Monday, July 27, 2020

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell.....

Susan Glaspell is a writer I have wanted to read for some time.  Born in Iowa in 1876 she was a journalist, novelist, short story writer and a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (Alison's House).  In Iowa she was a member of a writing community known as the Davenport Group where she met her husband, George Cram Cook.  They married after he obtained a divorce and in 1913 Glaspell and Cook moved to Greenwich Village where they were part of an influential group of writers and activists which included John Reed, Emma Goldman, Upton Sinclair, Floyd Dell.  Glaspell was also a feminist and a socialist which is reflected in her writings. 

I mention all this because Glaspell's novel Fidelity (published 1915) is somewhat autobiographical.  The book is set in Freeport, a small midwestern town and at the center of the book is Ruth Holland who is returning home to say her goodbyes to her father who is dying.  Ruth left Freeport eleven years prior when she was 20 to run off with a married man causing a scandal in the town and she has not been back until now..

The man Ruth fell in love with, Stuart Williams, could not obtain a divorce from his wife.  When Stuart came down with TB, Ruth was determined to leave with him for Colorado where he could seek treatment.  But now as Ruth returns to Freeport all these years later she wonders did she make the right decision?  Her life with Stuart has not been easy.  Their love for each other has lasted but instead of building a future in Colorado they have struggled all these years to make ends meet.  They have been afraid to make friends, the town of Freeport continuing to cast a shadow over their lives. 

FIdelity is a book that weighs the pros and cons of whether one should follow society's norms or follow one's heart and the author gives both sides of the equation because it's not always an easy choice.  But what's not in dispute in this book is the danger people place themselves in when they can't move on.  This is shown to be true in the case of Stuart's wife Marion who out of vengeful bitterness cannot grant Stuart a divorce.  It's shown to be true for Ruth and Stuart who have lived for eleven years in Colorado keeping to themselves and maybe most sadly it's true of Deane Franklin, Ruth's childhood friend and now the town doctor.  Deane has never gotten over Ruth and he stands by her when she returns to Freeport at a great cost to himself.  

So many passages I wanted to quote from Fidelity but I felt I'd be taking them out of context and not giving people the true flavor of this novel.  I'm not usually a fan of midwestern regional fiction which can be quite melancholy but Fidelity is an exception.  It's a novel filled with interesting well drawn characters and important things to say about small town America and the people who lived there during the early 20th century.  I will certainly be reading more by Susan Glaspell.

Fidelity fulfills my 2020 Back to the Classics category - choose a classic by a woman author.