Best Book of the Week!
Fidelity begins in 1913 with the return of Ruth Holland to her home town in Iowa after an absence of ten years. As a naive young woman from a privileged background, Ruth fell in love with a married man. When he was diagnosed with tuberculosis a few years later, Ruth left town to join him in Arizona.
Ruth’s good friend, Dr. Deane Franklin, would like to see Ruth’s old friends welcome her back as she returns to her father’s deathbed. He knows that Ruth’s life has been difficult, both emotionally and economically, and would like people to show some sympathy. He wants to introduce Ruth to his new wife Amy. But Amy thinks this suggestion is shocking and can’t imagine why Deane would want her to know this scandalous woman.
Eventually, the novel returns in time to show how the affair started and progressed. It is not until Ruth returns that she learns how difficult things also were for her family after she left.
The plot of Fidelity, which was written in 1915, closely mirrors a situation in Glaspell’s own life, in which she ran off with a married man and later married him. She wrote the novel to answer the question “Was it worth it?”
During Ruth’s visit back home, she meets a woman who teaches her to recognize another type of fidelity—to herself. Although we don’t know where this fidelity will take her, we know that she will keep to it.
Of course, the novel is also meant as a condemnation of the small minds in Ruth’s home town. Even though they have known her from a child, most of her former friends misinterpret her actions in terms of her new reputation. Only her youngest brother Ted and a few friends see her for the person she has always been.
I found this novel completely fascinating from beginning to end, even though I’m not sure I would answer the question the same way Ruth did. The novel is particularly insightful about its characters, making readers understand and sympathize with even some of its unlikable ones.