Saturday, March 03, 2012

     Who’s your favorite author?  What book is your favorite?  And so on.  It’s difficult if not impossible to give justice by choosing to answer these questions.  This past two weeks reading works in module four of so many erudite poets and playwrights was fulfilling.  For the moment though, I want to single out one of those authors for comment.

     Susan Glaspell’s (Pgs 916-917) one act play “Trifles” grabbed my attention from the opening scene (917) to Mrs. Hale’s, “we call it ___ knot it, Mr. Henderson. (927) at the end, and left me wanting more.  In fact, so much so that I went looking for as much info as I could find about her and her work.

     (Isn’t it curious how researching a subject you like makes the hours seem like minutes and leaves you feeling rewarded rather than researching a subject, Marianne Moore for instance, for an hour or so leaves you wondering; why did I waste my time.)

     In the brief biographical sketch of Glaspell (Pgs 916, 917) we learn that her play “Trifles” was” based on an actual murder that she remembered from her days as a reporter in Iowa.”

     (Was it just a coincidence that we learn of the 1916 play on page 916?  Probably.

     Wanting to expand upon that nugget of information, a Google search leads me to this site,, where I read Glaspell’s reportage of the murder of John Hossack on December 1st, 1900.  Glaspell, at the beginning of the trial, is very “Joe Friday” like in her reportage:  “all we want are the facts ma’am.”[1]  But by the end of the trial sympathy for the accused, the victim’s wife is hard to miss.  Also, reading the actual account gives a level of credence to Glaspell’s fictional play that was missing on my first reading of the play.

Another tidbit that I was reminded of in my research is the fact that at the time of writing of the play or even the murder for which it is based on, women couldn’t vote, nor serve on juries.  The 1920 right to vote is listed in the Timeline on pg. 825.  Not until 1975 were women allowed to serve on juries.  The Supreme Court case in 1975 was probably the reason why the feminist movement of the time rediscovered Susan Glaspell.  A short story of Glaspell, “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917) was really pretty much a verbatim prose version of “Trifles.”  Both became prominent in the start-up of women’s studies in universities around that same period of time.  It’s interesting to note at this point that in 1980 the story was made into a movie and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dramatic Live Action short.

     For an author and playwright of high acclaim, such as Glaspell, I am surprised to find the bulk of her work out-of-print.  This from a person who’s three act play, “Alison’s House” (1930) (pg917) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1931.  Although there is some blight on that award that warrants further investigation.

     Her “The Glory of the Conquered” (1909) (pg 916) became a national best seller, drawing rave reviews in the New York Times.

     In the end Susan Glaspell’s engaging style of storytelling/playwrighting has left me craving more, and will send me to the local library to find her works if Amazon fails me.

One piece of irony to mention in light of Glaspell’s personal feminist leanings and her impact on the twentieth century’s feminist movement is the fact that she carried on an affair with her husband while he was still married to his second wife and stayed with him despite his numerous illicit affairs after their marriage.[2]

And it is interesting to note that the character Minnie Wright in “Trifles” is probably a characterization of Susan Glaspell herself.


References: The American Tradition in Literature. Twelfth Edition.  George Perkins / Barbara Perkins.  Volume 2 © 2009 McGraw-Hill, Inc.


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