Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Caroline Gordon (1895-1981)

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. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethany College in 1916.

Gordon taught briefly; then, as a journalist, she 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.

In 1930, the Tates settled in Clarksville in a house provided by Tate’s brother, Ben, 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).

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.

Selected Bibliography

Penhally (1931)
Aleck Maury, Sportsman (1934)
None Shall Look Back (1937)
The Garden of Adonis (1937)
Green Centuries (1941)
The Women on the Porch (1944)
The Forest of the South (1945)
The House of Fiction: An Anthology of the Short Story (with Allen Tate) (1950)
The Strange Children (1951)
The Malefactors (1956)
A Good Soldier: A Key to the Novels of Ford Madox Ford (1957)
How to Read a Novel (1957)
Old Red and Other Stories (1963)
The Glory of Hera (1972)
The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon (1981)

Selected Links

Caroline Gordon in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:

Mona Powell’s profile of Caroline Gordon for the Eastern Kentucky University English Dept.:

Anne Tyler’s review of The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon in The New York Times:…

Charles Wyrick’s review of The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon in The Nashville Scene: