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Fidelity

by Susan Glaspell
Persephone book no:

3 4 5


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY LAURA GODWIN
384pp
ISBN 9780953478033

 

Fidelity (1915) is a classic that should be put beside books by writers such as Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. Set in Iowa in 1900 and in 1913, this dramatic and deeply moral novel uses complex but subtle use of flashback to describe a girl named Ruth Holland, bored with her life at home, who falls in love with a married man and runs off with him; when she comes back more than a decade later we are shown how her actions have affected those around her.

Ruth had taken another woman's husband and as such 'Freeport' society thinks she is 'a human being who selfishly – basely – took her own happiness, leaving misery for others. She outraged society as completely as a woman could outrage it... One who defies it – deceives it – must be shut out from it.' But, like Emma Bovary, Edna Pontellier in The Awakening and Nora in A Doll's House, Ruth has 'a diffused longing for an enlarged experience... Her energies having been shut off from the way they had wanted to go, she was all the more zestful for new things from life...' It is these themes that are explored in Fidelity

Today Susan Glaspell is mostly only known for her plays (the most famous is 'Trifles'), but in our view ought to be considered one of the most important American novelists of the twentieth century. 

Also available as a (free) e-book

Endpaper

The endpapers show a Log Cabin quilt, now in a museum in England, sewn in the late C19th near Iowa; the red pieces are an echo of the Sangré de Cristo mountains in Colorado, where Ruth is exiled.

Picture Caption

Susan Glaspell in 1913


Read What Readers Say

Antiquarian Book Monthly Review

’Fidelity’ will no doubt be leapt on eagerly by feminist academics and women’s studies enthusiasts. It is an important early feminist text and, unlike so many so-called “early feminist classics”, it is also a very good read… Intelligent and thoughtful, it does not fall into the obvious trap of preaching free love at all costs, nor does it aim to vindicate small-town morality. There are echoes of many earlier texts dealing with women’s role in marriage. Like Madame Bovary, Ruth discovers in adultery all the platitudes of marriage, and ‘Fidelity’‘s deliberately Ibsenite ending shows her finding independence and self-fulfilment outside society’s conventions.

Jessica via Goodreads

This is one of the few books I actually think about from time to time even long after finishing reading it. It's about a young woman in turn of the (previous) century Iowa who embarks on an affair with a married man and the fallout of that decision, but it's not what you might think. Written in 1915, it's an incredibly sensitive and honest portrait of family, community and womanhood that has a very contemporary feel. I'm surprised Susan Glaspell isn't better known as a novelist. Where Edith Wharton has the ability to perfectly capture a character's psychology, Glaspell is able to capture their souls. In my book, ‘Fidelity’ is an American classic.

Ardent Reader (blogger)

The synopsis of ‘Fidelity’ suggests it could be a melodramatic romance novel and, therefore, easily dismissed as quality literature by the standards of today or of 1915. Yet Glaspell’s novel takes the salacious and crafts out a biting criticism of how people scramble for “crumbs off the table of respectability”, how society can be a policing force that people buy into against all logic. I am loath to give away the ending so all I will say is, if a book published today were to take this turn, we would likely label it as a feminist novel. Glaspell’s writing is quite lovely. It is a shame that she isn’t as well known as Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, or other authors from this time but, as the introduction to this novel and the story suggest, some people are forced to carry their transgressions against society as scarlet letters for the rest of time.

Jane via Goodreads

Susan Glaspell tells her story beautifully. The pace is stately; the perspectives shift; and she moves between a traditional third-person narrative and more modern visits to her characters’ thoughts. There was complexity, there there was detail, and yet there was always such clarity of thought and purpose. I found it easy to be drawn into the world she created, and to believe that these people lived and breathed, that the events and incidents I read about really happened. I could see where the author’s sympathies lay, but I appreciated that she had understanding and concern for all of her characters and their different views. I loved the telling of the story, and I loved its emotional depth… This is a story set in a particular time and place, the world has changed a great deal in more than a hundred years since it was written, and yet it still has the power to touch hearts and minds.

Categories: Adultery America Love Story Overseas Sex Single Women

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