Authors: Nancy Hale

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Earliest Dreams, 1936

Between the Dark and the Daylight, 1943

The Empress’s Ring, 1955

Heaven and Hardpan Farm, 1957

The Pattern of Perfection, 1960

The Life in the Studio, 1969

Secrets, 1971

Long Fiction:

The Young Die Good, 1932

Never Any More, 1934

The Prodigal Women, 1942

The Sign of Jonah, 1950

Dear Beast, 1959

Black Summer, 1963

Night of the Hurricane, 1978


A New England Girlhood, 1958

The Realities of Fiction, 1962

A New England Discovery, 1963

Mary Cassatt, 1975


Nancy Hale’s novels and short stories center on the lives of well-bred women. She commented in 1942, “I specialize in women because they are so mysterious to me. I feel that I know men quite thoroughly. . . . But women puzzle me.” Hale was born in 1908, the daughter of two painters, Lilian Wescott and Philip L. Hale. She graduated from the Winsor School in Boston in 1928 and, planning to be a painter, never attended college. At the age of twenty, she married Taylor Hardin and moved to New York City to work on the editorial staffs at Vogue and Vanity Fair; occasionally, she also modeled while at Vogue. She published her first novel, The Young Die Good, in 1932. The next year, she won an O. Henry Award for “To the Invader,” a short story in which she explores the conflicts of a woman from the northern states who marries a Virginian.{$I[AN]9810001136}{$I[A]Hale, Nancy}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Hale, Nancy}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hale, Nancy}{$I[tim]1908;Hale, Nancy}

Nancy Hale

(Library of Congress)

Maxwell Perkins, the renowned editor at Scribner’s, offered Hale strong encouragement for her writing. Despite the birth of her second son, divorce from Hardin, marriage to and divorce from Charles Wertenbaker, and a nervous breakdown, Hale was able to complete and publish her most famous novel, The Prodigal Women, in 1942. That same year, she married Fredson T. Bowers, a professor of English at the University of Virginia. He served in Washington, D.C., as a cryptographer during World War II, after which they lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, and spent summers in New England on Cape Ann.

For the next forty-six years, Hale adapted to the life of the university community in Charlottesville, and she continued to write in a variety of genres. She was given a Benjamin Franklin Magazine Award in 1958, the Henry H. Bellamann Foundation Award in 1969, and the Sarah Joseph Hale Award in 1974. From 1959 to 1965, she lectured on the short story at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and in 1962 she collected a number of these essays in The Realities of Fiction. Because of her background in painting, the publisher Doubleday commissioned Hale to write a biography of the nineteenth century American painter Mary Cassatt, which she completed in 1975.

Hale’s greatest critical success was in the novel and short story, because of the skillful way in which she developed women as characters. The dialogue is aptly drawn, as are the speech patterns, manners, and actions of the characters. Regional differences often create the tension in her works. The Young Die Good takes as its heroine a carefree young woman from New York society who is determined to seize all that life has to offer, despite the Depression at home and the threat of fascism abroad. Hale’s second novel, Never Any More, describes the lives of three very different sixteen-year-olds as they spend several weeks together in Maine. The Prodigal Women also develops three characters, women who are trying to balance the conflicting claims of a personal, powerful identity with those of motherhood.

One of the best collections of Hale’s short stories is Between the Dark and the Daylight. Eudora Welty claimed that the best of these twenty-one stories deal with childhood as a kind of ideal in which innocence and bliss have not yet been weighed down by the cruel knowledge and disillusionment of adulthood. Two of the best stories are “Sunday Lunch” and “The Most Elegant Drawing Room in Europe.” In the first, Hale examines a small group of Marylanders, one of whom has secretly built and stocked a fallout shelter. In the second, she focuses on a sharply drawn Italian contessa who invites three Americans to a cocktail party in her most elegant drawing room. Although regional differences furnish the backdrop for Hale’s novels, she was essentially concerned with the individual and how that individual reacts to outside pressure. Throughout her work, she was a keen observer of the human spirit.

BibliographyBarron, James. “Nancy Hale, Fiction Writer.” The New York Times, September 26, 1988, p. B8. A biographical obituary sketch, with an account of Hale’s literary career and comments on her fictional treatment of the follies and foibles of well-bred women.Callahan, Amy. “Nancy Hale.” The Boston Globe, September 27, 1988, p. 59. A brief biographical obituary that traces Hale’s literary career and comments on her proper Bostonian characters in her humorous novels and short stories.Gray, James. “Dream of Unfair Women.” In On Second Thought, edited by James Gray. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1946. Gray writes on two of Hale’s novels, The Prodigal Women and Between the Dark and the Daylight, and several of her short stories, drawing the conclusion that Hale “writes her own stuff and writes exceedingly well.”The New Republic. Review of Between the Dark and the Daylight. 109 (July 12, 1943): 51. Finds twenty of the twenty-one stories in this collection praiseworthy and admires Hale’s neutral treatment of the intense conflict between characters in her stories.Van Gelder, Robert. “An Analysis of the Feminine.” In Writers and Writing. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946. This interview with Hale focuses on her depiction of women and their relationships with men in her novel The Prodigal Women. She reveals that many of her character studies are revelations of herself; much of this work is autobiographical.Walton, Edith H. Review of The Earliest Dreams. The New York Times, April 19, 1936, 7. In this review of a collection of stories in The Earliest Dreams, the writer does not commit herself to complete admiration of Hale’s work. Instead, she points out some of the more “shallow” stories while balancing that with praise for many of her fine, perceptive works in the collection. The review is favorable overall.Welty, Eudora. Review of Between the Dark and the Daylight. The New York Times, May 2, 1943, 8. In this review, Welty is impressed with the scope of subjects that Hale’s twenty-one stories cover as well as with the sustained “good writing” in them.
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