Places: The Romantic Comedians

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1926

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fiction of manners

Time of work: 1920’s

Places DiscussedQueenborough

Queenborough. Romantic Comedians, TheVirginia town in which the novel is set; modeled after Richmond, Virginia. Queenborough is known for its beautiful women, who define the mood of the town and its inhabitants during each generation. The older, more refined members of Queenborough society are embodied in Amanda Lightfoot, a woman in her fifties. During the late 1880’s, Amanda was a much sought-after beauty. Her beauty, like Queenborough’s, has endured, but her ability to charm Judge Gamaliel Honeywell, her former fiancé, has faded. He finds her more mature beauty less appealing than her earlier charm and her voice, which he describes as monotonous, lacking in its former allure. The new Queenborough is symbolized by Amanda’s current successor as the town beauty, Annabel Upchurch.

Like many of its residents, Queenborough has also lost its ability of self-criticism and has become old and complacent. The never-ending cycle of dinners and balls that the newly married Judge Gamaliel and Annabel Honeywell attend are symptoms of the malaise of an entire community that refuses to face the realities of a changing world. These social rites represent both a society that has never matured and one that has remained mired in tradition. The judge attends these events only so that his much younger bride Annabel can enjoy herself with friends and dancing. Forever reminding himself of what life was like during the 1880’s in Queenborough, the judge can never enjoy these gatherings of Queenborough’s elite.

Washington Street

Washington Street. Main thoroughfare running through Queenborough. The new attitudes of Queenborough society are evident even in the naming of the town’s streets. The more forward-looking members of the town’s older, more practical society do not want to live on the common “streets” and “roads” of the old town. Instead they prefer the more pretentious terms such as “avenue” and “boulevard.”

Washington Street was once the aristocratic center of town activity. With the coming of the twentieth century and the New South, that street merges into what is considered a more appropriately named road–Granite Boulevard. The latter name is appropriate because the new Queenborough is both physically and psychologically harder than the old Queenborough. “Boulevard” is nothing more than a pretentious renaming of the simpler and more aptly named Washington Street.

Judge Honeywell’s house

Judge Honeywell’s house. Home originally shared by Judge Honeywell and his first wife, Cordelia, and later by the judge and his much younger second wife, Annabel. The home is a staid brownstone in which the judge takes much pride; the house symbolizes for him both his past with Cordelia and the old way of life–both of which he pretends not to miss. In reality, he wishes to return to both. Mirroring the complacency of Queenborough, he has grown accustomed to his routine and to living alone in his home. Even before Cordelia’s death, the judge had become comfortable, though not happy.

Into this home the judge brings Annabel and her modern views and tastes. Just as the older citizens of Queenborough still remember the young Amanda Lightfoot’s beauty and charm and keep her on a pedestal, never allowing her to change, the judge refuses to accept even the hint of a change in his home. One of the first things that Annabel wants to do upon arriving at their home after their honeymoon is to replace Cordelia’s old lace draperies with what she considers more modern and attractive window dressings. Without even consulting the judge, she removes a favorite piece of furniture in his dressing room to make room for a newer piece that she has commissioned, copied from a piece he admired on their European honeymoon. Gently but firmly, the judge demands his old cabinet back, thus quietly and firmly holding onto the past. The home of Gamaliel and Annabel Honeywell, then, becomes a genteel battleground between the Old South and the New.

BibliographyGodbold, E. Stanly, Jr. Ellen Glasgow and the Woman Within. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. A reliable biography with useful comments on Glasgow’s major novels. Some criticism.Holman, C. Hugh. “The Comedies of Manners.” In Ellen Glasgow: Centennial Essays, edited by M. Thomas Inge. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976. Contrasts the comedy of the Queenborough trilogy with the didacticism of earlier realistic novels. Focuses on Glasgow’s narrative techniques (influenced by Henry James) and points out similarities and differences among the three novels.Raper, Julius Rowan. From the Sunken Garden: The Fiction of Ellen Glasgow, 1916-1945. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. Thoughtful commentary on all major novels. Argues that The Romantic Comedians displays a classic comic pattern (subversion of gerontocracy by youth).Rouse, Blair. Ellen Glasgow. New York: Twayne, 1962. Good introduction to Glasgow’s fiction. Views Queenborough as the essence of several Virginia towns and suggests tragic overtones within the comedy of The Romantic Comedians. Annotated bibliography.Santas, Joan Foster. Ellen Glasgow’s American Dream. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1965. Sees The Romantic Comedians along with They Stooped to Folly and The Sheltered Life (1932) as a progressive study of the limitations of a fading Virginia aristocracy.
Categories: Places