Written by Ashley Andrews Lear, author of The Remarkable Kinship of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Ellen Glasgow
Connections between women writers have often been made when an emerging author discovers a kinship with a deceased predecessor, as in the case of Virginia Woolf’s admiration of Aphra Behn or Alice Walker’s discovery of Zora Neale Hurston. Those revelations help to strengthen the resolve of the emerging author when she realizes she is not the only one of her kind.
In the case of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Ellen Glasgow, we know that Glasgow reached out to Rawlings in response to her reading of The Yearling, and that Rawlings was flattered by the attention paid to her by the more established author. Ironically, Rawlings was the first of the two women to earn a Pulitzer and has enjoyed much more lasting success than the more prolific Glasgow.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings seated at her typewriter at home in Cross Creek, 1940s (photograph courtesy of the University of Florida, Smathers Library Special and Area Studies Collections, Literary Manuscript Collection).
With these two women authors, we have more than correspondence to inform us of their shared experiences and points of connection. The work completed by Rawlings in preparation for a biography of Glasgow, which she was unable to begin writing before her own untimely demise, tells a story of the two women that reads differently from a traditional biography in its focus and breadth of detail.
Rawlings had the benefit of beginning the project fewer than 10 years after the death of Glasgow and had an impressive level of access to Glasgow’s closest friends and relations, including the fiancé who had betrayed Glasgow during the war by having an affair with Queen Marie of Romania. Conducting the research for the biography so close to the death of her subject allowed Rawlings to compile materials that have been invaluable to Glasgow scholars attempting to reconstruct her life over the years. However, the types of materials collected by Rawlings can also tell us about the values shared by these women writers.
The materials gathered by Rawlings for Glasgow’s biography are housed in the Special and Area Studies Collections of the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries. They are divided into several key areas:
- Speeches and letters by Henry Anderson (Glasgow’s friend and former fiancé)
- A collection of criticism on Glasgow’s fiction from prominent literary sources
- Writings and artwork about Richmond from Glasgow’s friend Margaret Dashiell
- A copy of the letters between Glasgow and Rawlings
- Genealogical details on Glasgow
- Political pamphlets from Glasgow’s brother Arthur
- Lists of awards and honors conferred to Glasgow
- Bibliography of Glasgow’s works
- Details on Glasgow’s childhood from the diary of a childhood friend, Lucy Scrivenor
- Estate of Glasgow and bequests made by her
- Obituaries and tributes written after Glasgow’s death
- A notebook containing addresses and original manuscript writing by Glasgow
- Correspondence related to the setting up and maintenance of a memorial at One West Main, Glasgow’s home
- Several individually published poems by Glasgow
- Articles and interviews on Glasgow from her lifetime
- A comprehensive collection of interviews conducted by Rawlings with Glasgow’s closest friends and relations, organized by interviewee
- Book reviews and clippings on Glasgow’s books and life
- A substantial collection of Glasgow’s personal correspondence over her lifetime
From this collection and its contents, I was able to compare the two writers based on the subject areas that surfaced most frequently in their writings to and about one another and in this collection of materials.
Ellen Glasgow, n.d. (photograph courtesy of the Richmond Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University
Rawlings emphasized Glasgow’s literary success, first and foremost, in her materials. She included handwritten comments on the reviews, criticism, and lists of awards that she obtained on Glasgow. In one letter to Glasgow, she refused to congratulate her for finally winning the Pulitzer, writing instead that she would be sending her congratulations to the award committee for finally getting it right. Establishing Glasgow’s literary success and place within the literary community as a writer who served on several award committees herself was important to Rawlings in retelling Glasgow’s story.
In detailing her private life, Rawlings focused on Glasgow’s childhood, friendships, and romantic relationships. She was frustrated by Glasgow’s siblings, who seemed more interested in making claims on their closeness to Glasgow than on preserving her legacy.
Finally, Rawlings included in her collection the ideas and causes that Glasgow would have most wanted to leave behind—her passion for animals, especially her dogs, and the work she completed with the Richmond SPCA; her love for European ruins, forgotten places, and cemeteries; her desire to protect and uplift the poor and disenfranchised; and, overall, a need to right the wrongs of her community by using her celebrity voice to speak out against injustice. Rawlings shared many of these interests and concerns and wanted them to live on after Glasgow’s death.
To learn more about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and to celebrate her work, please consider joining the Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm at their annual celebration of Rawlings’s birthday on August 11, 2018.
Ashley Andrews Lear is the author of The Remarkable Kinship of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Ellen Glasgow. She is professor of humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She is a proud trustee of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society.