Vein of Iron Critical Context
by Ellen Glasgow

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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Woman Within (1954), her autobiography, Glasgow includes Vein of Iron with Barren Ground (1925), The Sheltered Life (1932), and two other novels on the list of works that she thinks are her best. Her second-to-last published novel, Vein of Iron was well received both by the critics, who praised it, and by the public which bought many copies.

Critics writing after World War II have disagreed about the novel’s quality, some seeing it as a solid, if less impressive return to the themes of Barren Ground, others seeing it as declining toward a facile didacticism. Both views are justified to some extent. There are, for example, a few somewhat clumsily contrived conversations and incidents near the end of the novel which seem to be more direct comments on the irrationality of the Depression than contributions to the picture of spiritual chaos in which the Fincastles must reforge their vein of iron. While these weaken the novel, it remains, nevertheless, a strong and moving work, dominated by interesting characters who earn the reader’s admiration.