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Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow (April 22, 1873 – November 21, 1945) was an American novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1942. A lifelong Virginian who published 20 books including seven novels which sold well (five reaching best-seller lists) as well as gained critical acclaim, Glasgow portrayed the changing world of the contemporary South.
Early and family life
Born in Richmond, Virginia on April 22, 1874 to Anne Jane Gholson (1831-1893), and her husband Francis Thomas Glasgow, the young Glasgow developed differently from other women of her aristocratic class. Due to poor health (later diagnosed as chronic heart disease), Glasgow was educated at home in Richmond, receiving the equivalent of a high school degree, although she read deeply in philosophy, social and political theory, as well as European and British literature.
Her parents married on July 14, 1853, survived the American Civil War, and would have ten children together, of whom Ellen would be the next to youngest. Her mother, Anne Gholson, was inclined to what was then called "nervous invalidism"; which some attributed to her having borne and cared for ten children. Glasgow also dealt with "nervous invalidism" throughout her life. Ellen Glasgow thought her father self-righteous and unfeeling. However, some of her more admirable characters reflect a Scots-Calvinist background like his and a similar "iron vein of Presbyterianism."
Ellen Glasgow spent many summers at her family's Louisa County, Virginia estate, the historic Jerdone Castle plantation, which her father bought in 1879, and would later use that setting in her writings.
Her paternal great-grandfather, Arthur Glasgow, had emigrated with his brothers in 1776 from Scotland to the then-large and frontier Augusta County, Virginia. Her father, Francis Thomas Glasgow, was raised in what had become Rockbridge County, Virginia, graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1847, and would eventually manage the Tredegar Iron Works. Those had been bought in 1848 by Glasgow's maternal uncle, Joseph Reid Anderson, who had graduated fourth in his class of 49 from West Point in 1836 and would introduce the use of enslaved labor at the ironworks to accompany skilled white workers. Anderson was a major business and political figure in Richmond, who supported the Confederate States of America, joined the Army of Northern Virginia, and attained the rank of general. However, because the Tredegar Ironworks produced munitions crucial to the Confederate cause, General Robert E. Lee asked General Anderson to return and manage the Tredegar Ironworks rather than lead armies in the field.
Her mother was Anne Jane Gholson (1831-1893), born to William Yates Gholson and Martha Anne Jane Taylor at Needham plantation in Cumberland County, Virginia. Her grandparents were Congressman Thomas Gholson, Jr. and Anne Yates, who descended from Rev. William Yates, the College of William & Mary's fifth president (1761–1764). Gholson was descended from William Randolph, a prominent colonist and land owner in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He and his wife, Mary Isham, were sometimes referred to as the "Adam and Eve" of Virginia.
During more than four decades of literary work, Glasgow published 20 novels, a collection of poems, a book of short stories, and a book of literary criticism. Her first novel, The Descendant (1897) was written in secret and published anonymously when she was 24 years old. She destroyed part of the manuscript after her mother died in 1893. Publication was further delayed because her brother-in-law and intellectual mentor, George McCormack, died the following year. Thus Glasgow completed her novel in 1895. It features an emancipated heroine who seeks passion rather than marriage. Although it was published anonymously, her authorship became well known the following year, when her second novel, Phases of an Inferior Planet (1898), announced on its title page, "by Ellen Glasgow, author of The Descendant."
By the time The Descendant was in print, Glasgow had finished Phases of an Inferior Planet. The novel portrays the demise of a marriage and focuses on "the spirituality of female friendship." Critics found the story to be "sodden with hopelessness all the way though," but "excellently told." Glasgow stated that her third novel, The Voice of People (1900) was an objective view of the poor-white farmer in politics. The hero is a young Southerner who, having a genius for politics, rises above the masses and falls in love with a higher class girl. Her next novel, The Battle-Ground (1902), sold over 21,000 copies in the first two weeks after publication. It depicts the South before and during the Civil War and was hailed as "the first and best realistic treatment of the war from the southern point of view."
The Deliverance (1904) and her previous novel, The Battle-Ground, were written during her affair with Gerald B. They "are the only early books in which Glasgow's heroine and hero are united" by the novels' ends.
Glasgow's next four novels were written in what she considered her "earlier manner" and received mixed reviews. The Wheel of Life (1906) sold moderately well based on the success of The Descendant. Despite its commercial success, however, reviewers found the book disappointing. Set in New York (the only novel not set in Virginia), the story tells of domestic unhappiness and tangled love affairs. It was unfavorably compared to Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, which was published that same year. Most critics recommended that Glasgow "stick to the South." Glasgow regarded the novel as a failure.
The Ancient Law (1908) portrayed white factory workers in the Virginia textile industry, and analyzes the rise of industrial capitalism and its corresponding social ills. Critics considered the book overly melodramatic. With The Romance of a Plain Man (1909) and The Miller of Old Church (1911) Glasgow began concentrating on gender traditions; she contrasted the conventions of the Southern woman with the feminist viewpoint, a direction which she continued in Virginia (1913).
As the United States women's suffrage movement was developing in the early 1900s, Glasgow marched in the English suffrage parades in the spring of 1909. Later she spoke at the first suffrage meeting in Virginia. Glasgow felt that the movement came "at the wrong moment" for her, and her participation and interest waned. Glasgow did not at first make women's roles her major theme, and she was slow to place heroines rather than heroes at the centers of her stories. Some called her Virginia(1913; about a southern lady whose husband abandons her when he achieves success), Life and Gabriella(1916; about a woman abandoned by a weak-willed husband, but who becomes a self-sufficient, single mother who remarries well), and Barren Ground (1925); discussed below, her "women's trilogy." Her later works have heroines who display many of the attributes of women involved in the political movement.
Glasgow published two more novels, The Builders (1919) and One Man in His Time (1922), as well as a set of short stories (The Shadowy Third and Other Stories (1923)), before producing her novel of greatest personal importance, Barren Ground (1925). Glasgow felt in this novel she had successfully reversed the traditional seduction plot by producing a heroine completely freed from the southern patriarchal influence. She believed that writing Barren Ground, a "tragedy," also freed her for her comedies of manners The Romantic Comedians (1926), They Stooped to Folly (1929), and The Sheltered Life (1932). These late works are considered the most artful criticism of romantic illusion in her career.
In 1923 a reviewer in Time characterized Glasgow:
Artistic recognition of her work may have climaxed in 1931 when Glasgow presided over the Southern Writers Conference at the University of Virginia.
Glasgow produced two more "novels of character", The Sheltered Life (1932) and Vein of Iron (1935), in which she continued to explore female independence. The latter and Barren Ground of the previous decade remain in print.
In 1941 Glasgow published In This Our Life, which won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1942. In addition, it was quickly bought by Warner Brothers and adapted as a movie by the same name, released in 1942.
Her autobiography, The Woman Within, published in 1954, years after her death, details her progression as an author and the influences essential for her becoming an acclaimed Southern woman writer. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was gathering information for her commissioned biography of Ellen Glasgow prior to her death.
Death and legacy
Glasgow died in her sleep at home on November 21, 1945, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia maintains Glasgow's papers. Copies of Glasgow's correspondence may be found in the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings papers at the George A. Smathers Libraries Special Collections at the University of Florida. The Library of Virginia honored Glasgow in 2000 as she became a member of the inaugural class of Virginia Women in History.
Personal life and relationships
Glasgow had several love interests during her life. In The Woman Within (1954), an autobiography written for posthumous publication, Glasgow tells of a long, secret affair with a married man she had met in New York City, whom she called "Gerald B." Ellen also maintained a close lifelong friendship with James Branch Cabell, another notable Richmond writer. She was engaged twice but did not marry. One fiancé, the prominent attorney and Republican Party leader Henry W. Anderson, collaborated with Glasgow and provided copies of his speeches for her novel The Builders. Glasgow felt her best work was done when love was over. By the end of her life, Glasgow lived with her secretary, Anne V. Bennett, 10 years her junior, at her home at 1 West Main Street in Richmond.