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Literature and Spirituality in the English-Speaking World

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Edited By Kathie Birat and Brigitte Zaugg

This collection of essays focuses on the role of spirituality in American literature through an examination of the multiple ways in which a deep engagement with the spiritual has shaped and affected literature in the Americas (three of the essays involve Canadian and Caribbean literature). The essays in the first section explore the intimate links between the spiritual and the social as they are manifested in forms of fiction like fantasy, science fiction, and the Christian fundamentalist fiction of Jerry B. Jenkins. The second section looks at the ways in which poetry has allowed writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Ellen Glasgow, Fanny Howe and Leonard Cohen to use language as a tool for exploring their complex relation to the spiritual seen in terms of radical otherness, or of exile, or of the search for common ground as human beings. The final section approaches spirituality as a defining element of the American experience, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Toni Morrison and Paul Auster.
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A Haven for the Suffering Soul: Ellen Glasgow’s Lifelong Quest: Brigitte Zaugg

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Brigitte ZAUGGUniversity of Lorraine, France

Posterity has not been fair to Virginian writer Ellen Glasgow, who in her lifetime was a renowned and respected figure well beyond the boundaries of her native Richmond and enjoyed her share of the literary limelight as a social historian and a novelist of manners. Yet after her death in 1945 she fell into (relative) oblivion, and even today she is not the author scholars think of spontaneously as one of the leading figures of early 20th-century southern literature. Only a small portion of her work1 is still in print and readily available. Her name is now mostly associated with Barren Ground (1925), the novel which marked a turning-point both in her literary career and personal life, in that it heralded the beginning of her best years as a writer and signaled her “reconciliation” with the hand life had dealt her, as well as the end of the spiritual quest she had begun when still in her teens. In the preface to the novel, written in 1933, she underlined its therapeutic effect: “it became for me, while I was working upon it, almost a vehicle of liberation. After years of tragedy and the sense of defeat that tragedy breeds in the mind, I had won my way to the other side of the wilderness.”2

Several critics, seizing on the links Glasgow established between herself and the novel and considering the heroine’s refusal of romantic involvement, hastened to claim that this...

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