Elizabeth Spencer, Author of ‘The Light in the Piazza,’ Dies at 98


“Translations from Greek and Latin were on our shelves, and some originals, and if anybody mentioned Dante, he was there too,” Ms. Spencer told The Paris Review. “There were also Melville, Hawthorne, Poe and the New England poets. A host of children’s classics were read aloud to me, and one was expected to know the Bible backwards and forwards.”

She was valedictorian of her high school class in 1938, graduated from Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., in 1942 and earned a master’s in 1943 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where she knew Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. She taught junior college classes for two years and was a reporter for The Nashville Tennessean for a year.

Her well-received first novel, “Fire in the Morning” (1948), created a Mississippi town, with a history of its citizens, conflicts and values. Her second novel, “This Crooked Way” (1952), was also set in the South.

From 1948 to 1951, she taught at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. After a year in New York, she returned to Oxford briefly, then won a fellowship and left for Europe.

In 1956 she married John Rusher, a British businessman. After five years in Italy, the couple moved to Montreal, where Ms. Spencer wrote much of her fiction, including the novels “Knights and Dragons” (1965) and “No Place for an Angel” (1967) and a collection of short stories, “Ship Island and Other Stories,” (1968), dedicated to her friend Ms. Welty.

Her next collections, “The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer” and “Marilee,” both appeared in 1981, and were followed by “Jack of Diamonds and Other Stories” (1988), “On the Gulf” (1991) and “The Southern Woman” (2001). Her later novels were “The Snare” (1972), “The Salt Line” (1984) and “The Night Travellers” (1991).

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