Caroline Gordon

Twentieth-century novelist Caroline Gordon was born into the Kentucky line of the extensive Meriwether family in 1895. Exploration of the family's past and its evolution is a major theme of her fiction. She grew up at Merry Mont in Todd County, near Clarksville. Her father, James Morris Gordon, came from Virginia to tutor the Meriwether children, married Nancy Meriwether, and established an academy in Clarksville, where his daughter received her early education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethany College in 1916. Her father is the idealized subject of Gordon's second novel, Alec Maury, Sportsman (1934), and the central character in her much-anthologized story, “Old Red.”

Gordon taught briefly; then, as a journalist, he became one of the first reviewers to comment favorably on a new Nashville-based magazine of poetry, The Fugitive. During the summer of 1924, Robert Penn Warren, a Todd County neighbor, introduced her to Allen Tate. Within a year they were married and living in New York City, where she gave birth to their daughter, Nancy Meriwether. With Tate, she began a period of life abroad, devoted to writing and sustained by various fellowships granted to one or the other. In London Gordon was secretary to the influential British writer Ford Madox Ford, who provided the couple with quarters in Paris and introduced them to the American expatriates.

In 1930 the Tates returned to the United States and settled in Clarksville in a house provided by Tate's brother Ben and called “Benfolly.” Both Tates were exceptionally hospitable to friends and encouraging to younger writers. Both were prolific correspondents, generous with constructive criticism. (Gordon eventually became mentor to several writers, most notably Flannery O'Connor). Although she had to wrest time for her writing from domestic and social obligations, the eight Benfolly years were especially productive for Gordon, who published four novels and several stories before 1937. The first novel was Penhally (1931), followed by Alec Maury, Sportsman (1934), None Shall Look Back (1937), and The Garden of Adonis (1937), studies of the southern family during the Civil War and Great Depression.

Academic appointments of the 1940s took the Tates throughout the Southeast and to Princeton, where they established a home near their daughter, who married psychiatrist Percy Wood in 1944. During this time Gordon published her fifth novel, Green Centuries (1941). Her second related group of novels, The Woman on the Porch (1944), which deals with a troubled marriage, The Strange Children (1951), based on life at Benfolly, and The Malefactors (1956), is informed by her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Her own marriage suffered during this period. The Tates were divorced briefly in 1946, then remarried. Together they wrote The House of Fiction (1950), which was followed by Gordon's How to Read a Novel in 1957. The marriage was permanently dissolved in 1959.

Gordon maintained her home at Princeton until 1973, teaching and writing; works of this time include The Glory of Hera (1972). An appointment in the creative writing program drew her to the University of Dallas. When her health began to fail in 1978, she moved to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chapas, Mexico, with the Wood family. She died there on April 11, 1981.

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  • Article Title Caroline Gordon
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018