Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work

Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work

Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work

Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work


Tracing the evolution of Susan Glaspell's writing, Veronica Makowsky provides fascinating glimpses of the life of a woman who broke the barriers against female journalists, advocated socialism, struggled with the precepts of Greenwich Village free love, was one of the founders of the Provincetown Players, participated in the sessions of the feminist Heterodoxy Club, placed women's concerns on the stage as a playwright and actress, and wrote about a turbulent century of American women with courage, optimism, sensitivity, and love. This is the first full-length book about Glaspell's works, including the fiction and lifewriting that bracketed her relatively brief career as the playwright best-known for the one-act drama Trifles. Also the author of many other plays, including the Pulitzer prize-winning Alison's House, a number of collected and uncollected short stories, nine novels, and a biography of her husband the iconoclastic George Cram Cook, Glaspell was an artist of formidable, but ill-acknowledged talent. Makowsky places Glaspell's work in its biographical and cultural context, with particular attention to Glaspell's depiction of women's roles over a century of American history. In addition, she examines closely Glaspell's use of the maternal metaphor and her depiction of women in the role of mothers. This absorbing and revelatory study rescues one of America's literary "foremothers" from relative obscurity, challenging canonical ideas about the circumstances that lead to literary "greatness."


"Who was Susan Glaspell? Why are you working on her?" I am often asked. What my interlocutors really want to know is "If Susan Glaspell is so important, why haven't we heard of her? Why isn't she part of the literary canon?" These questions are valid and important; the answers tell us much about ourselves as critics and readers as well as much about Susan Glaspell. The answers are also complex; I cannot say that if one factor were different, Glaspell would be considered a major writer today. As Jane Tompkins has reminded us, "The reputation of a classic author arises not from the 'intrinsic merit' of his or her work, but rather from the complex of circumstances that make texts visible initially and then maintain them in their preeminent position. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: Glaspell's reputation was thwarted by a plethora of cultural and personal obstacles, the veritable hydra heads of literary obscurity.

Ezra Pound's poetic persona Hugh Selwyn Mauberley was troubled by what "the age demanded" of the artist. Mauberley, an aesthete, indicts the modern era:

The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries Of the inward gaze; Better mendacities Than the classics in paraphrase!

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