Thursday, June 19, 2008

Small Towns

Between ridiculous household things, I am reading Susan Glaspell, a grey-covered Persephone of an American novel, FIDELITY, published originally in 1915. At first I honestly didn’t admire it--the writing seemed too plain and adjectives might be repeated three times in a paragraph--but now I am a fan of Glaspell's discreet story.

Glaspell understands small towns:

“Things are pretty mixed up in this world....Oh, yes, in these small towns everybody’s somehow mixed up with everybody else,” (Cora) laughed. “And of course,” she went on more gravely, “it is hard to answer the people who seem so hard on Ruth. It isn’t just one’s self, or even just one’s family--though it broke them pretty completely, you know, but a thing like that reaches out into so many places--hurts so many lives.....Society as a whole is greater than the individual, isn’t it?”

Cora understands Ruth and pities her flaunted sexuality (condemned by all the matrons, the more so because they didn't notice at the time). But Amy, the newcomer and the bride of a doctor (one of the few townspeople who still cares for Ruth), wants desperately to sever her husband’s ties with Ruth, and is thrilled to think "society as a whole demanded that hardness.”

Glaspell was writing more or less about her birthplace, Davenport--the town of "Freeport" is said to have 40.000 people and lies on the Mississippi--but it is just small enough for the “society people", to know each other. There is no privacy, and in a way this is a book about a town stripped of privacy.This novel is a woman’s view of MAIN STREET.

I have noticed something very odd: Both FIDELITY and Willa Cather’s A LOST LADY send their fallen women to Denver. Is Denver popular for midwesterners? I also wondered if Ruth was a reference to Mrs. Gaskell’s RUTH (Glaspell/Gaskell). It does seem likely Glaspell would have known Gaskell’s work.

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