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One of six children, Arnow was born in rural Kentucky. After her sixth year her family lived primarily in the town of Burnside, although they spent some time by the Torrent, Ky. Although she chose stereotypical elements of mountain life—moonshining and feuding—as the dramatic environment for her first novel, her interest in the essential qualities of the people and the land outweighed a youthful affinity for melodrama.
Her second novel, Between the Flowers published posthumously in , portrays a Kentucky farm family seeking to transcend the troubles brought by nature, society, and their own characters.
In Cincinnati in , she met Harold Arnow, a Chicago reporter. Soon married, they bought a ramshackle farm in Kentucky. Life proved hard on a subsistence basis their first child died in , so they left for Michigan in In the Arnows bought a acre farm outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, to which they brought their two children.
The Kentucky Trace; A Novel Of The American Revolution by Harriette Arnow
Four years later she published The Dollmaker. Defeated by her mother, who represents the conservative and restrictive elements of their society, Gertie gives up her plan of buying a farm and goes to join her husband, who is working in a war plant in Detroit. There the family faces slumlike conditions and confusing cultural attitudes. Eventually, however, Gertie gains the strength and knowledge to encompass her new life and its attendant tragedy including the death of one child , in part by carving dolls that help sustain her family financially. In the early s Arnow published two books of social history about the pioneers who settled the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky and Tennessee : Seedtime on the Cumberland and The Flowering of the Cumberland When Arnow died, in on the Ann Arbor farm, she left behind an unpublished novel about Kentucky during the Civil War.
She also left behind a body of work that bespoke the moral triumph of character over circumstance and the importance of land, or nature, in the anchoring of human worth, and that also combined dignity and realism in stressing the value of family and community. In eastern Kentucky, she was valued as well for shattering the Appalachian stereotype. Harriette Arnow. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Arnow's more recent novels, The Weedkiller's Daughter and The Kentucky Trace: A Novel of the American Revolution , lack the full-bodied characters and the narrative drive that propel her earlier novels.
The former has a new setting—suburbia—and the latter a different time from that of her distinguished fiction. Although Arnow's work enjoyed a reassessment in the s, it has still not achieved the stature her talent merits. Too often writers whose work is firmly rooted in one locale are relegated to a minor status by the term "regional," which can suggest a limited appeal. Arnow's regional association can be doubly damaging to her reputation. Since Kentucky is often excluded from "southern" literature, and "Appalachian" literature has only recently become a separate category, Arnow's books are frequently not on lists of fiction demarcated by region.
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Far outdistancing other writers treating hill people from the southern Appalachian region, Arnow is the first and only American novelist to describe them with fidelity and justice and to place them in a setting authentic to the last detail. But Arnow does more than evoke an area no other writer has captured. Like Twain and Faulkner, she creates a private world whose inhabitants face dilemmas reaching beyond geographical boundaries. Her best fiction depicts the conflict between an individual conscience and society—whether it be family, community, or the wider world.
If Arnow's novels at times need streamlining, they contain worlds as palpable and as real as the reader's own. If her hardy combatants fail to achieve their goals, they nonetheless take responsibility for the outcome of their lives, and endure. By the s Arnow had been called a regionalist, an Appalachian writer, naturalist, realist, and transcendentalist—yet she resisted categorization. As she commented in an interview, she thought of "Appalachia" as a chain of mountains and didn't like the appellation, "woman writer.
Her short stories and essays remain uncollected. In her later years, Arnow led writing workshops at the Hindman Settlement School Writers Workshop in Kentucky and other sites and was invited as a speaker on several occasions. From the interviews conducted in her later years, we learn about Arnow's writing process.
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She always wanted to be a poet and "wasted a lot of time," as she puts it, imitating the style of Robert Browning and John Milton. Unable to write poetry, she turned to Milton's prose: "Reading him was like watching an incoming tide on a rocky beach… The whole sea carrying the burden of the tide, came crashing near me.
So did Milton's sentences. Looff, and James Still.
Timeline of events leading to the American Civil War
One of her concerns in her writing was that she was often "afflicted by too many words, like my characters. Most of Arnow's critical attention still focuses on The Dollmaker and the complexity of Gertie Nevels. In a critical text edited by Haeja K. Chung Critique Spring , Arnow's short stories, a journal, her social histories, and her other novels, including the unpublished "Between the Flowers," are thoroughly examined. Short stories include: "Marigolds and Mules" in Kosmos Feb. Unpublished novels, short stories, journal, drafts of published works, and correspondence are in the Special Collection at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Ballard, S. Brooks, C. Chung, H.
Eckley, W. Arnow Groover, K. Haines, C. Hobbs, G. Oates, J. Turner, M. MQR Spring Nation 31 Jan.