evocation of the tragic heroism of the Civil War. Green Centuries dealt with material very popular in the 1930’s, hardship on the frontier and conflicts between American Indians and white settlers, though it lacks both the sentimentality and moralizing that often made such fiction popular.

The remainder of Gordon’s novels are demanding books that require of the reader alertness to symbolic meanings and close attention to the implications of technique. As a consequence of its special kind of excellence, Gordon’s fiction appeals primarily to other writers and scholars ofnarrative craft. Many novelists and short-story writers, including Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have acknowledged a debt to Gordon.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Arbery, Virginia L. “‘Considerable Emphasis on Decorum’: Caroline Gordon and the Abyss.” Modern Age 36 (Winter, 1994): 157-164. Discusses her fiction that makes use of American history and her depiction of the hero and the pattern of sacred marriage. Argues that critics have inadvertently depreciated the centrality of her often stated claim that women are always on the lookout for heroes.

Fraistat, Rose A. Caroline Gordon as Novelist and Woman of Letters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984. Fraistat examines Gordon’s life in terms of her work and places her in a historical context. A study by a modern Southern woman of letters looking at one from a previous generation.

Fritz-Piggott, Jill. “The Dominant Chord and the Different Voice: The Sexes in Gordon’s Stories.” In The Female Tradition in Southern Literature, edited by Carol S. Manning. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993. Argues that the most general fact about gender in Gordon’s stories is that they are told by different male and female voices. Analyzes some of Gordon’s stories in which an individual confronts a force as the Other against which the self is defined.

Jonza, Nancylee Novell. The Underground Stream: The Life and Art of Caroline Gordon. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A good,...

(The entire section is 459 words.)