Friday, 19 February 2010

Barren Ground (Glasgow) 219

According to her preface, Barren Ground was the book that Glasgow considered to be her favourite and the one that she wished most to be remembered for writing.

This is the story of Dorinda. We meet her first as a young woman who works in a general store in Virginia trying to eke out her parents poverty-stricken existence as farmers. The ground is indeed barren and it is an extremely monotonous existence. Meeting Jason, who has returned to the town to support an ailing father, she falls in love, perhaps because he seems to offer an escape from this life. They get engaged. However, Dorinda's hopes are shattered when after a two-week absence during which she works on her trousseau, he returns to the town married to another girl.

The story doesn't end there - in fact, at that point we are only halfway through the book. In shame, Dorinda packs up her carpet bag and heads for New York. Struggling to find employment, she meets with a road accident and wakes up in hospital. However, this leads to her gaining employment as a secretary/childminder for the doctor that helped her, and she is richer than she has been, able to send money back to her family. But she misses the South, and dreams of returning home to run a farm. When her father is ill, she returns home and takes over running of the farm. She marries, and eventually manages to buy a farm of her own.

As Glasgow herself wrote: "For once in Southern fiction, the betrayed woman would become the victor instead of the victim".

Glasgow's writing is hugely evocative and her descriptions of life in the south are wonderful. Glasgow writes in the preface that she was influenced by recollections of her childhood, and I think it is that which makes the writing so vivid.

I enjoyed this much more than a Sheltered Life and I shall definitely look forward to reading her third VMC, Virginia. It is such a shame that she is not more well-known as this book certainly rivals Cather. This book has been published just once by Virago, but I would love to see it republished.

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