Ellen Glasgow, a Southern woman who set her best novels in the Virginia she knew, deliberately rejected labels of regional or Southern or woman writer and sought for universal appeal and reputation. The Woman Within is the autobiography of herself as writer. The book begins with her earliest memories—sensations that anticipate her antipathy to inflicted pain and sensitivity to beauty. These memories include having a terrifying vision of a “malevolent” face without a body, wistfully watching sturdier children at play in the street, recognizing beauty and wonder in the brightness and grace of a lamplighter’s activity, identifying with a dog fleeing from heartless boys and with an old man struggling as he is carried off to the almshouse. She decides when very young that cruelty is the unforgivable sin.
Feeling gives way to observation: the antagonistic heritages of her sensitive, gentle, aristocratic mother and her stern Scottish Presbyterian father suggest the origin of her inner strife and her rebellion against orthodox religion. Happy memories surround intelligent, adventurous Mammy, their walks around Richmond, their stories of “Little Willie,” the first hero of her imagination.
Glasgow becomes a writer in her seventh summer. She remembers joy in creating a poem and then in humiliation when a sister reads it. Ever after writing in secret, she begins to live two lives, the external and the interior—solitary and free. The...
(The entire section is 481 words.)