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Brook Evans

by Susan Glaspell
Persephone book no:

25 26 27


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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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WITH A PUBLISHER'S NOTE
320pp
ISBN 9781903155165 


First published in 1928, Brook Evans is an unusually gripping novel by an American, Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer that spans three generations, describes several love affairs and has three central narrators, and yet is carefully controlled in its exploration of the impact of two lovers' brief happiness on those who come after them.

It opens with nineteen-year-old Naomi's lover being killed and her parents forcing her to marry Caleb and go out with him to the Mid-West. When she gives birth to Brook (named thus because she is conceived beside a brook), she tries to ensure that her daughter should have the freedom to be herself, to love whom she wants, that had been denied to her. But Brook, in her turn, rebels against her mother (a common theme in literature) by leaving for Europe with a missionary.

The final few chapters of the book are set in France in the 1920s, where the widowed, urbane Brook falls in love with a man who has many of the same qualities as Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover, which DH Lawrence wrote the same year as Susan Glaspell wrote Brook Evans. It was this sexual aspect of the book to which the TLS reviewer was referring when they wrote about its author having 'a deep but primitive sensibility, a capacity for groping about int he emotions of her characters till she arrives at a truth and a prevalent tone of pity for the pain that human beings inevitably inflict upon one another.' 

No wonder the makers of the 1931 film of Brook Evans gave it the title "The Right to Love". Like DH Lawrence, Susan Glaspell believed that society should respect the effects of passion instead of valuing it far less than the forces of respectability and economic security. Her novel Fidelity also takes this as its theme.

Glaspell won a Pulitzer Prize for her play Alison's House in 1931 and in her day was as well known as Eugene O'Neill. Brook Evans was the very first book to be published with the famous yellow cover of the Gollancz list. Victor Gollancz was a great supporter of women writers and wrote to Glaspell begging her to allow him to include it: "I hope to have some very good things and some very distinctive names in my first list, but you will know that I am saying nothing but the bare truth when I tell you that I would sooner have Brook Evans than any other of the publications which I have in mind."

One of our readers wrote: 'What an amazing book, brilliantly formed, incredibly moving and beautifully written. I think my favourite so far, I couldn't sleep or read anything else after I had finished it, just lay there feeling a bit stunned.'

Endpaper

The endpaper is a block-printed linen designed by a French architect in New York in 1928. The book, like the fabric, combines the traditional and the abstract and is set in both America and France.

Picture Caption

American Gothic, Grant Wood (1930) © Art Institute of Chicago


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