N ovelists Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) and Willa Cather (1873-1947) explored women's lives, placed in brilliantly evoked regional settings. Neither novelist set out to address specifically female issues; their early works usually treat male protagonists, and only as they gained artistic confidence and maturity did they turn to depictions of women's lives. Glasgow and Cather can only be regarded as "women writers" in a descriptive sense, for their works resist categorization.
Glasgow was from Richmond, Virginia, the old capital of the Southern Confederacy. Her realistic novels examine the transformation of the South from a rural to an industrial economy. Mature works such as Virginia (1912) focus on the southern experience, while later novels like Barren Ground (1925) -- acknowledged as her best -- dramatize gifted women attempting to surmount the claustrophobic, traditional southern code of domesticity, piety, and dependence for women.
Cather, another Virginian, grew up on the Nebraska prairie among pioneering immigrants -- later immortalized in O Pioneers! (1913), My Antonia (1918), and her well-known story "Neighbour Rosicky" (1928). During her lifetime she became increasingly alienated from the materialism of modern life and wrote of alternative visions in the American Southwest and in the past. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) evokes the idealism of two 16th-century priests establishing the Catholic Church in the New Mexican desert. Cather's works commemorate important aspects of the American experience outside the literary mainstream -- pioneering, the establishment of religion, and women's independent lives.