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Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow, 1873-1945 and Frank Earle Schoonover, 1877-1972
The Deliverance: A Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields
New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1904.

Summary

Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Ellen Glasgow was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1873 to Francis Thomas Glasgow and Anne Jane Gholson Glasgow. Her parents claimed two distinct regional heritages within Virginia society, which contributed significantly to Ellen's exploration of regional differences in her literary work. Francis Glasgow, descended from the hardy Scotch-Irish who settled the Shenandoah Valley, was raised in Rockbridge County and graduated from Washington and Lee College. He eventually rose to managing director at Richmond's renowned Tredegar Iron Works, the largest supplier of ordnance and munitions during the Civil War. He worked there tirelessly until his retirement in 1912 at the age of eighty-two. Ellen's mother, Anne Glasgow, descended from the Tidewater landed gentry and signified to Ellen the more gracious and cultivated side of her ancestry. Throughout her life, Ellen associated herself with her mother and manifested a strong resentment for her father. Francis Glasgow's severe Calvinist manner, domineering household presence, and adulterous tendencies led Ellen to accuse him of lacking all compassion. Anne Glasgow, who had survived ten childbirths and a war, fell prone to depression and nervous exhaustion. Anne died in 1893, leaving the twenty-year-old Ellen devastated and further at odds with her father.

Even before her mother's death, Ellen Glasgow followed an atypical path for someone of her class in Richmond society. Because of her difficulty adjusting to the social experience of school, she was not formally educated. Yet she immersed herself in books at home as a means of nurturing her intellect while avoiding the agony of social pressures. By age seventeen she had refused her debut into Richmond society, and instead completed her first full-length novel, which was later published under the title The Descendants in 1897. Though Ellen would eventually find intellectual companionship, including friendships with writers such as James Branch Cabell, H. L. Mencken, and Allen Tate, her happiness was mitigated by her struggle with deafness and the early deaths of her mother, sister, and brother-in-law, as well as the 1905 death of a lover she referred to as "Gerald B." Glasgow never married, though she was engaged and romantically involved with different men throughout her life. She was a prolific writer, publishing twenty-four novels during her lifetime. For In This Our Life (1941) she received the 1942 Pulitzer Prize. Ellen Glasgow wrote up until her death on November 21, 1945 in Richmond at the age of seventy-two.

Designating Virginia society as the subject for most of her writing, Ellen Glasgow eschewed the ranks of fellow writers who sentimentalized the South or were guarded in their depictions of its problems. Instead, she chose to write a social history of Virginia through her novels that directly engaged contemporary issues of race, class, and gender. Her first three novels of the twentieth century, Voice of the People (1900), The Battle-Ground (1902), and The Deliverance (1904), together create a history of Virginia beginning with the Civil War and continuing up to the turn of the century.

In her third novel of the Virginia series, The Deliverance: A Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields (1904), Glasgow combines elements of realism and romance to depict the South's postwar struggles. With an epic grandeur, she explores the escalating class conflicts within Virginia agricultural life after Reconstruction, highlighting the fall of the old aristocracy and the rise of a new order. Glasgow focuses on the decline of the Blake family, who had been prosperous landowners for the two hundred years leading up to the Civil War. Having lived extravagantly under the assumption that their white overseer, Bill Fletcher, was handling their financial affairs honestly, they do not become aware of their destitution until shortly after the war when their ancestral home, Blake Hall, goes to auction. Reduced to living in the overseer's home and farming his small share of the tobacco fields, the Blakes stand by in disbelief as the low-born Fletcher purchases Blake Hall for himself, presumably after successfully defrauding them. Christopher Blake, who becomes head of the new household at age ten, takes to the tobacco fields even as Fletcher's grandchildren, Maria and Will, receive the polished upbringing previously accorded only to the children of Virginia gentlemen. The rivalry between the neighbors festers as Christopher seeks revenge on Bill Fletcher by corrupting Will so that he will never become a true gentleman. However, Christopher finds himself falling in love with Maria, which ultimately foils his hatred for the Fletcher name.

The growing tension between the Blakes and the Fletchers increases as Christopher and his sisters, Cynthia and Lila, keep the truth about their financial ruin from their blind and paralyzed mother. Mrs. Blake continues in what she believes to be her former opulence, thereby representing the best days of the southern aristocracy as well as its hypocrisies and unyielding social standards. Her lectures to her children on marrying within one's station and the importance of social graces hold little significance given the Blakes' impoverished lifestyle. However, the children's insistence on concealing the truth shows their own desire to cling to the old ways. Indeed, Glasgow argues throughout the novel that the South's deliverance from its unhappy spiritual state can only come through love and acceptance, when social standing will no longer be the measure of "good breeding." Christopher's uncle, Tucker Corbin, and later Maria, both represent a hopeful future for the South in their ability to see beyond the importance of material wealth and the accident of birth. By contrast, both Christopher and Bill Fletcher remain encumbered by the past. Try as he might, Fletcher cannot buy character or community standing, and Christopher becomes consumed with revenge over his lost inheritance. In this way they represent the South's resistance to a new postbellum order that is moving toward social equality. It is only after Christopher has accepted his future in the new South, finding redemption through Maria Fletcher's love, that he can be truly happy.

The Deliverance: A Romance of the Tobacco Fields includes a frontispiece and three illustrations by Frank Earle Schoonover (1877-1972). Schoonover was born in Oxford, New Jersey, and studied at the Drexel Institute of Art in Philadelphia. Throughout his long career as an illustrator his work appeared in numerous books, as well as esteemed literary magazines such as Scribner's, Harper's, and The Century .

See also the entry for Ellen Glasgow from the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture available on this site.

Works Consulted: Cooper, Frederic Taber, "Representative American Storytellers: Ellen Glasgow," The Bookman 29 (August 1909): 613-618, accessed 7 July 2004 <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/CooGlas.html>; Francisco, Edward, Robert Vaughn and Linda Francisco, eds., The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001; Goodman, Susan, Introduction, The Battle-Ground by Ellen Glasgow, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2000; Goodman, Susan, Ellen Glasgow: A Biography, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998; James, Edward T., ed., et al., Notable American Women, 1607-1950, vol 3, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard, 1971; Martine, James J., Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Novelists, 1910-1945, vol 9, Detroit: Gale Research, 1981; Reed, Walt, The Illustrator in America: 1860-2000 , New York: The Society of Illustrators, 2001; Wagner (Wagner-Martin), Linda W., Ellen Glasgow: Beyond Convention, Austin: University of Texas, 1982.

Armistead Lemon

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