Frances Perdue

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Nancy Davis, Frank Steele, Robert Ward

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Specialist in College Teaching in English


Place, as it transcends the immediate setting of a work, is an essential element of Caroline Gordon’s early novels. She looks to the past and to the region of her birth to focus on the traditional South. She shows her characters’ changing attitudes toward the Cavalier Myth, a view that promotes the value of the land, the patriarchal family, and an anachronistic code of honor. To them, the South is unique, and they resist all efforts to change this “given social order.” However, Gordon begins to recognize that change is inevitable. Thus, she reveals her characters’ succumbing to the rising merchant class which provides a more practical way of life for the New South. In her seminal novel, Penhally, Gordon describes three generations of traditional Southerners struggling to protect the family homeplace and the South itself. They, however, are unable to resist the ravages of the Civil War or the allure of the merchant class. The consequences are a splintering of the family and the demise of the traditional Southern way of life. Gordon also gives attention to place in her novel None Shall Look Back. She continues to describe her characters in their futile efforts to preserve the family homeplace and the Old South. The male characters fight heroically the invading “Yankee” army and the females try to maintain a semblance of unity on the domestic front; the results of war, however, take their toll on the area. After the war, the characters are unable to withstand the insidious rise of the merchant class with its promise of riches. The consequences are again tragic for the individual and the family. In The Garden of Adonis, set in the modern period, Gordon reiterates her theme: the unsuccessful struggle of her characters to sustain a satisfying life in the agricultural milieu. Drought, depression, inadequate financial resources and a changing labor force follow the ravages of war and reconstruction. In addition, the allure of the industrialists draws the traditional family apart, and many of the members desert the rural area for the city. In this work, Gordon begins to question the agrarian tradition as a viable way of life in the New South. The decline of the family and the traditional South is complete in Gordon’s work The Women on the Porch. The land no longer holds the relevance it does for the characters in the earlier novels. In this place of decay, Gordon’s heroine finds it difficult to restore human relationships and establish new ones. Gordon demonstrates that in such an environment, the men are ineffectual and the women live unproductive, frustrated or shallow, pretentious lives. Although Gordon emphasizes her characters’ quest for a new truth to replace the loss of the agrarian tradition, she continues to utilize the South as a setting for her later novels The Strange Children and The Malefactors. Place, therefore, remains central to Gordon’s art, as she reveals her deep knowledge of the agrarian South yielding to the modern industrial South.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | History | Literature in English, North America | Social History | United States History