Saturday, June 21, 2008

25 Minutes of Reading

If you had only 25 minutes to read, what would you read? Novels, poetry, biographies? I had exactly 25 minutes, and I was able to read FIDELITY at a picnic table, which I think is a good thing after the post-flood mosquito swarms. The mosquito trucks roar down the road late at night, and now the front yards are chemically equipped to demolish bug squads. Well, the mosquitos are still flying around my back yard...There probably weren't any in the front yard anyway.

FIDELITY is perfect for the 25-minute read. You can meander around the kitchen, breeze out to the garden, or plop down on the bed for a "nap." You don't lose track of the simple story: the heroine, Ruth Holland, who was cast out of her hometown's society 11 years ago after leaving with her married lover, comes back for her father's funeral. A usual kind of plot, but unusual in Glaspell's telling.

Laura Godwin, who writes the introduction, says: "FIDELITY is as important a novel as any by Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton or Willa Cather; the reason it has been neglected is twofold. Its author may have rejected the conventions of the nineteenth-century 'three-decker', with its melodramatic plots and sentimentality, the conventions that had helped to make her first novel such a success, but FIDELITY is still a novel that tells a story..Alas, it was her rejection of the conventions of women's fiction on the one hand and of modernism on the other that helped to ensure the mixed reception of FIDELITY in America, and indeedd the eventual demise of Susan Glaspell's reptuation in America."

I promise to read something that isn't a novel soon. But I'm absorbed in these "demise/revived" women's novels. There is something very different about Glaspell's portrait of the midwest: the geography of Freeport, her industrial city on the Mississippi (modeled after her hometown, Davenport, Iowa), is somehow different from Gopher Prairie in Sinclair Lewis's MAIN STREET (published five years later in 1920). The middle-class women are not unlike Wharton's conventional New York ladies, though their lively conversation and rigid mores somehow define them as simpler. Glaspell has a real feeling for the Iowa she lived in for 36 years, before she ran off with the socialist writer "Jig" Cook.

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