The author of nine novels, three collections of short stories, and two critical works, Caroline Gordon produced an impressive--though unjustly neglected--body of work. Her considerable contributions to modern Southern fiction notwithstanding, her life was especially fascinating for two other reasons: the prominent literary circles in which she moved and her heroic efforts to "have it all"--marriage, career, and family--at a time when such aspiration was neither touted nor supported. Sensitive, engaging, and richly detailed, this biography captures Gordon's life in all its multiple layers.
As the wife of the poet Allen Tate, Gordon became intimately connected with members of the Fugitive/Agrarian circle, notably Robert Penn Warren and Andrew Lytle. As the Fugitives expanded their vision from Southern to modernistic approaches to literature, Gordon's circle of friends and acquaintances grew to include Ford Madox Ford, T.S. Eliot, Katherine Anne Porter, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Robert Lowell, Maxwell Perkins, Hart Crane, William Faulkner, and many others. Even more intriguing, though, is Gordon's story as a Southerner, a woman, and a writer--roles that, for her, were as often mutually exclusive as synergistic. Her life was in some ways similar to that of Zelda Fitzgerald: the Southern belle with the writer-husband and artistic aspirations of her own. Unlike Zelda, Caroline Gordon did not collapse under the strain, although there were prices she paid--particularly in her intense and tangled relationship with Allen Tate, whose work overshadowed her own (or so it seemed to her) and whose philanderings were a continual source of strain and jealousy. In addition to following the windings of Gordon's life--through New York and Tennessee, through England and Paris--Veronica Makowsky looks closely at Gordon's key works--including such novels as Penhally, a complex family saga that was her first published book; Aleck Maury, Sportsman, the much loved classic for which she is still remembered; The Malefactors, a portrait of an aging poet modeled after Tate; and her much admired short stories. In conducting her research, Makowsky interviewed Gordon shortly before her death in 1981 and also received the full cooperation of Gordon's family in gaining access to the novelist's papers. From such rich sources she has produced a compellingly readable portrait of a remarkable woman.