Harriette Arnow Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Harriette Arnow wrote two well-received social histories of the Cumberland River basin, an area that encompasses parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. Seedtime on the Cumberland (1960) focuses more on the lives and work of individual pioneers of the period from 1780 to 1803, while Flowering of the Cumberland (1963) concentrates on the social activities of the same time, relating to education, industry, professions, and entertainments. Arnow wrote Old Burnside: A Memoir of a Southern Girlhood (1977) as a reminiscence of her growing up in Burnside, Kentucky. Though not a prolific short-story writer, Arnow wrote several stories, which are gathered in The Collected Short Stories of Harriette Simpson Arnow (2005). Her most widely published short story is “The Washerwoman’s Day,” about the hypocrisy behind a charitable deed.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Harriette Arnow’s critics consider her an underrated writer who deserves wider recognition. She is especially credited for her role in the development of Appalachian literature. Critics have observed that her specific portrayals of a particular region, like any good fiction, also connect to more universal themes.

Arnow, and her novel, received many awards and other honors. Hunter’s Horn was a Saturday Review national critics’ poll winner for best novel and was nominated for the National Book Award. For The Dollmaker, Arnow won the Friends of American Writers award, and the novel was a runner-up for the National Book Award, was a Saturday Review national critics’ poll cowinner for best novel, won the Berea College Centennial award, and won the Woman’s Home Companion Silver Distaff award. For Seedtime on the Cumberland, Arnow won a commendation from the Tennessee Historical Commission. She also received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, an Outstanding Alumni award from the University of Louisville, the Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts for outstanding artistic contribution, an Outstanding Alumni Award from Berea College, and the Mark Twain Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984 and has honorary degrees from Albion College (1955), Transylvania University (1979), and University of Kentucky (1981).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chung, Haeja K., ed. Harriette Simpson Arnow: Critical Essays on Her Work. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. This volume contains twenty essays divided into three sections: Arnow’s life and general essays on her work, critical essays on individual works, and interviews with or essays by Arnow. Some of the essays are reprinted from other sources.

Hobbs, Glenda. “Starting Out in the Thirties: Harriette Arnow’s Literary Genesis.” In Literature at the Barricades: The American Writer in the 1930’s, edited by Ralph F. Bogardus and Fred C. Hobson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1982. Hobbs examines Mountain Path and Between the Flowers in the light of the interest in the southern rural poor in the 1930’s and the stereotypes about them that influenced the content and reception of her work.

Miller, Danny L. Wingless Flights: Appalachian Women in Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996. In chapter 6 of this work, Miller discusses the women of Arnow’s Kentucky trilogy, emphasizing their strength. Though often victimized, characters such as Corie Cal, Milly Ballew, and Gertie Nevels are not defeated. Gertie embodies the best in Appalachian women.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “On Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker.” In An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature, edited by Danny L. Miller, Sharon Hatfield, and Gurney Norman. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. In one of the most influential essays on The Dollmaker, Oates comments on the novel’s reflection of American themes and conflicts. She remarks on the conflict between the competing views of God as love and God as vengeance. The novel explores also the themes of individualism versus conformity and the crushing nature of industrial society.