Ellen Glasgow Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Ellen Glasgow’s early work illustrate the difficulty of managing a satisfactory relationship between ideas and characters in a novel?

What traits of southern society depicted in Glasgow’s novels provoke her theme of women’s rebellion?

To what extent does Barren Ground—and especially its conclusion—relate to Glasgow’s own problems of middle age?

In what ways did Glasgow influence later southern writers?

What raises Vein of Iron above a mere attempt to exploit the success of Barren Ground?

Glasgow was interested in the conflict of the “Old South” and the “New South.” What sorts of issues are involved in this distinction?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111201216-Glasgow.jpg Ellen Glasgow. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Ellen Glasgow’s twenty-three published books include novels, short stories, poetry, criticism, and an autobiography. She is best known for her novels, particularly Barren Ground (1925), The Romantic Comedians (1926), The Sheltered Life (1932), and In This Our Life, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1941.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ellen Glasgow spent her lifetime dedicated to the craft of writing, despite the cultural and literary prejudices of her time and place, which deplored the idea of an independent female author. She was at her finest writing fiction about women; many of her female characters’ lives were distinctly unconventional for their time. Her exploration of women’s lives, male-female relationships, and particularly the destructive effect of romantic notions of chivalry, innocence, and gender roles on the individual and society made her a best-seller during her lifetime but earned her limited critical recognition. She was awarded the Howells Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1940, the Saturday Review Award for Distinguished Service to American Literature in 1941, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1942, three years before her death.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to nineteen novels, Ellen Glasgow (GLAS-goh) wrote a book of short stories, The Shadowy Third, and Other Stories (1923); a book of poems, The Freeman, and Other Poems (1902); a book on her views of fiction writing (concerned primarily with her own works), A Certain Measure: An Interpretation of Prose Fiction (1943); and an autobiography, The Woman Within (1954). She also wrote a number of articles on fiction for various periodicals and magazines. Her letters were published in 1958.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Ellen Glasgow never felt that she had received the critical acclaim she deserved, or at least desired, she nevertheless played an important part in the development of southern letters. A significant figure in the so-called Southern Renaissance, she provided in her novels a new picture of the South, a region reluctantly ushered into the modern world. Against a sentimentalized view of the Old South, Glasgow advocated an acceptance of the inevitability of change.

Prior to 1925, Glasgow’s critical reception was mixed—more positive than negative, but nothing that would mark her as a writer of the first rank. With Barren Ground, however, Glasgow’s reputation began to grow with both critics and readers. That novel made the 1925 Review of Reviews list of twenty-five outstanding novels of the year. Represented also on the list for 1925 were Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, Edith Wharton’s The Mother’s Recompense, Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, and Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. Glasgow’s The Sheltered Life was a best seller and greatly enhanced her reputation. Vein of Iron and In This Our Life, which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1942, helped to ensure her position as a writer of major significance.

“The chief end of the novel, as indeed of all literature,” Glasgow wrote, is “to increase our understanding of life and heighten our consciousness.” To this end she directed her artistic skills, writing with care and precision, for, as she also said, “The true novelis, like poetry, an act of birth, not a device or invention.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Glasgow, Ellen. The Woman Within. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954. Glasgow’s autobiography is one of the best sources for the philosophy behind her fiction. This volume is more of a literary autobiography than a personal one, indicating shifts of perceptions, understanding, and attitude. It was published posthumously.

Godbold, E. Stanly, Jr. Ellen Glasgow and the Woman Within. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. A literary biography, interesting mainly as an example of prefeminist interpretation of Glasgow’s work.

Goodman, Susan. Ellen Glasgow. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. A biography that focuses on showing Glasgow’s significance as a southern author at the turn of the century; discusses the gap between her reception by her contemporaries and her later reception.

McDowell, Frederick P. W. Ellen Glasgow and the Ironic Art of Fiction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960. Interesting in-depth analysis of Glasgow’s oeuvre mostly in terms of style, irony, and wit. Extensive bibliography.

Matthews, Pamela R. Ellen Glasgow and a Woman’s Traditions. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994. Discusses Glasgow’s feminism and her place as a twentieth century southern female author. Includes bibliographical...

(The entire section is 415 words.)