(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Romantic Comedians was the first of Glasgow’s comic novels—written, she said later, to amuse herself. The pleasure she had in writing it was shared by her readers; The Romantic Comedians was one of her best-selling novels.

Like Barren Ground, The Romantic Comedians deals with the conflict between men and women in a society that defines their roles and their relationships. While Barren Ground was tragic in tone, however, The Romantic Comedians is comic. The protagonist of Barren Ground was a woman who could find contentment in life only by denying her natural feelings. The central character in The Romantic Comedians is a man who, despite the disastrous results of his marriage to a young woman, at the end of the book is still pursuing happiness and the opposite sex.

Interestingly, although the tone of the earlier novel is tragic, Glasgow obviously considers the ending a happy one, while in the second novel, although the tone is comic, it is suggested at the end of the book that the next young woman with whom the protagonist becomes involved will probably be the death of him.

In The Romantic Comedians, as in all Glasgow’s other fiction, the conflict between the sexes is an integral part of the conflict between an old world, which is dying, and a new world, which is coming into being. Despite his pride in what he considers enlightened views, the protagonist of the novel, sixty-five-year-old Judge Gamaliel Bland Honeywell, lives by the standards of the Old South and is appalled at the moral decay that he perceives all around him.

In his world, women of good family adhered to rigid rules and were rewarded for good conduct with the respect and protection of the men in their class. As an example of proper conduct, the judge need look no further than the memory of his late wife, Cordelia Honeywell. After her death, Queenborough society expects the judge to marry another exemplary lady, Amanda Lightfoot, who had been his fiancé until a foolish...

(The entire section is 847 words.)