Analysis of Ellen Glasgow’s Jordan’s End

“Jordan’s End,” which first appeared in Ellen Glasgow’s collection The Shadowy Third (1923), shows the influence of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher” a kinship that Glasgow acknowledged. In Glasgow’s story, the ill-fated Jordan family resides in their eerily gothic family estate, Jordan’s End, which is similar to the House of Usher. The declining families in both Jordan’s End and Usher suffer from mysterious mental and physical ailments, believed to be the result of inbreeding. But in Glasgow’s story the main representatives of the Jordan family are husband and wife rather than brother and sister, Mr. Jordan having married a woman from a neighboring town to strengthen the family’s failing bloodline.

Ellen Glasgow/Style Weekly

Recognizing in the development of her husband’s incurable madness the fate of his father, grandfather, and uncles, Mrs. Jordan administers an overdose of a narcotic left by the doctor. Unlike Poe’s story and contrary to the title’s implications, however, the Jordan line does not end at the story’s close. Mrs. Jordan, having been brought in from the outside, does not suffer the same fate as her husband, and the couple have a young son whom the mother plans to send away to school, in hope that the family name will survive to begin a new, although less patrician, line. The doctor in “Jordan’s End” serves a similar function to the narrator in Usher, as an objective outsider who describes the haunting family situation to the reader.

“Jordan’s End” also introduces themes that are found in Glasgow’s later novels. The decaying Southern aristocracy appears in other works such as Barren Ground (1925), The Sheltered Life (1932), and In This Our Life (1941). The latter two also present the concept of a southern womanhood that is above the law. Although technically Mrs. Jordan murders her husband, she appears otherworldly and untouchable to the doctor, and her crime is unreported.

Glasgow, Ellen. “Introduction.” In The Collected Stories of Ellen Glasgow, edited by Richard Kilburn Meeker. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, Press, 1963.
Thiebaux, Marcelle. Ellen Glasgow. New York: Ungar, 1982.

Categories: Literature, Mystery Fiction, Short Story

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