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Barren Ground

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  224 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Set in Virginia, this novel evokes the irony of change in the rural South. Dorinda Oakley is a passionate, intelligent, and independent young woman struggling to define herself.
Paperback, 540 pages
Published November 15th 1985 by Mariner Books (first published 1902)
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(showing 1-30)
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Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Dec 08, 2014 Bree (AnotherLookBook) rated it really liked it
A novel about a woman in turn-of-the-century Virginia who, after being jilted by her neighbor, must discover another means of making her life a success. 1925.

Full review (and other recommendations!) at Another look book

A wonderful read by an author who I'd never heard of until I found an entire shelf of her books in a local library. Beautiful writing to complement the kind of story you continue munching on long after you've closed the book. Not very light, but not too heavy either--just interest
May 10, 2016 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read
Described to me as "Glasgow's books have often been described as provincial, being as they focus on characters and settings in the early 20thC South (usually Virginia, and frequently rural), but she's as sharp a critic of social mores as Edith Wharton. And while her racial attitudes are disquietingly reflective of the norm for that time and place, she was also an outspoken feminist and that also comes through...[Barren Ground] is about a young woman from a poor family who is seduced, impregnated ...more
Michael Fischer
Oct 16, 2010 Michael Fischer rated it really liked it
I have changed my mind on this novel. At first, I thought it was a little too deterministic and overwrought...then I realized it's brilliant how Glasgow critiques a chauvinistic economic system. The common arguments about the problematic loss or sacrifice of Dorinda's sexuality (or sexual desire) seem to miss the mark and Glasgow's ironic intent. Also, while some argue that "Barren Ground" is on board with Allen Tate and the Agrarians, I'm not sure I see the relationship existing so smoothly: Gl ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joe Johnston
Apr 11, 2008 Joe Johnston rated it liked it
Read this for a southern lit course in grad school. Uninspiring & tedious, with the discouraging theme of "life can be a drag--man up and tough it out." Feh.
Jan 14, 2015 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
If you are looking for a Thomas Hardy-like read head straight to Ellen Glasgow..the detail, the characters, the story (ironic and sad like Hardy), it's all there and set in Virginia USA. I decided to read this book as the author was named a top favorite by Jonathan Yardley as he left the Washington Post after writing 3000 book reviews over 30 years. I didn't always agree with his reviews but this reccomendation was no disappointment.

Here's his final column if you want to know more:
Jun 11, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie☯
What a magnificent novel by Ellen Glasgow.

This is the story of Dorinda Oakley's life in a Virginian farmland during the period of 1890 to 1920.

After a love disillusion case, she decides to move to a big city, and only by chance, she goes to New York City. The course of her life changes since then as a neurosurgeon and his wife show new directions that can take her own destination during her way back home.

Even with some mild traces of racism throughout her narrative, the author manages to captiva
Aug 06, 2007 Rita rated it liked it
Shelves: american
Another good, tho' depressing, book by Glasgow about living in extreme isolation in rural Virginia in the early 1900s. I try to imagine my grandpa growing up there, tho' he was in a more fertile, more populated part of the state.

Ambition in a woman is one of the themes of the book.

Tho' probably Glasgow had extremely progressive views for her time, her generalizations sprinkled throughout the book about "the negro" are a reminder of the nearly totally segregated lives of the white and black commu
Elizabeth Sulzby
Sep 11, 2010 Elizabeth Sulzby rated it really liked it
A hard, bleak read but very memorable. As an Alabamian and oft-times Virginian, I love all of Glasgow's books that I've read. I thought I had read them all but have come to realize that I haven't even read half of them. Glasgow is taught, I am told, in Womens Studies classes which is a real way to kill an author but hasn't done that to Flannery O'Connor or Eudora Welty. Maybe we'll have a "groundswell" for Glasgow from the literary cultures; I support that.
Amy Gentry
Jun 01, 2009 Amy Gentry rated it liked it
Written in 1925, reading it because I have to read popular American books from the twenties. The prose is purplish but the plot is unsentimental: a better, more brutal Gone With the Wind.
K. A. O'Neil
Oct 21, 2010 K. A. O'Neil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of my favourite books ever.
Greg Leatherman
Mar 08, 2017 Greg Leatherman rated it liked it
It's a solid character study, with a flawed central character (Dorinda Oakley), but don't expect anything uplifting. For example, check out these themes: the pathos of life is worse than the tragedy; time avenges all; hard work is the comfort of the lonely; fate is cruel; weakness is a vice; character is destiny; etc.

Glasgow crafts naturalist prose and is at ease with symbolism, so much that the characters become products of the landscape. Barren Ground is a metaphor as well as a description .
Jan 27, 2010 Dominic rated it it was ok
Barren Ground is a more troublesome novel to the 21st century reader than I first thought. While Dorinda Oakley is certainly a complex, extremely human and even triumphant version of the early 20th century female public self, her private self is undernourished, mangled and stagnant. While Dorinda breaks gender norms and is able to thrive without the help of men, she is forever plagued by one defining incident from her past and is never able to heal. She is unable to accept the impermanence in he ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Lindsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An ambitious (if overwrought) philosophical novel that asks the big question, How should we live our lives? We watch Dorinda Oakley embrace love and hope, then fall into existential despair, and then embrace a stoic and unforgiving life of hardship, only to have a big realization in the final three pages.

I imagine a lot of people would find this book intolerable: the constant philosophizing, the melodramatic voice, the repetition of themes, the heavy use of metaphor! But I thought it was lovely.
Aug 11, 2011 Lara rated it did not like it
Ugh. After 80 pages of character descriptions I don't feel like going forward. I mean, seriously: how long can you describe one girl walking down a road and how she wants a boyfriend, basically, with absolutely no plot and no connection between the reader and the character? Glasgow tells us all about how Dorinda looks, but we don't really know anything about her beyond that. And descriptions of her hair, skin, mouth, etc. abound as do descriptions of her family. Ironically, despite these plentif ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Ruth rated it really liked it
Shelves: southern
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 09, 2012 Jackie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The transparent flakes...diffused in their steady flight an impresion of evanescence (vanquish like vapor) and unreality" (10).

"...insubstantial as a pattern of frost on the grass" (10).
"It was as if the secret spirit of the land had traced an image of the flat surface, glimmering, remote, unapproachable (10-11).

"I wonder if everything has a soul?" (11).

"The passing trains had been part of that unexpected miracle, the something different in the future, to which she looked ahead over the tedious
Feb 02, 2015 Ashley rated it it was amazing
One of Glagow's greatest novels, the story of Dorinda Oakley, impoverished farm girl who is "ruined" by an unplanned pregnancy to her betrothed who ends up leaving her for another woman days before the wedding. Glasgow turns the story upside down by having Dorinda travel to New York where she reaches rock bottom and loses her pregnancy when hit by a carriage only to have it turned around when the doctor who helps care for her gives her work as a nanny and helps her to become educated in dairy fa ...more
Riley Haas
Dec 15, 2016 Riley Haas rated it it was ok
"You know, I can appreciate that a strong female protagonist may have been a rarity when she published this book. I understand how this could be important in that regard. But it's so damn dull. I mean, is this really the standard we want for "great literature" from the 20s? How is it that this book is on multiple best of lists? It's inconceivable. She gets hurt, so she becomes successful. Wow. Amazing. Nothing else to say? The pacing is very odd, too. I mean, at the beginning, it's like it's a h ...more
Sep 18, 2011 Elaine rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, though it was a bit long with themes correspondingly becoming sometimes repetitive. I am puzzled as to what the book says about Glasgow's views of women. The protagonist, Dorinda Oakley has one failed love affair and then decides never to allow herself to love a man again and I wonder if Glasgow is saying that success and independence demands for a woman the choice between being loved by a man and maintaining one's own autonomy. I know that Glasgow never married so wo ...more
Jan 14, 2017 Diane rated it really liked it
Set in rural Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this novel tells the story of Dorinda Oakley, a young woman from one of the villages. She is jilted by her fiancé, moves north to New York City, and eventually returns home to buy a second farm and live out the rest of her life. The book provides something of a window into the rural American South after the Civil War, and strong characters, especially the main character. I thought in some cases, the author provided too much descrip ...more
Jan 17, 2014 Anna rated it really liked it
Four because it was so descriptive and so LITERARY but only a four because at time it was dry and even though I understand the appeal of knowing the main character so deeply, I got tired of her emptiness and the pages-long descriptions of her emotional emptiness. NOT A HAPPY BOOK.
Jul 01, 2012 Mandy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little too long and repetitive, but enjoyed it on the whole.
Jul 31, 2015 Milt rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
tread-read, but for last chapter. not 1k predemise. but 2nd pres related
Dec 16, 2010 Veronica rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
I never truly finished this book. I just didn't like to writing style. It was a bit slow and had too much detail about the land and being pulled back to it.
Mackenzie Brooks
May 07, 2016 Mackenzie Brooks rated it really liked it
Everything I enjoy about American lit (except for the casual racism).
Aug 07, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
Great protagonist... a headstrong woman who seeks revenge for being jilted.
Feb 04, 2011 Shannon rated it liked it
Very long and very detailed. Great imagery and symbolism with the land, but I didn't really like Dorinda.
Written Melodies
Written Melodies rated it did not like it
Oct 02, 2011
Heather rated it really liked it
Dec 04, 2007
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aka Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow

Born into an upper-class Virginian family, Glasgow rebelled at an early age against traditional expectations of women, becoming a best-selling author of 20 novels, the last of which (In This Our Life) won a Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

The majority of her novels have Southern settings, reflecting her awareness of the enormous social and economic changes occuring in t
More about Ellen Glasgow...

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“Her life, she knew, was becoming simplified into an unbreakable chain of habits, a series of orderly actions at regular hours. Vaguely, she thought of herself as a happy woman; yet she was aware that this monotony of contentment had no relation to what she had called happiness in her youth. It was better perhaps; it was certainly as good; but it measured all the difference between youth and maturity.” 4 likes
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