Godwin, Gail 1937–
Godwin, Gail 1937–
(Gail Kathleen Godwin)
PERSONAL: Born June 18, 1937, in Birmingham, AL; daughter of Mose Winston and Kathleen (an educator and writer; maiden name, Krahenbuhl) Godwin; married Douglas Kennedy (a photographer), 1960 (divorced, 1961); married Ian Marshall (a psychiatrist), 1965 (divorced, 1966). Education: Attended Peace Junior College, 1955–57; University of North Carolina, B.A., 1959; University of Iowa, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1971.
CAREER: Miami Herald, Miami, FL, reporter, 1959–60; U.S. Embassy, London, England, travel consultant in U.S. Travel Service, 1962–65; Saturday Evening Post, editorial assistant, 1966; University of Iowa, Iowa City, instructor in English literature, 1967–71, instructor in Writer's Workshop, 1972–73; University of Illinois, Center for Advanced Studies, Urbana-Champaign, fellow, 1971–72; freelance writer. Special lecturer in Brazil for United States Information Service, State Department Cultural Program, spring, 1976; lecturer in English and creative writing at colleges and universities, including Vassar College, 1975, and Columbia University, 1978, 1981.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grant in creative writing, 1974–75; National Book Award nomination, 1974, for The Odd Woman; Guggenheim fellowship in creative writing, 1975–76; National Endowment for the Arts grant for librettists, 1977–78; American Book Awards nomination, 1980, for Violet Clay, and 1982, for A Mother and Two Daughters; Award in Literature, American Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters, 1981; Thomas Wolfe Memorial Award, Lipinsky Endowment of Western North Carolina Historical Association, 1988; Janet Kafka Award, University of Rochester, 1988. Honorary doctorates from University of North Carolina, 1987, University of the South—Sewanee, 1994, and State University of New York, 1996.
The Perfectionists, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.
Glass People, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.
The Odd Woman, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.
Violet Clay, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.
A Mother and Two Daughters, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
The Finishing School, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
A Southern Family, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Father Melancholy's Daughter, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
The Good Husband, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1994.
Evensong, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1999.
Evenings at Five, illustrated by Frances Halsband, Bal-lantine (New York, NY), 2003.
Queen of the Underworld, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Dream Children (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.
Mr. Bedford and the Muses (a novella and short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor, with Shannon Ravenel) The Best American Short Stories, 1985, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1985.
Dream Children: Stories, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1996.
Heart: A Personal Journey through Its Myths and Meanings (nonfiction), Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
The Making of a Writer: Journals (nonfiction), edited by Rob Neufeld, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of introduction for Pushcart Prize VIII: Best of the Small Presses, 1983–84, edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press, 1983; and Woodstock Landscapes: Photographs, by John Kleinhans, Golden Notebook Press (Woodstock, NY)/Precipice Publications (West Hurley, NY), 2000. Contributor to books, including The Writer on Her Work (essays), edited by Janet Sternburg, Norton (New York, NY), 1980; and Real Life (short stories), Doubleday, 1981. Also contributor of essays and short stories to periodicals, including Atlantic, Antaeus, Ms., Harper's, Writer, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, North American Review, Paris Review, and Esquire. Reviewer for North American Review, New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune Book World, and New Republic. Member of editorial board, Writer.
Librettist of musical works by Robert Starer, The Last Lover, produced in Katonah, NY, 1975; Journals of a Songmaker, produced in Pittsburgh, PA, with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 1976; Apollonia, produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1979; Anna Margarita's Will, recorded by C.R.I., 1980; and Remembering Felix, 1987, recorded by Spectrum, 1989.
ADAPTATIONS: Dream Children was made into a sound recording with narration by Godwin, for American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), c. 1986; Evenings at Five was made into an audio recording, narrated by Godwin for Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Making of a Writer: The Journals of Gail Godwin, One (memoir), edited by Rob Neufeld.
SIDELIGHTS: "More than any other contemporary writer, Gail Godwin reminds me of nineteenth century pleasures, civilized, passionate about ideas, ironic about passions," reflected Carol Sternhell in a Village Voice review of The Finishing School. "Her characters—sensible, intelligent women all—have houses, histories, ghosts; they comfortably inhabit worlds both real and literary, equally at home in North Carolina, Greenwich Village and the England of Middlemarch." Yet Godwin, a best-selling novelist who has been nominated for the American Book Award, creates protagonists who are modern women, often creative and frequently Southern. And like many other writers of her era, she tends to focus "sharply on the relationships of men and women who find their roles no longer clearly delineated by tradition and their freedom yet strange and not entirely comfortable," as Carl Solana Weeks wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Godwin's great topic," noted Lee Smith, reviewing Father Melancholy's Daughter in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "is woman's search for identity: A death in the family frequently precipitates this search. The tension between art and real life (many of her women are artists or would-be artists) is another thematic constant in her work. Her literate, smart women characters possess the free will to make choices, to take responsibility for their lives."
Literature has figured in Godwin's life from an early age. She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, in the shadow of another writer, Thomas Wolfe. During World War II her mother was a reporter, and Godwin recalled in an essay in The Writer on Her Work that "whenever Mrs. Wolfe called up the paper to announce, 'I have just remembered something else about Tom,'" her mother "was sent off immediately to the dead novelist's home on Spruce Street." Godwin's parents were divorced, and while Godwin was growing up, her mother taught writing and wrote love stories on the weekend to support her daughter, while Godwin's grandmother ran the house. And although her mother never sold any of her novels, Godwin wrote in the essay, "already, at five, I had allied myself with the typewriter rather than the stove. The person at the stove usually had the thankless task of fueling. Whereas, if you were faithful to your vision at the typewriter, by lunchtime you could make two more characters happy—even if you weren't so happy yourself. What is more, if you retyped your story neatly in the afternoon and sent it off in a manila envelope to New York, you'd get a check back for $100 within two or three weeks (300 words to the page, 16-17 pages, 2 cents a word: in 1942, $100 went a long way)." Godwin once told CA that her mother was her first teacher, saying, "She was doing things with her mind, using her imagination and making something out of nothing, really. I remember when she would read to me at night. My favorite book that she read was a little empty address book—it had a picture of some faraway place on the front—and she would read stories out of this blank book. It was just fascinating."
Not that her grandmother was dispensable. Godwin indicated in The Writer on Her Work that "in our manless little family, she also played the mother and could be counted on to cook, sew on buttons, polish the piano, and give encouragement to creative endeavors. She was my mother's first reader, while the stories were still in their morning draft; 'It moves a little slowly here,' she'd say, or 'I didn't understand why the girl did this.' And the tempo would be stepped up, the heroine's ambiguous action sharpened in the afternoon draft; for if my grandmother didn't follow tempo and motive, how would all those other women who would buy the magazines?"
Godwin did not meet her father until he showed up many years later at her high school graduation when, as she recalled in her essay, he introduced himself and she flung herself, "weeping," into his arms. He invited her to come and live with him, which she did, briefly, before he shot and killed himself like the lovable ne'er-do-well Uncle Ambrose in Violet Clay.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Godwin was hired as a reporter for the Miami Herald and was reluctantly fired a year later by a bureau chief who felt he had failed to make a good reporter out of her. She married her first husband, newspaper photographer Douglas Kennedy, around that time. After her divorce, she completed her first novel, the unpublished "Gull Key," the story of "a young wife left alone all day on a Florida island while her husband slogs away at his job on the mainland," according to Godwin in The Writer on Her Work. (She worked on the book during her slow hours at the U.S. Travel Service in London.) Having submitted the manuscript to several English publishers without good results, she related that she even sent a copy to a fly-by-night agency that ad-vertised in a magazine, "WANTED: UNPUBLISHED NOVELS IN WHICH WOMEN'S PROBLEMS AND LOVE INTERESTS ARE PREDOMINANT. ATTRACTIVE TERMS." She was never able to track down the agency or anyone associated with it.
Not satisfied with her work at the time, Godwin found it helpful to focus on characters and themes outside of herself. She got the idea for one of her most highly regarded short stories, "An Intermediate Stop" (now included in her collection Dream Children), in a writing class at the London City Literary Institute after the teacher instructed the students to write a 450—word story beginning with the sentence, "'Run away,' he muttered to himself, sitting up and biting his nails." Godwin wrote in The Writer on Her Work that "when that must be your first sentence, it sort of excludes a story about a woman in her late twenties, adrift among the options of wifehood, career, vocation, a story that I had begun too many times already—both in fiction and reality—and could not resolve. My teacher wisely understood Gide's maxim for himself as writer: 'The best means of learning to know oneself is seeking to understand others.'"
Godwin described "An Intermediate Stop" as a story "about an English vicar who has seen God, who writes a small book about his experience, and becomes famous. He gets caught up in the international lecture-tour circuit. My story shows him winding up his exhausting American tour at a small Episcopal college for women in the South. He is at his lowest point, having parroted back his own written words until he has lost touch with their meaning." New York Times critic Ana-tole Broyard indicated that, here, "another kind of epiphany—in the form of a [young woman]—restores his faith. The brilliance with which this girl is evoked reminds us that love and religion both partake of the numinous." A draft of the story also got the author accepted into the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Godwin's novel The Perfectionists, a draft of which was her Ph.D. thesis at Iowa, was published in 1970. It relates the story of the disintegrating "perfect" marriage of a psychiatrist and his wife while they are vacationing in Majorca with the man's son. Robert Scholes wrote in the Saturday Review that "the eerie tension that marks this complex relationship is the great achievement of the novel. It is an extraordinary accomplishment, which is bound to attract and hold many readers." Scholes described the book as "too good, too clever, and too finished a product to be patronized as a 'first novel.'" Joyce Carol Oates, writing in New York Times Book Review, called it "a most intelligent and engrossing novel" and "the paranoid tragedy of our contemporary worship of self-consciousness, of constant analysis."
In Godwin's Glass People, Francesca Bolt, a pampered and adored wife in a flawless but sterile marital environment, leaves her husband in a brief bid for freedom. This book, too, was praised as "a formally executed, precise, and altogether professional short novel" by Oates in the Washington Post Book World. Weeks, however, felt that in Glass People, Godwin is exploring "a theme introduced in The Perfectionists, that of a resolution of woman's dilemma through complete self-abnegation; but the author, already suspicious of this alternative in her first novel, presents it here as neither fully convincing nor ironic." As a critic asked in the New York Times Book Review, "Are we really to root for blank-minded Francesca to break free, when her author has promised us throughout that she's totally incapable of doing so?" Genevieve Stuttaford, though, argued in the Saturday Review that "the characters in Glass People are meticulously drawn and effectively realized, the facets of their personalities subtly, yet precisely, laid bare. The author is coolly neutral, and she makes no judgments. This is the way it is, Godwin is saying, and you must decide who the villains are."
"Marking a major advance in Godwin's development as a novelist," wrote Weeks in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "her third book, The Odd Woman, is twice as long as either of her previous novels, not from extension of plot but from a wealth of incidents told in flashback and in fantasy and a more thorough realization of present action." The odd woman of the book, "odd" in this case meaning not paired with another person, is Jane Clifford, a thirty-two-year-old teacher of Romantic and Victorian literature at a Midwestern college, who is engaged in a sporadic love affair with an art historian who teaches at another school. For Jane, Susan E. Lorsch pointed out in Critique, "the worlds of fiction and the 'real' world are one." Not only does Jane experience "literary worlds as real," continued Lorsch, "she treats the actual world as if it were an aesthetic creation." Lorsch further noted that "the entire book moves toward the climax and the completion of Jane's perception that the worlds of life and art are far from identical."
The Odd Woman's major theme, Anne Z. Mickelson suggested in Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, is "how to achieve freedom while in union with another person, and impose one's own order on life so as to find self-fulfillment." Because literature is explored in the novel as one means of giving shape to life, the book is generally regarded as cerebral and allusive. In the Times Literary Supplement, critic Victoria Glendinning said the book is "too closely or specifically tied to its culture" to be considered universal. New York Times Book Review writer Lore Dickstein, however, called the novel "a pleasure to read. Godwin's prose is elegant, full of nuance and feeling, and sparkling with ironic humor."
Violet Clay, Weeks commented, confirms Godwin's "mastery of the full, free narrative technique of The Odd Woman—the integration of fantasy and flashback into the narrative line—while also recalling the clean, classic structure of her two earlier novels." Weeks continued, "In Violet Clay Godwin raises a question that is central to understanding her work as a whole: what is the relationship between the artist and her art? The answer implied in Violet Clay's achievement as a painter reflects directly Godwin's ideals as a writer."
The title character of the novel, Violet Clay, leaves the South for New York at age twenty-four to become an artist, but "nine years later," John Leonard explained in the New York Times, "all that she paints are covers on Gothic romances for a paperback publishing house." Violet finally loses her job at Harrow House because the new art director wants to use photographs of terrorized women on the jackets of the romances rather than the idealized paintings Violet creates. When Violet finds out that her only living relative, Uncle Ambrose, a failed writer, has shot himself, she journeys to the Plommet Falls, New York, cabin in which he died to claim his body and bury him. Then, in Washington Post Book World critic Susan Shreve's words, "she decides to stay on and face the demons with her paint and brush."
Violet Clay reflects "the old-fashioned assumption that character develops and is good for something besides the daily recital to one's analyst," pointed out a Harper's critic. In Leonard's opinion, however, Violet Clay is "too intelligent for its own good. It is overgrown with ideas. You can't see the feelings for the ideas." Katha Pollitt commented in the New York Times Book Review that Violet Clay "has the pep-talk quality of so many recent novels in which the heroine strides off the last page, her own woman at last." As Sternhell argued, though, Godwin's novels "are not about book-ness, not about the idea of literature, but about human beings who take ideas seriously. Clever abstracts are not her medium: her 'vital artistic subject,' like Violet Clay's is, will always be the 'living human figure.'"
Godwin's next novel, A Mother and Two Daughters, is a comedy of manners that portrays women who "are able to achieve a kind of balance, to find ways of fully becoming themselves that don't necessitate a rejection of everything in their heritage," as Susan Wood related in the Washington Post Book World. Set against a current-events background of the Iranian revolution, Three Mile Island, and Skylab, the novel opens in the changing town of Mountain City, North Carolina (a fictional city), with the death of Leonard Strickland of a heart attack as he is driving home with his wife from a party. The book records "the reactions and relationships of his wife Nell and daughters Cate and Lydia, both in their late thirties, as the bereavement forces each of them to evaluate the achievement and purpose of their own lives," Jennifer Uglow explained in the Times Literary Supplement. Josephine Hendin wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "As each woman exerts her claims on the others, as each confronts the envy and anger the others can inspire, Gail Godwin orchestrates their entanglements with great skill." And "for the first time," according to John F. Baker in Publishers Weekly, "Godwin enters several very different minds and personalities, those of her three protagonists."
Godwin once told Baker that she thinks of A Mother and Two Daughters as "a broadening of my canvas," remarking, "It most surprised me that I could get into the head of an elderly woman, but in fact it was easy. Nell's state of calm acceptance, her ability to sense the stillness at the center of things, is what I most aspire to." Nell, Lisa Schwarzbaum commented in the Detroit News, "raised to be a gracious gentlewoman—albeit sharper, more direct, less genteel, more 'North-think-ing' than the other good ladies of Mountain City, N.C.—faces her future without the philosophical, steadying man on whom she had relied so thoroughly for support and definition." Here, according to Anne Tyler in the New Republic, Godwin provides the reader with a "meticulous" documentation of small-town life with its "rituals of Christmas party and book club meeting."
Not content to focus only on the three main characters, though, Godwin portrays "one great enormous pot of people," declared Caroline Moorhead in the Spectator, a whole "series of characters in all their intertwined relationships with each other, each other's lovers, children, parents, acquaintances." According to Uglow, the cast of A Mother and Two Daughters includes "a Southern grande dame with a pregnant teenage protégé; a pesticide baron with two sons, one retarded, the other gay; a hillbilly relative whose nose was bitten off in a brawl; [and] a one-legged Vietnam veteran whose wife runs a local nursery school." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said in the New York Times that these characters are amazingly vivid, citing "the sense one gets that their lives are actually unfolding in the same world as yours." Tyler indicated that "there's an observant, amused, but kindly eye at work here, and not a single cheap shot is taken at these people who might so easily have been caricatures in someone else's hands."
A Mother and Two Daughters is "the richest, and most universal" of Godwin's books, "with a wholeness about its encompassing view of a large Southern family," according to Louise Sweeney in the Christian Science Monitor, and it is widely regarded as an unusually artful best-seller, appealing not only to the general public but also to Godwin's longtime followers. Washington Post Book World reviewer Jonathan Yardley considered A Mother and Two Daughters to be "a work of complete maturity and artistic control, one that I'm fully confident will find a permanent and substantial place in our national literature." He further commented that Godwin "turns out—this was not really evident in her four previous books—to be a stunningly gifted novelist of manners."
In The Finishing School, Godwin uses a first-person voice to create "a narrative of humanly impressive energies, as happy-sad in its texture as life itself may be said to be," according to William H. Pritchard in the New Republic. Shifting from one age perspective to another, Justin Stokes, a successful forty-year-old actress, tells the story of the summer she turned fourteen and her life changed forever when she underwent what Time reviewer Paul Gray called "a brief but harrowing rite of passage toward maturity." After her father and grandparents die in quick succession, the young Justin, her mother, and her brother leave Fredericksburg, Virginia, to live with her aunt in an upstate New York industrial town. There she makes friends with the local bohemian, Ursula DeVane, a forty-four-year-old failed actress who lives with her brother Julian, a talented musician of little consequence, in an old rundown home.
Ursula takes Justin on as her protégé, and they begin to meet in an old stone hut in the woods, the "Finishing School," in which Ursula "enthralls Justin with tales of her past and encourages her artistic aspirations," as Susan Wood put it in a Washington Post Book World review. The novel "charts the exhilaration, the enchantment, the transformation, then the inevitable disillusionment and loss inherent in such a friendship and self-discovery," according to Frances Taliaferro in the New York Times Book Review. And, as Sternhell related, it is essentially "the tale of a daughter with two mothers." Where A Mother and Two Daughters "was symphonic—many movements, many instruments—The Finishing School plays a gentle, chilling theme with variations." Sternhell further commented that the book, despite its realistic form, "often reads like a fable, a contemporary myth; daughters love mothers, and—variations on a theme—daughters betray mothers, repeatedly, inevitably."
The Finishing School may be "old fashioned," according to Lehmann-Haupt, "in its preoccupation with such Aristotelian verities as plot, reversal, discovery, and the tragic flaw. But Miss Godwin's power to isolate and elevate subtle feelings makes her traditional story seem almost innovative." Although it doesn't quite meet the definition of true tragedy, the book is "a finely nuanced, compassionate psychological novel, subtler and more concentrated" than A Mother and Two Daughters, Talia-ferro maintained. And Lehmann-Haupt pointed out that Godwin's characters serve to lend the novel a variety "as well as to distinguish the two worlds that Justin Stokes inhabits—the two dimensional world of the [industrial] look-alikes and the rich, mysterious kingdom where 'art's redemptive power' is supposed to prevail." The characterization of Justin "is one of the most trustworthy portraits of an adolescent in current literature" said Taliaferro, and the book itself, she concluded, is "a wise contribution to the literature of growing up."
With her seventh novel, 1987's A Southern Family, Godwin returns to the setting of Mountain City first found in A Mother and Two Daughters. Another novel of manners in the Victorian tradition, this work revolves around the death of a member of the Quick family. Theo, a twenty-eight-year-old divorced father of a young son, is found dead after he apparently killed his girlfriend and committed suicide. The novel focuses on reactions from family members, including novelist Clare, her quirky mother, Lily, and Clare's alcoholic half-brother, Rafe. A Southern Family, according to Susan Heeger in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "takes off from Theo's death on a discursive exploration of family history and relationships as the Quicks struggle to measure their blame and—belatedly—to know the brother and son they failed in life." Several reviewers considered A Southern Family to be one of Godwin's most accomplished works. "Suffice it to say that A Southern Family is an ambitious book that entirely fulfills its ambitions," declared Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. "Not merely is it psychologically acute, it is dense with closely observed social and physical detail that in every instance is exactly right." Likewise, Beverly Lowry, writing in the New York Times Book Review, proclaimed that Godwin's A Southern Family "is the best she's written," concluding that Godwin's works "all give evidence of a supple intelligence working on the page."
Father Melancholy's Daughter is the story of Margaret Gower, whose mother, Ruth, leaves the family when Margaret is six years old and is killed in a car crash a year later. Margaret and her father, Walter, an Episcopal priest, are thrust into an especially close father-daughter relationship in which much of their time is devoted to puzzling over Ruth's absence. The narrative switches time tracks from twenty-two-year-old Margaret, who is in love with a fortyish counselor named Adrian Bonner, to the younger Margaret of Ruth's disappearance. Calling the novel "a penetrating study of a child's coming to terms with her world," Nancy Wigston wrote in Toronto's Globe and Mail that "the real achievement here is Margaret herself: Gail Godwin has created that rarity in fiction, a character who evolves, believably." New York Times Book Review contributor Richard Bausch, however, expressed dissatisfaction with Margaret's lack of self-awareness, but he attested that the novel has "a number of real satisfactions, namely the characters that surround Margaret and her father—the parishioners of St. Cuthbert's…. Gail Godwin is almost Chaucerian in her delivery of these people, with their small distinguishing characteristics and their vibrant physicality." "Born in the South," Gray wrote in Time, "Godwin appears to be one of those writers who inherited a subject for life; then she developed the wisdom and talent to make her birthright seem constantly fresh and enthralling."
In her ninth novel, The Good Husband, Godwin portrays four characters undergoing profound change. Magda is a middle-aged English professor who is dying of cancer, while her dutiful husband, Francis, copes gamely with her impending death. Meanwhile, their friends Alice and Hugo Henry are facing the collapse of their marriage. As Alice visits Magda to comfort her during her illness, Alice gradually falls in love with Francis. "It is [Alice's] chaste pursuit of [Francis,] which the dying woman encourages, that holds our attention through much of the novel," remarked Chicago Tribune Books reviewer Penelope Mesic. Although critical of the "small defects" in Godwin's prose—"Sen-tences too often trickle to a vague conclusion"—Mesic praised the author's handling of Magda's feverish, combative decline and "steady, lucid exposition of the action." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Sara Maitland commended many of the novel's elements: "The four main characters are interesting and convincing; their difficulties are real and persuasive; the principal plot is well constructed and involving." However, Maitland faulted Godwin for trying to infuse the plot with more symbolic significance than it can carry. She concluded, "Gail Godwin is a good writer, but The Good Husband is not a good novel." While conceding that readers will find the novel "either extremely moving or extremely sentimental," Anita Brookner, writing in the Spectator, commended Godwin's "calm and unassuming" style and felt that the book is "guileless, dignified, and ultimately persuasive."
With 1999's Evensong, Godwin returns to her characters from Father Melancholy's Daughter. Margaret is now a fully grown woman and married to Adrian; she has also become an ordained Episcopal pastor at All Saints High Balsam. Much admired in her Smoky Mountain community, she seems like a model of goodness, proving her selflessness to her neighbors in one episode by preventing a mugging without thought to her own safety. She is frequently praised by her parishioners for her inspirational speaking ability and community leadership. But beneath this surface of model citizenry there are many problems and doubts in Margaret's life. Her husband, who is the local school headmaster, is harried in his schedule and plagued by self-doubt, which has led to his becoming distant toward his wife. Also, as the town endures tough economic times with the approach of the millennium, Margaret doubts her own abilities to help her community. This is seen more clearly as several characters enter her life, including a teenager from Adrian's school who has been expelled and has come to live with them, and a poor, elderly man named Tony who also requests aid from the Bonners. Added into this mix is a woman named Grace Munger, who begins preaching in town, saying that she has been divinely inspired to organize a "Millennium Birthday March for Jesus." Grace urges Margaret to help her in her cause, but Margaret resists such outwardly showy expressions of religious faith in favor of quietly performing good deeds. Nevertheless, Grace's presence causes Margaret to question her own character more deeply.
Several critics found much to praise in Godwin's tenth novel. For one thing, Time reviewer Gray found the ending refreshing, as it "not only ties up loose ends but also dares to be, in these uncertain times, optimistic." Mary Kaiser, writing in World Literature Today, particularly enjoyed Godwin's accurate portrayal of the daily life of a priest. However, she felt that there was too much melodrama and "coincidence of an almost Dickensian implausibility…. The high drama conflicts with the otherwise believable presentation of Margaret's routine as the rector of a small parish." On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly contributor asserted, "Gracefully written and embracing a worldly but genuine sense of goodness and human possibility, this kind of book is rare these days"; and Karen Anderson concluded in her Library Journal assessment that Evensong is "a touching portrait of love and loss and the many paths to redemption."
Although the two books to follow Evensong are very different in nature, they both deal with matters of the heart. Heart: A Personal Journey through Its Myths and Meanings is a nonfiction journey through the history of what the heart has come to symbolize in human civilization, while Evenings at Five is a very personal novel that fictionalizes the last years of a very important relationship in Godwin's life. A Publishers Weekly writer was impressed by the amount of research that went into Heart, which goes back in time to the depiction of the heart on cave walls and notes the symbolism of the heart in the arts, sciences, and lore of humanity up through the more recent times when it has lost ground to the preeminence of the brain and intellectualism. But while the critic said that fans of Godwin "will appreciate her occasional references to her characters and the glimpses of her personal life here, her scholarly approach is unlikely to capture the fancy of most of the readers of her novels." Library Journal contributor Richard Burns further considered Heart a mere "historical curiosity" whose desultory organization results in a book "without firm definition."
Similarly, reviewers considered Godwin's Evenings at Five to be a minor addition to her fiction oeuvre, although it is a work of interest because of its links to the author's own life. Godwin completed this short novel after the death of her longtime companion, composer Robert Starer. Though she and Starer never married, they had a relationship that lasted almost thirty years, and Godwin especially cherished the cocktail hours they shared together, a time when they could reflect on the events in their lives and take the time to enjoy each other's company. In the novel, Godwin fictionalizes this relationship to create the characters Christina and Rudy; she explores their relationship deeply, as well as Christina's grief after Rudy passes away. "For a book that can be read in an hour," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "it is remarkably dense." Book contributor Beth Kephart described Evenings at Five as "heartrending" and composed of "brilliantly webbed scenes." Ann H. Fisher concluded in her Library Journal assessment that "fans of Godwin's other fiction will be fascinated by this minor piece."
Godwin told CA: "At this point I have four favorite [books], each for its own reason. I love Father Melancholy's Daughter because I loved the sheer intensity and preoccupation of writing about a girl growing up with a father, an experience I hadn't had. I am increasingly attracted by The Good Husband; it seems to have been written by unfamiliar parts of myself. Though I remember how it disappointed and angered some readers when it first came out ('This isn't like your other novels!') my admiration for it continues to build, and it seems to be gathering its coterie of devotees. I cherish Evenings at Five because it taught me I could write in a different way, almost like creating a musical composition, a sonata in words, with its meshing of themes leading to a resolution that wasn't there before. And I can't wait to get up in the mornings and go back to Queen of the Underworld, with its young heroine—she's twenty-two—and her energies and schemes. She drags me willingly into all these places she doesn't know about yet, and I know better to patronize her with my 'adult wisdom' because I want to feel her experiences exactly as she feels them.
"A lifetime of reading and writing fiction has greatly increased my capacity for empathy, that activity of imagining from the inside out what it's like to be someone else. I want my novels to be vehicles for what Ortega y Gasset called 'the transmigration into other souls.'
"I am just now realizing how much I depend on the act of writing—I mean the physical setting down (or crossing out) one word after another, then reading it over, then adding or changing or subtracting more—to clarify my thoughts and orient myself in the world. Now there's a daunting challenge to empathy: imagining and getting inside the self I might have been without the gift of literacy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Anthony, Carolyn, editor, Family Portraits: Remembrances by Twenty Distinguished Writers, Double-day (New York, NY), 1989.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 31, 1985, Volume 69, 1992.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Halpern, Daniel, editor, Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Hill, Jane, Gail Godwin, Twayne (New York, NY), 1992.
Mandelbaum, Paul, editor, First Words: Earliest Writing from Favorite Contemporary Authors, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1993.
Mickelson, Anne Z., Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, Scarecrow (New York, NY), 1979.
Neubauer, Alexander, editor, Conversations on Writing Fiction: Interviews with 13 Distinguished Teachers of Fiction Writing in America, Harper Perennial (New York, NY), 1994
Powell, Danny Romine, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers, John F. Blair, (Winston Salem, NC), 1994.
Sternburg, Janet, editor, The Writer on Her Work, Norton (New York, NY), 1980.
Xie, Lihong, The Evolving Self in the Novels of Gail Godwin, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1995.
America, December 21, 1974; April 17, 1982.
Atlantic, May, 1976; October, 1979.
Book, May-June, 1995, Beth Kephart, review of Evenings at Five, p. 77.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, p. 1724.
Boston Globe, February 21, 1982; March 10, 1991, Gail Caldwell, "A Father and Daughter Making Peace with the Past," p. B17; April 10, 1991, Patti Doten, "A Daughter of Father Melancholy," p. 67; February 28, 1999, Gail Caldwell, "Fire and Ice," p. F1.
Chicago Tribune Book World, January 10, 1982; October 16, 1983; January 27, 1984; October 25, 1987.
Christian Century, November 6, 1991, p. 103; November 16, 1994, p. 1088.
Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 1974; April 1976; June 23, 1978; July 21, 1983; September 1983; March 18, 1999, review of Evensong, p. 19; February 22, 2001, review of Heart: A Personal Journey through Its Myths and Meanings, p. 18.
Commonweal, June 1, 1984; March 25, 1988, p. 187.
Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, winter, 1978; number 3, 1980.
Detroit Free Press, March 10, 1985.
Detroit News, April 11, 1982; October 16, 1983; February 10, 1985.
Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 1994, p. 109.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 13, 1991, p. C6.
Harper's, July, 1978.
Library Journal, January, 1988, p. 41; February 1, 1991, p. 103; June 1, 1994, p. 158; December, 1998, Karen Anderson, review of Evensong, p. 154; February 15, 2001, Richard Burns, review of Heart, p. 176; March 1, 2003, Ann H. Fisher, review of Evenings at Five, p. 119.
Listener, June 9, 1977.
Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1981.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 11, 1983; February 24, 1985; February 9, 1986; October 4, 1987; March 3, 1991, pp. 2, 11; March 14, 1999, review of Evensong, p. 15.
Miami Herald, February 29, 1976.
Mississippi Quarterly, spring, 1993, Lihong Xie, "A Dialogue with Gail Godwin," p. 167.
Ms., January, 1982.
National Review, September 15, 1978.
New Republic, January 25, 1975; July 8, 1978; February 17, 1982; December 19, 1983; February 25, 1985; February 29, 1988, p. 38.
New Statesman, August 15, 1975.
Newsweek, February 23, 1976; January 11, 1982; September 12, 1983; February 25, 1985.
New York, March 11, 1991, p. 86.
New Yorker, November 18, 1974; January 18, 1982.
New York Review of Books, February 20, 1975; April 1, 1976; July 20, 1978.
New York Times, September 21, 1972; September 30, 1974; February 16, 1976; May 18, 1978; December 22, 1981; September 6, 1983; October 4, 1983; January 24, 1985; December 15, 1985; September 21, 1987.
New York Times Book Review, June 7, 1970; October 15, 1972; October 20, 1974; February 22, 1976; May 21, 1978; January 10, 1982; September 18, 1983; January 27, 1985; August 10, 1986; October 11, 1987; March 3, 1991, p. 7; September 4, 1994, p. 5; April 4, 1999, Claire Messud, review of Evensong, p. 8; April 8, 2001, review of Heart, p. 20; April 6, 2003, John Hartl, review of Evenings at Five, p. 24.
New York Times Magazine, December 15, 1985.
Observer (London, England), February 5, 1984.
Pacific Sun, September 23-29, 1983.
Progressive, October, 1978.
Publishers Weekly, January 15, 1982; August 14, 1987, p. 93; August 1, 1994, p. 94; January 4, 1999, review of Evensong, p. 69; January 8, 2001, review of Heart, p. 61; February 17, 2003, review of Evenings at Five, p. 55.
Saturday Review, August 8, 1970; October 28, 1972; February 21, 1976; June 10, 1978; January, 1982.
Southern Literary Journal, spring, 2001, Ron Emerick, "Theo and the Road to Sainthood in Gail Godwin's A Southern Family," p. 134.
Southern Living, May, 1988, p. 118; May, 1991, p. 83.
Spectator, January 15, 1977; September 2, 1978; February 6, 1982; November 5, 1994, p. 51.
Sunday Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX), February 14, 1982.
Time, January 25, 1982; February 11, 1985; October 5, 1987, p. 82; March 25, 1991, p. 70; September 26, 1994, p. 82; March 29, 1999, Paul Gray, "Millennium Fevers: In Her Absorbing New Novel, Gail Godwin Tracks Modern Maladies into a Mountain Town," p. 216.
Times (London, England), February 18, 1982; March 28, 1985.
Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1971; July 4, 1975; September 15, 1978; March 5, 1982; February 17, 1984; November 20, 1987, p. 1274; May 24, 1991, p. 21; November 4, 1994, p. 22.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 28, 1994, p. 3.
Village Voice, March 30, 1982; February 26, 1985.
Washington Post, February 7, 1983; March 7, 1991, p. D1.
Washington Post Book World, October 1, 1972; May 21, 1978; December 13, 1981; September 11, 1983; February 3, 1985; September 13, 1987; March 17, 1991, p. 4; March 28, 1999, review of Evensong, p. 5.
World Literature Today, summer, 2000, Mary Kaiser, review of Evensong, p. 606.
Writer, September, 1975; December, 1976.
Gail Godwin's Web site, http://www.gailgodwin.com/ (November 26, 2003).
Gail Goodwin Interview with Kay Bonetti (sound recording), American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), c. 1986.