Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Shadowy Third

Ellen Glasgow (1873–1945)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

A lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia, Ellen Glasgow is known today mostly for her nineteen novels, the first of which she published anonymously in 1897. Her early works tended toward historical fiction, while in later works she increasingly turned to a vein of satirical comedy, and her last novel, In This Our Life (1941), published when she was sixty-eight years old, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable film directed by John Huston and starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.

Glasgow was known to have disdained short fiction—as well as her own talent for writing it—yet she did publish fourteen short stories during the first three decades of her fifty-year career. Seven of them, including four ghost stories, were collected in The Shadowy Third and Other Stories (1923). Literary critic and fellow Richmond native Hunter Stagg, writing in the New York Tribune, noted approvingly that Glasgow’s writing reflected how tales of the supernatural had changed in the early part of the twentieth century:
A thing of the past is the sudden extinguishing of the lone candle, the paralyzing touch of the clammy hand in darkened corridors, and done away with entirely are the lurking, ever fraught shadows. The modern ghost story occurs in the bright light of the sun and the electric bulb, and the brighter glare of science and metaphysics—and (this is the strange part) without any appreciable diminution of the fascination which ghost stories have always exercised over the most skeptical.
Louis Auchincloss concluded that “the best of Glasgow’s tales are the four ghost stories,” and her biographer Susan Goodman judged “The Shadowy Third” as “the most Jamesian” of all her stories.

Recent critics have found in the short fiction a harbinger of a change in Glasgow’s thematic focus. As Linda Wagner notes, it took Glasgow “twenty years to be comfortable writing about a female protagonist,” yet in her later fiction, according to Eric Leif Davin, “many of her heroines were strong women who chose to remain single.” Similarly, Pamela R. Matthews discusses an “anxiety about men and marriage” that is especially apparent in “The Shadowy Third,” and the editors of A Companion to American Fiction remark on her transformation into “a writer who wanted to make the world attend to the lives of its valuable women participants in their quickly changing modern existence.”

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When the call came I remember that I turned from the telephone in a romantic flutter. Though I had spoken only once to the great surgeon, Roland Maradick, I felt on that December afternoon that to speak to him only once—to watch him in the operating-room for a single hour—was an adventure which drained the colour and the excitement from the rest of life. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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