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Virginia by Ellen Glasgow

Virginia (1913)

by Ellen Glasgow

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Virginia Pendleton, belle of her Southern town, sees handsome Oliver Treadwell and decides he is the man of her dreams. He is similarly enamoured of her. They marry, despite the fact that they have little in common besides mutual attraction. Virginia devotes herself to her marriage and later her children, while Oliver tries to become a playwright. His final success pulls the couple apart.

This is an unsatisfying book in several ways. Much of the novel is spent in Virginia's head and she is not a particularly interesting character. (I ended up reading through much of the action so I could find out what happened to the more interesting side characters.)

The author's anger at Southern society is palpable during much of the novel. As an ideal product of her society, Virginia is barely educated and has been encouraged all her life to sacrifice her own wishes to those of her husband and children. In the early part of the book the author spends much time pointing out just how unprepared for marriage both Oliver and Virginia are. The side commentary became tedious. ( )
  Bjace | May 12, 2013 |
"Virginia," which was published in 1913, is a story of coming of age, of marriage, of womanhood, and of motherhood. It is the tale of Virginia Pendleton, who at the beginning of the story is a charming, beautiful southern belle. She meets and immediately falls in love with her best friend's cousin, the vivacious Oliver Treadwell, an individualistic writer newly arrived in her small town. The two marry, and almost immediately, Virginia becomes pregnant with her first child. Gradually, a distance grows between her and her husband as she devotes more and more of herself to her children. Through poverty and success, Virginia faithfully sacrifices her own desires for her husband and her family as she watches her children grow up.

I only read this book because of its Penguin Classic cover. I had never heard of it before, and the topic did not sound exactly interesting to me.
Well, it was not. This book has, somewhere, a beautiful story. But it is unfortunately buried beneath hundreds of tedious pages of boredom.

It also doesn't help that our main character, Virginia, is a bland and simple woman. I pitied her and sympathized with her at times, but I could not bring myself to like her, much less find her of any interest. I think that her being at least a partially boring individual was essential to the story, but couldn't she at least have shared something with the reader that made us realize she has desires and feelings too?
Virginia gives up all of her life to her children and her husband. She is the perfect good girl, the tidy housewife, the obedient wife, the doting mother. She is so pure and good that Oliver begins to see her as a nuisance. She faithfully calls every play that he ever writes "beautiful," and truly believes it to be so due to her blinding love for him. However, she calls even his most horrible writing the same, and Oliver eventually begins to feel that his wife calling him Shakespeare is actually an insult in its own way. He wishes to himself that Virginia would spend a bit of money on herself when they fall into a rough spot with their finances. But instead, she wisely rations everything and saves every penny for absolute necessities.

Oliver was quite an interesting character in the beginning, when he is passionate and freethinking. I had my first misgivings about him when he appears disappointed and unconcerned about Virginia's first pregnancy. Sure enough, once the baby is born he calls children "more of a nuisance than they're worth" and goes on to never form any sort of connection with his children, even going so far as to openly dislike his son. Oliver is, in contrast to his wife, a selfish man. While she is governed by reason and goodness, he is motivated by passion and ideas.

It was a good idea, but I wish that it had been played out more noticeably. The elements are there, but the way that this book is written sort of obscures them, hiding them away. I had to look quite hard to pick up on all of these little facts, and not in a good way.

It took exactly 222 pages for me to come across a striking scene in this book, which was when Virginia follows Oliver to New York and finds him a changed man.
Though Glasgow had showed us plenty of 'important' parts of her heroine's life so far, (first love, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth...) none of them were beautiful or memorable. However, this scene was, and I thought to myself "Finally! Something is happening!"
Indeed, the book was already two thirds of the way finished, and yes, it does go on to further tedium, but there were a few more pictures of the same evocative, sad beauty.

It was these scenes that rescued this book and elevated it an entire star for me. If Glasgow had written an entire book like this, I could easily have just found a new favorite author.
The moments were far in between, but I am now glad I read this book just to find them. They grow more and more frequent toward the end.
As they are seen through the eyes of an older, aging woman, who used to be beautiful, used to have a husband who loved her, used to this and used to that, they are sentimentally sad, with a jaded sort of despondency to them.
By the end of the book, I was enraptured with the story (if only for a few pages).

If you are willing to be patient with it, there is much to enjoy about this little known piece of literature. On the other hand, even I don't like working that hard to find redeeming qualities to a book. ( )
2 vote joririchardson | Feb 13, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Glasgow, Ellenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Binding, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the radiant spirit who was my sister, Cary Glasgow McCormack
First words
Toward the close of a May afternoon in the year 1884, Miss Priscilla Batte, having learned by heart the lesson in physical geography she would teach her senior class on the morrow, stood feeding her canary on the little square porch of the Dinwiddie Academy for Young Ladies.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Virginia Pendleton is an exquisite Southern belle, gentle and charming, reared, like generations of women before her, for pure and noble love. Perfect child of a perfect mother, Virginia is carefully prepared for marriage, instilled with all the feminine virtues required by a rigid social code. Then she meets Oliver Treadwell - ambitious and clever, with visions of genius - and gladly lays her youth and beauty at his feet. We follow Virginia's life as daughter, wife and mother against the background of a thriving, richly peopled Southern town. As its old traditions slowly die and those around her grasp the challenge of a new age, Virginia remains the same. Happiness for her means only one thing: love for her husband and children - everything must be sacrificed to this impossible ideal, even those she loves the most...First published in 1913, this is the finest of Ellen Glasgow's early novels. Ironic and perfectly realised, it is a powerful and tragic exploration of the myth of romantic love.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140390723, Paperback)

This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:36 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A novel featuring one of Glasgow's favorite themes: a woman forced to live by a Southern code of behavior; Virginia tells the story of a Southern wife whose husband abandons her. Beautifully written, Virginia represents a shift by Glasgow away from sweeping historical fiction to the personal life of her main female character.… (more)

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