Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Violet Clay is a thoughtful, carefully crafted tale of one woman’s development as a painter. The novel alternates between accounts of Violet’s present experiences— during a two-month period in New York City and the Adirondacks—and flashbacks to the past: her Southern childhood; a summer spent with her grandmother in Charleston after graduating from college; her short-lived marriage; her early struggles as a young divorcée and would-be artist in New York; and her ambivalent relationship with her beloved uncle Ambrose, a writer. By the end of the novel, Violet has exorcised her past failures, confronted her present circumstances, and moved confidently toward a new future as a successful painter.

When the novel begins, Violet is contemplating “the fate of fleeing maidens” (the first chapter’s title) while painting one such maiden for the cover of a gothic romance—a job that has paid her rent for nine years but falls far short of the glorious future that she once imagined for herself. A sudden phone call interrupts both her work and her reverie, and initiates the end of her complacent life. This call, from the new art director at Harrow House, is the harbinger of Violet’s dismissal later that day. Yet losing her job is not the worst thing that happens on this “Day of Lost Options,” as Violet calls it. Later, after she has spent an evening drinking, rehashing her past, and feeling sorry for herself, Violet receives another call:...

(The entire section is 550 words.)