Gail Godwin

Fiction by Gail Godwin

Violet Clay Violet Clay
A Novel

Published 1978


Read an Excerpt

In this, her first novel since her widely acclaimed The Odd Woman, Gail Godwin gives us the large and moving story of a gifted young woman who refuses to surrender her vision of her greatest self, and how, finally, she makes that vision come true.

Violet Clay is a painter -- or, rather, an illustrator, turning out jacket paintings for the covers of Gothic romances. She's thirty-two; there's still time to become the artist she set out to be when she came to New York nine years ago -- or so she assures herself at the beginning of the day on which we meet her, the day she will later think of as her Day of Lost Options.

Her lover is gone, and with him their cozy mutual defense against a lurking awareness of being unimportant to the world at large. Jake's parting assault -- "You'll never be a great painter" -- hits close to the bone, but Violet goes on sketching her wide-eyed young heroines until, abruptly, the easy solace of her work is taken away from her. It is then -- her comfortable preoccupations slipping away, her imagination picturing (not very seriously) the worst: Violet all alone, no job, no money, no food -- that a telephone call informs her of a tragedy that brings all the self-delusions of her nine-year-long Era of Compromise to an end.

It is the tragedy of her uncle -- handsome, happy, charming Ambrose Clay -- Ambrose, who had always been there for her to refer to, wanting the things she wanted, living his life a little ahead of hers . . . who shared her extravagant, romantic, Southern family history, and made art out of it in the novel that brought him fame at twenty-one . . . who welcomed Violet to New York when she arrived in pursuit of her own dreams of Art . . . who, through all the changes since then, in his life and hers, had remained the bright guarantor of her dearest hopes . . .

Now, as she discovers and confronts the truths of Ambrose's life, as she faces at last the still-unanswered questions of her own, we see her beginning to test her real gifts for the first time, taking her first steps toward the emotional and artistic life she has always desired, in a novel that is continually involving, continually resonant, shaped by the perception and power that characterize all of Gail Godwin's work.


"Violet Clay is filled with wonderful language, wonderful people and wonderful insights.... It is about families, destinies, terrors and exaltations...I will not soon forget it, It is the work of one of the very best writers we have"
— Jonathan Yardley, The Miami Herald

"I love Gail Godwin's women. They are strong, intelligent, funny, often self-mocking. They are tough on themselves... fall into predictable pits, but expect everything of themselves"
— Susan Shreve, The Washington Post

"A damned good, old-fashioned story...A modern portrait of an artist as a young woman...Remarkable."
Chicago Tribune

"Violet Clay shows Gail Godwin as a painterly writer and a very good novelist indeed."

The Boston Globe

Ballantine Books | Paperback| 384 pages