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INTRODUCTION Susan Goodman I Life and Art I could remember ... that when I wanted a doll with "real hair," I was told I could not have it because we had "lost everything in the war." A war in which one had lost everything, even the right to own a doll with real hair, was not precisely my idea of a romance. -Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945), A Certain Measure The Battle-Ground (1902) was not Ellen Glasgow's first novel, but it was her first best-seller, with more than twenty-one thousand copies sold in just two weeks. This fourth novel committed her to a project almost unparalleled in American literary history: a novelistic meditation on the South from the decade before the Confederacy to the Second World War. The Battle-Ground speaks of a South before and during the Civil War in its struggle to become part of a nation still in the making. The overthrow of the aristocratic tradition, the transfer of hereditary power to a rural underc1ass, the continued Vlll Introduction disenfranchisement of African Americans, and the evolving status of women-these topics, which came to bind the more than a dozen volumes of Glasgow's selfstyled "social history," initially coalesced in The BattleGround . During her lifetime, few critics would have quarreled with Glasgow's own assessment that a handful of her books-Virginia (1913), Barren Ground (1925), The Romantic Comedians (1926), They Stooped to Folly (1929), The Sheltered Life (1932), and Vein of Iron (1935)-represented "some of the best work ... in American fiction." I Her novels, which derive their tension from clashes in customs, the rise and fall of social orders, and the dogged trek of humanity, popularized many of the elements now commonly attributed to Southern fiction. Glasgow's recognition of the individual and integrated histories of white and black Southerners led the way for the next generation of Southern writers , including William Faulkner, who unchivalrously claimed not to give a "damn" for her or her books. Others obviously did, for when forty years after the publication of The Battle-Ground, Glasgow received the Pulitzer Prize for In This Our Life (the last volume of her social history), she and many of her contemporaries thought the award long overdue. Although Glasgow set her first two novels, The Descendant (1897) and Phases of an Inferior Planet (1898), largely in New York City, it seemed inevitable that she would one day write a novel about the Civil War. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of Introduction IX the Confederacy, she saw constant reminders of the South struggling to reach a compromise with defeat. Every Memorial Day for decades after the war, swarms of black-clad women wandered "silently and tearfully among the graves" in Hollywood Cemetery, the place where Glasgow herself would be buried near the Civil War general J. E. B. Stuart.2 Any evening following her family's move to One West Main Street in the late 1880s, she might have strolled past the former home of Jefferson Davis's secretary of state, Judah P. Benjamin, or Grace Episcopal Church, whose rector, Dr. Landon Mason (a descendent of the Revolutionary War hero George Mason), had ridden with Mosby's Rangers. And any morning, she might have accompanied her father as he walked the dozen or so blocks to the Tredegar Iron Works, the firm he managed and that his uncle, Joseph Reid Anderson, owned. Ellen Glasgow apparently never wrote about the Tredegar Iron Works. Yet, in a sense, she wrote about nothing else. The history of the South, which she chronicled in novels from The Voice ofthe People (1900) to Beyond Defeat (posthumously published in 1966), remains inseparable from the history of the Confederacy's largest supplier of ordnance and munitions. So too the relationship between the Iron Works and the Glasgow family. When Francis Glasgow went to work for his uncle in 1849, the Works consisted of the armory rolling mill, with puddling and heating furnaces, a spike factory, a cooper shop, various storage facilities, and three tene- x Introduction ment buildings that housed the slave labor force. In its own "peculiar" way, the Tredegar functioned like a selfcontained , nineteenth-century model village, fostering social ideals to reach economic goals. Food was said to be good at the Works, clothing adequate, and slave family groupings respected. Anderson believed that the hierarchy of the Works reflected a predetermined plan: "We do not live alone for ourselves," he told his workers, "but are (each...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817388294
Related ISBN
9780817310417
MARC Record
OCLC
47010965
Pages
559
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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