Susan Glaspell’s novel Brook Evans shares some themes with her more famous Fidelity, but she makes an interesting inversion in the plot. Still, the ultimate message is the same as in her earlier novel.
Brook Evans’s story begins with that of her mother, Naomi Kellogg, in 1888. Naomi has been secretly seeing Joe Copeland since his mother objected to their keeping company. They plan to be married in the fall, after the harvest.
But Joe is killed in a farming accident. Seeing no alternative but disgrace, as she is pregnant, Naomi reluctantly marries her other suitor, Caleb Evans, and leaves her beloved Illinois home for Colorado.
Nineteen years later, Brook Evans wants to go to a dance with Tony Ross. Not only does her father, Caleb, not believe in dancing, being religiously strict, but Tony is a Catholic and part Native American. Naomi sees Brook’s relationship with Tony as an echo of hers with Joe, and she is determined not to sacrifice her daughter’s life to worries about what others may think. Unfortunately, the disagreement with Caleb brings out the truth of Brook’s parentage, with unforeseen results.
In Fidelity, the heroine’s decision to grasp life by running away with her married lover blights her life. In Brook Evans it is the instinct to conform with societal norms that is blighting. Still, the ultimate message of both books is to follow your heart. Although I wasn’t so fond of Brook’s ultimate choice (or the perceived alternative) I found this novel thoughtful and so touching that at times I was in tears. Glaspell’s characters show several sides throughout the novel, so that at times you change your mind about them. This novel is another thought-provoking read from Glaspell.
Someone at a Distance
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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.
A View of the Harbour
Someone at a Distance