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The Voice at the Back Door

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  130 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In the mid-1950s, the town of Lacey in the Mississippi hill country is a place where the lives of blacks and whites, though seemingly separate, are in fact historically and inevitably intertwined. When Lacey's fair-haired boy, Duncan Harper, is appointed interim sheriff, he makes public his private convictions about the equality of blacks before the law, and the combined t ...more
Paperback, 367 pages
Published March 1st 1994 by LSU Press (first published 1956)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Richard Derus
Apr 28, 2012 Richard Derus rated it liked it
Rating: 3* of five

The Book Report: Travis Brevard is dying, and he knows it. For years, he's kept the lid on his county, the sheriff without rivals or challengers, turning a blind eye to what suits him not to see and zooming in like an owl on a mouse if he's a mind to; but this 1949 day, his life is over and he knows it. Not convenient with a tax list in his pocket, doom for them that hasn't paid and salvation for the elect on the list, and an election before too long. Looks like Travis needs to
Randall Luce
Mar 29, 2015 Randall Luce rated it really liked it
The subject matter, and time and place, of "The Voice at the Back Door" will bring inevitable comparisons to "To Kill A Mockingbird." Both southern, written in the 1950's; both deal with the controversial issue of race.

But that's were the similarities end. Mockingbird is justly famous. "The Voice at the Back Door" is unjustly obscure. (Kudos to the Southern Literary Trail reading group for bringing it to my attention.) Mockingbird has a clear hero and a clear villain. In "The Voice at the Back
Diane Barnes
Feb 17, 2015 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it
This is a book that bears some thinking about. It's a book that could only have been written by a Southerner with a conscience and intelligence that allows her to see all sides of an issue, and create characters who illustrate all points of view sympathetically. Everything about the South that makes us so hard to understand by others is touched upon here. The complexity of race relations, the meaning of home and family, right vs wrong, depending on why and when, loyalty, love, marriage, and a wa ...more
Thing Two
This is To Kill a Mockingbird for grownups. Published in 1956, it is full of characters who are not one thing or the other the way Harper Lee's characters are. Told through a narrator's perspective, the reader gets an up-close back-house view of the campaign between two men for a vacated sheriff's position in a small, Southern town. Spencer wrote this from the safety of Italy, and based it loosely on a rumored tale from her own hometown in Carroll County, Mississippi. She doesn't shy away from d ...more
May 14, 2010 Tony rated it it was amazing
Spencer, Elizabeth. THE VOICE AT THE BACK DOOR. (1956). *****. This is only the second of Ms. Spencer’s works that I’ve read, but this one floored me. It was nominated in 1957 for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, but the awards committee decided not to make an award that year.That was a big mistake. Ms. Spencer was born in 1921, in Carrollton, Missippi, and, as far as I can determine, she now lives in Chapel Hill, NC. She has written nine novels, including “The Light In The Piazza,” the other one ...more
Kirk Smith
Jan 15, 2015 Kirk Smith rated it really liked it
I am so impressed with this book. First published in 1956, pre-dating To Kill a Mockingbird, it is astonishingly honest writing for the time. What a courageous author Elizabeth Spencer is. If some things I read were true, she was reviled for addressing such touchy Race issues and escaped the situation by moving to Italy. There are so many great Southern Women Authors, I am pleased to include Elizabeth Spencer among other favorites like Harper Lee, Shirley Ann Grau, or Flannery O'Connor. A very ...more
Patricia Dusenbury
Jan 20, 2014 Patricia Dusenbury rated it it was amazing
This is the book that came before to Kill A Mockingbird. Published in 1956, it addresses the burdens of racial divisions in a Mississippi hill county. It is beautifully written with evocative descriptions and characters you care about. A review in The New Yorker called it a "practically perfect novel."

Beyond that, it is an example of authorial courage. Ms. Spencer, a woman living in Mississippi, was reviled after the publication and eventually moved to Italy.

The Voice at the Back Door is in my "
Aug 26, 2014 Corinne rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Spencer is the epitome of a Southern writer and I can see why this book was nominated for the Pulitzer. It is especially interesting because it was published the same year Emmett Till was murdered, often considered the symbolic beginning of the civil rights movement in the South. By the time this book was published, the old South was changing. The Easley Friends of the Library are showing a documentary on Spencer's life September 9th that prompted me to read this novel and her newest b ...more
Aug 16, 2011 Bettye rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Beautifully written by fellow Mississippian Elizabeth Spencer, it deals with racial and political tensions in a rural MS county. If it were written today, I think it would equal The Help in its realistic portrayal of the times and the people.
Jul 01, 2015 precaf rated it liked it
This was an interesting and complex book, though perhaps written with a beginner's skill set. It consists of five sections, roughly 50 short chapters, and an epilog. The author had a plan and she saw it through, though somewhat mechanically. In parts the structure -- which resembles a thriller -- actually works; in others the plotting drags. Spencer is good at dialog, but sometimes her characters blab on for a page and a quarter where two paragraphs might suffice. At one point Spencer has forgot ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Alice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nc-author, literature
The Voice at the Back Door Elizabeth Spenser a must read for me since I learned:
The Pulitzer Prize jury voted this novel as winner of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize, but the award
was refused by the board. It received the first Rosenthal Award of the American Academy,
was brought out in England and translated into a number of foreign languages.
The reviews were enormously favorable, and a contract was concluded with M-G-M
to option it for a major production. The movie was cast and a script written, but a s
Aug 22, 2013 Betty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
The Voice at the Back Door was forgotten in my bookcase, and indeed it seems to be mostly forgotten in the world at large, undeservedly so, though not out of print thanks to LSU's Voices of the South series (and there is a kindle download). This powerful novel is set in a small town in Mississippi in 1949, after the war but well before civil rights. In the first few pages, I found the sentence structure awkward, but that soon fell away into the power of the narrative, the vivid sense of place an ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Sharon rated it really liked it
Reading this almost 60 years after its first publication, "The Voice at the Back Door" seems almost nostalgic in its tone, even though it was a contemporary novel of its time. It could be because Ms Spencer was writing it from Italy and, as she wrote in her introduction to the novel, "I missed black faces." Still, it is an elegantly written book that skims lightly over racial and gender issues, but touching down on them at opportune times. I've heard Ms. Spencer named as one of the South's fines ...more
Ben Chapman
Feb 03, 2014 Ben Chapman rated it it was amazing
One of the most underrated books I've ever read in my life. Then I found out it was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in the 1950's and was then denied. Anyway, it's sort of like a more nuanced, adult version of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Rural life in the 1950's American South, and the consequences of being pro-Civil Rights in a small town election for sheriff. Petty backstabbing and gossiping abounds, and Elizabeth Spencer's wry wit really brings the town and it's complex set of characters to lif ...more
Feb 19, 2016 CB rated it liked it
While well-written and true to its setting, I found The Voice at the Back Door frustratingly dull for at least the first 200 pages of the book. The novel painted a convincing picture of life in the South in the Prohibition era; however, I feel that it fell short by never convincing the reader to invest emotionally in any of its characters, thus resigning what could have been a great book to only being a fairly good one.
May 02, 2013 Carol rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book, but I was disappointed. I found the writing style to be difficult to follow. I had trouble keeping track of which character was speaking. It was also hard for me to know what was taking place in the present and what had happened in the past. I will pass on other books by this author.
Feb 22, 2015 Tina rated it really liked it
This really was a good book. I would not put it on par with Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird", but it is definitely a good novel about politics, corruption and racism in 1950's Mississippi. Elizabeth Spencer was very good at characterization and spot on with the dialect of her rural Mississippi roots.
Elizabeth Guider
Aug 16, 2016 Elizabeth Guider rated it really liked it
In the tradition of great southern writers, of which she is definitely one. The 1950's in Mississippi: not an easy place and not an easy choice of subject for her to tackle. it alienated parts of her family, not surprisingly. Concrete and multi-faceted characters. Nothing is completely black or white but all characters are convincing.
Tom Leland
Sep 02, 2013 Tom Leland rated it really liked it
If scale was 1-10 would give it a 7. A bit of trouble keeping characters straight, but that's probably just me. Might be the most vividly drawn work I've ever read of the day-to-day prejudices and attitudes of a deep south small town in the 50s...from a woman who would know.

It wasn't just racism and hostility that kept the Black down for so long -- it was also lies.
Nov 19, 2013 Mercedes rated it it was amazing
I just discover Elizabeth Spencer after reading a mention of her in an article in Oxford American. The blurb on the back of describes this story as a practically perfect novel and I have to agree. Written in 1956 it is still powerful and fresh and her sense of the time and place is incredible.
Mar 22, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Looked this one up thanks to an article on Slate, and it was a great discovery.
Jan 24, 2015 Beverly rated it it was amazing
So glad I read this. It is a great story!
Lucy Murphy
Aug 23, 2009 Lucy Murphy rated it it was amazing
I agree with 1950's New Yorker review - a nearly perfect novel.
Jul 24, 2007 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: modern-fiction
Hard to get into. Maybe I'd like it better if I hadn't read it for the worst class in the world.
Jul 27, 2015 Marcie rated it really liked it
Theme similar to To Kill A Mockingbird, but better written and deeper.
ila rated it it was ok
Oct 28, 2014
Paula Head
Paula Head rated it it was amazing
Aug 23, 2016
Jaime rated it it was amazing
May 23, 2014
Natalie rated it really liked it
Oct 18, 2014
Sandra rated it it was amazing
May 11, 2014
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Born in Carrollton, Mississippi, Spencer was valedictorian of her graduating class at local J.Z. George High School. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi and her Master's Degree in Literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1943.

Spencer taught at the junior-college level for two years before accepting a job with the Nashville Tennessean,
More about Elizabeth Spencer...

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“People hear whispers as loud as guns.” 5 likes
“But in the earlier hours, or so I have read, they still have got their daylight minds. It takes the midnight mind to do the black deed to the black man.” 0 likes
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