Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ellen Glasgow--Heroes and Monsters (1935)

            It is in this article that Glasgow is credited with coining the term “Southern Gothic”: I am not asking the novelist of the Southern Gothic school to change his material.  The Gothic as Gothic, not as pseudo-realism, has an important place in our fiction….All I ask him to do is to deal as honestly with living tissues as he now deals with decay, to remind himself that the colors of putrescence have no greater validity or our age, or for any other age, than have…the cardinal virtues” (4).  After decrying the previous “evasive idealism” from thirty years ago, in this article she decries the “aimless violence” of the current literature.  Glasgow says, “For all the weeds that grow and run wild in Southern soil, plain truth is the most difficult to serve without sauce” (3).  Discussing the contemporary Southern novel, which she describes as “the inflamed rabble of impulses in the contemporary Southern novel” (3).  To Glasgow, the modern age is recovering from its loss of superstitions.  Unable to fully recover, “the fantasy of abominations has stolen the proud stilts of the romantics” (3).  Glasgow is unhappy about this state of literature: “the literature that crawls too long in the mire will lose at last the power of standing erect.  On the farther side of deterioration lies the death of a culture” (4). 
            It was only one year later that Welty’s first short story, “Death of a Travelling Salesman,” was published, and her Curtain of Green collection came out in 1941.  At this point, Faulkner had published Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Light in August (1932).  It’s interesting to compare Glasgow’s decrial of the gothic in the mid-1930s with O’Connor’s embrace of the grotesque twenty years later in “The Grotesque in Fiction” and “The Fiction Writer and his Country.”  To O’Connor, her commitment to Christian orthodoxy made her more respectful of mystery; as such, everywhere she looked she saw “distortion.”  As what she thought of as distortions she assumed others saw as reality, so she felt it necessary to turn up the volume on the stories she told.  So, while Glasgow worries that the abominations of contemporary literature will cause cultural decay, O’Connor sees the portrayal of the grotesque as a moral imperative.

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