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Ellen Glasgow: The Romantic Comedians

This might well be the most enjoyable of Glasgow’s novels, though it is by no means her most profound. The story concerns Judge Gamaliel Bland Honeywell who, for thirty-six years, had endured the double-edged bliss of a perfect marriage but, now that he is a widower, his poor wife having driven herself to an early grave looking after him, he is lonely. Thirty-seven years before he had been engaged to Amanda Lightfoot but they had broken it off. She has adored him ever since. There is also Bella Upchurch, another widow ready and available. But the judge prefers Bella’s daughter Annabel. He woos her and marries her. The marriage lasts barely a year. The judge is despondent but brightens up when a pretty young nurse is sent to look after him. Spring is here, and I am feeling almost as young as I felt last year.

This is in many respects a light comedy but Glasgow is not going to let the judge get away so easily. She mocks him at every turn – his age, his physical decay, his pomposity are all foils for Glasgow’s satire, as he leers after the young women and tries to be twenty again. His inability to keep up with Annabel, whether it be dancing or eating rich French food on their honeymoon. Yes, we do see that here is a man who thinks and feels and tries to be what he is not but we can only imagine Glasgow enjoying sticking the knife in and twisting it as if to say you dirty man, you’re not up to it.

Publishing history

First published 1926 by Doubleday