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Pioneers and Caretakers

Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists

LOUIS AUCHINCLOSS
Copyright Date: 1965
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 212
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttv0n
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  • Book Info
    Pioneers and Caretakers
    Book Description:

    Pioneers and Caretakers was first published in 1965. In a series of stimulating and highly readable essays, Mr. Auchincloss discusses the work of nine American women novelists in whom he finds a unity of common tradition. As the title of the book implies, Mr. Auchincloss regards these novelists as caretakers of our culture and, at the same time, as literary pioneers. The writers he discusses are Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Stafford, Carson McCullers, and Mary McCarthy. In explaining his thesis Mr. Auchincloss writes: “In the migrations of tribes the women were responsible for the packing and preservation of the household goods. They have always been the true conservatives, the caretakers of the culture. But because in our nation we have to go back so few decades to get to the Indians, the functions of the caretaker and of the pioneer have become curiously blended. To preserve a bit of the American tradition, one has to preserve a bit of the frontier. “A notable thing about our women writers is that they have struck a more affirmative note than the men. Their darkness is not as dark as that of Dreiser or Lewis or Faulkner or O’Neill, which is not to say that they see America less clearly, but that they see it more discriminatingly. They have a sharper sense of their stake in the national heritage, and they are always at work to preserve it. They never destroy; they never want the clean sweep. They are conservatives who are always trying to conserve.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6124-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. PIONEERS & CARETAKERS
    (pp. 3-5)

    In the migrations of tribes the women were responsible for the packing and preservation of the household gods. They have always been the true conservatives, the caretakers of the culture. But because in our nation we have to go back so few decades to get to the Indians, the functions of the caretaker and of the pioneer have become curiously blended. To preserve a bit of the American tradition, one has to preserve a bit of the frontier.

    A notable thing about our women writers is that they have struck a more affirmative note than the men. Their darkness is...

  4. 1 SARAH ORNE JEWETT
    (pp. 6-19)

    Sarah Orne Jewett, like those other New England spinsters, Emily Dickinson and Amy Lowell, was associated all her life with one house. The big white mansion where she was born in 1849 had been bought by her seafaring grandfather and was one of the finest in South Berwick, Maine. Its interior was embellished with elaborate, dentelated cornices, paneled wainscoting, and arches resting on fluted columns, and it was furnished with Chippendale and Sheraton. For until the Civil War ruined its shipping, Berwick was a prosperous seaport, and the stately, aristocratic life of its first citizens was almost as splendid as...

  5. 2 EDITH WHARTON
    (pp. 20-55)

    It was the fashion among Edith Wharton’s friends, initiated by Henry James, to describe her in terms of glowing hyperbole, to see her in the guise of a great golden eagle swooping down from her high built palace of adventure to stir up the poor old croaking barnyard fowls. The woman is almost lost sight of in their boasts of her activities and possessions: the lovingly clipped and tended gardens, the gleaming, perfectly appointed interiors, the big, fast motor (purchased with the proceeds of the current book) bearing its multilingual owner and her faithful band over the roads of Europe...

  6. 3 ELLEN GLASGOW
    (pp. 56-91)

    Ellen Glasgow’s parents combined the qualities that gave to both antebellum and reconstructed Virginia its stubborn romanticism and its peculiar strength. Her father, of Valley stock, was an ironworks executive and a Scotch Presbyterian in every nerve and sinew; he gave his children all the things they needed but love, and in eighty-six years never “committed a pleasure.” The best his daughter could say of him was that he had not hurt anyone for the mere satisfaction of hurting. Her mother, on the other hand, descended from Randolphs and Yateses, was a flower of the old Tidewater, who, smiling in...

  7. 4 WILLA CATHER
    (pp. 92-122)

    Willa Cather was born in 1873 in Back Creek Valley, near Winchester, in the northern neck of Virginia, where the Cathers, reputedly of Irish origin, had been farmers since the eighteenth century. The country was hilly, rocky, and sandy, little fitted for the “peculiar institution,” and few of the farmers, whose main business was raising sheep, owned slaves. Some of the Cathers had even been Union sympathizers in the war. They were substantial people, but not of the antebellum upper class; Willa’s branch of the family lived in a plain, red brick, three-story house that gave an impression to her...

  8. 5 ELIZABETH MADOX ROBERTS
    (pp. 123-135)

    If Emily Brontë had survived the publication ofWuthering Heightsto write a series of obscure and ponderous allegorical novels, would her reputation be as splendid as it is today? One may doubt it. There is something about the image of a life seemingly offered up on the altar of literature as the price of one perfect book that becomes part of the atmosphere in which the book is read. If Elizabeth Madox Roberts had disappeared from the literary scene after the publication of her first novel,The Time of Man, in 1926, she might stand today in the company...

  9. 6 KATHERINE ANNE PORTER
    (pp. 136-151)

    Katherine Anne Porter has been identified with the South and with Mexico; one has even seen her labeled as a “regional writer”; but since “The Leaning Tower” andShip of Foolsit should be clear to all that she belongs to the world, or perhaps the world to her. As a novelist, she can no longer be identified with any one state or even with any one country, nor has she any obvious literary ancestor. In another author such lacks might be regarded as limitations; in a great talent they are indicia of what has been transcended.

    “I spend my...

  10. 7 JEAN STAFFORD
    (pp. 152-160)

    Second to Henry James, Proust was probably the strongest influence on young American novelists of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. It became the fashion to see his guiding hand in every reference to time and childhood. But whenBoston Adventureappeared in 1944, it was apparent, to many of us at least, that here was a first novel that caught the very essence of the master’s flavor: the continual contrast of a dreamlike childhood, nostalgically recaptured, with a highly vivid, specific study of the more contemporary “great world.” Sonia Marburg, one by one, gradually identifies the objects in the fanciful...

  11. 8 CARSON McCULLERS
    (pp. 161-169)

    Carson McCullers had the brilliant and early success that has come to be almost a tradition of the southern school. She was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 of a family that was poorly off, but which sympathized with her early passion for music and writing. She started writing plays in her early teens under the influence of Eugene O’Neill and composed one whose first scene was a graveyard and whose last was a catafalque, on the strength of which her father bought her a typewriter. At seventeen she went to New York to study music at Juilliard with the...

  12. 9 MARY McCARTHY
    (pp. 170-186)

    Mary McCarthy’s early years, so poignantly described in herMemories of a Catholic Girlhood, were a curious mixture of two extremes: of crowded poverty on the one hand and a stiff, lonely, middle-class luxury on the other. Her parents died of influenza in the 1918 epidemic, leaving Mary, aged six, and three younger brothers to be raised by grandparents. The McCarthys of Minneapolis, rich, prominent Irish Catholics, took the first turn, but instead of keeping the orphans in their own home, they boarded them out with a ghoulish pair of dependent relatives who half-starved and beat the children in a...

  13. INDEX
    (pp. 187-202)