Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Published to critical praise from Joseph Wood Krutch, Carl Van Doren, and Clifton Fadiman, The Wave was the only best-seller among Scott’s novels. It may even claim the distinction of encouraging Southern writers such as Stark Young and Margaret Mitchell to turn to the writing of novels about the Civil War. While Young’s So Red the Rose (1934) and Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936) were more successful commercially, they were flawed by sentimentality. The Wave, indeed the whole trilogy of which it is a part, stands in marked contrast to the works of these writers because of its technical experimentation. Only William Faulkner, in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), stands superior to Scott as a prose stylist detailing the Civil War in fiction.

Only in terms of the care with which it is structured and in its pervasive irony is this novel typical of Scott’s fiction. In an earlier trilogy, comprising the novels The Narrow House (1921), Narcissus (1922), and The Golden Door (1925), she explored the psychological effects of unhappy marriages on three generations of the Farley family. A feminist as well as a writer, Scott had run off to Brazil in 1913 with a married man, treating this experience in her impressionistic autobiography Escapade (1923); the problems facing the female artist are also central to the novels Eva Gay: A Romantic Novel (1933), Bread and a Sword (1937), and The Shadow of the Hawk (1941).