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Brook Evans (1928)

por Susan Glaspell

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854316,686 (3.55)20
A novel written in the same year as Lady Chatterley's Lover about the effect of a love affair on three generations.
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'Arranging all the rest of your life! Why did it sound like laying out a corpse for a funeral?'
By sally tarbox on 8 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback
Beginning in 1880s America, this tells the story of teenage Naomi, sneaking out for secret assignations with her true love by the brook. She falls pregnant, and unable to marry her beloved Joe, her family effectively marry her off to Caleb Evans, a virtuous man, willing to take on the child.
The story then leaps on twenty years, to the Evans family with 'daughter' Brook (named for the place of her mother's trysts) and falling in love herself...
The difficult relationship between Brook and her mother were quite well drawn, but I felt the book was let down by the last part which sees Brook a middle aged woman in Europe. While there was, I suppose, a satisfactory culmination to the whole story of sacrificing yourself for the sake of others' expectations, I couldn't see why Brook didn't accompany her son and defer her plans for a month or two; there seemed no reason for it. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
Way back in the mists of time, soon after I first discovered the wonders of Persephone books I read Fidelity by Susan Glaspell. So now sixty odd Persephone books later and I find I don’t remember Fidelity as clearly as some others I have read, although I know I enjoyed it. In February, I was bowled over by a Susan Glaspell short story From A-Z, in The Persephone book of short stories, it made me immediately want to read Brook Evans.
“She lay flat, eyes closed, Joe sitting beside her, but not touching her now, as if each would feel alone what it was they had together. She smelled her father’s hay from the field across the brook; her hand was on moss deeper and smoother than velvet; the trees were a large fresh sound, like something going over the world; the brook was tender and clear. She opened her eyes and looked up at the stars.”
Brook Evans tells a searing story of love in its many incarnations. In Illinois in 1888 Naomi Kellogg a nineteen year old farmer’s daughter is captivated by the country surrounding her home, especially the brook that divides her father’s land from that of their neighbours the Coplands. Naomi is in love with Joe Copland, and forced to meet in secret they meet on the banks of the brook, their relationship quickly becomes sexual but the two have plans to marry after the harvest. However Joe is killed in an accident and Naomi discovers she is pregnant with his child. Naomi is pleased her love will live on in Joe’s child, but Joe’s mother is not at all pleased, and neither is Naomi’s horrified family. Naomi had been previously proposed to by Caleb Evans, an older highly respected man with deeply held religious convictions. Aware of Naomi’s condition Caleb offers to marry her anyway and to take her to Colorado with him to start a new life. So broken hearted, and rejected by her family, Naomi marries a man she knows she cannot love and leaves a place she loves for one she never will. Her heart remains true to Joe, although all she has to remember him by is her lovely daughter named for the Brook by which she was conceived, and one small fading photograph.
The narrative then moves forward in time, 1907 and Brook Evans nearing eighteen is naturally unaware of how she came into the world. Her mother is faded and bent by the years with a man she cannot love, and the tragic loss of a younger child, her father a strict religious fundamentalist who views sex and dancing as a sin. Naomi is devoted to Brook, and lives only for her, saving the best bits of food for her, wanting her daughter to experience the passion and exhilaration that she herself knew for such a short time. Her desperation to give to Brook the kind of life she didn’t have leads to her making some odd decisions and puts a severe strain upon her relationship with her beloved daughter. Brook is repelled by her mother’s hatred of Caleb, and Naomi is unprepared for her daughter’s defiance. Brook turns more toward her father, and the women missionaries of their church who are always looking for someone willing to take up the missionary mantle. When Brook finally turns away from her mother, the reader knows it will break Naomi’s heart.
In the final section of the novel, time has moved on again and so has Brook. It is the late 1920’s and Brook is no longer an angry young missionary, she is a thirty-eight year old widow living in Paris with her seventeen year old son. As a mother, it is only now she can begin to understand some of what her mother meant. Her mother is now dead, it is too late to repair the ruptures and misunderstanding of the past and Brook is beset with memories and regrets. As Brook contemplates a second marriage with a friend of her husband’s, and plans a trip back to Illinois to see a dying Caleb (living with Naomi’s family in her old family home) for one last time, she meets a man who turns everything on its head for her. Brook now must make a choice, love or duty, a good honourable man or an unconventional adventurer who makes her want to act against own good sense. Brook only now understands what is was that her mother understood about love, and how a life lived without it, for them at least, was only half a life.
“Just what did her mother mean – those things she said about love? Was there something she – Brook – did not know? Was she incapable of knowing? There had been nothing in her own life that would have gone on living through twenty barren years. Mother had known only a few months of love – then loss, shame, and - oh, loneliness – long, relentless. But there was a light that never went out. It burned in tragic beauty until – until I put out all of her spirit, thought Brook. But she – Brook – was the child of that love”
In this beautifully written, almost unbearably poignant novel, Susan Glaspell explores the different kinds of love that exist in a family. There is a rawness of emotion throughout this novel, as these characters love and lose over and over again, the decisions of one generation felt by the next. Themes of parenthood and sacrifice sit alongside the painful stories of love in Brook Evans and make for a compelling and beautiful novel. I am slightly confused by the number of lukewarm reviews for this novel on Goodreads and Librarything because I loved this book – I can only assume the sadness was too much for some – it is sad but maybe I like sadness more than I realise. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jun 19, 2014 |
This is two-thirds of a good novel. Glaspell relates the story of Naomi Kellogg and her daughter Brook Evans from 1888 to the Roaring Twenties. The first part, set in the lush fields of northern Illinois, recounts the love affair between 18-year-old Naomi and Joe Copeland, the only son of a well-off widow. The two young people are deeply in love and feel no guilt when they develop a sexual relationaship. Both know that they are meant to be together and it is no one's business but their own if they anticipate their vows .Tragedy strikes when Joe is killed in a combine accident and Naomi discovers she is pregnant. She is happy because a part of Joe will live in their child. But this is 1888 and Naomi's situation is not to be tolerated. Joe's mother, instead of welcoming a grandchild even an illegitimate one, calls Naomi a whore who is trying to sully the memory of her son. Naomi's parents are overwhelmed by the coming disgrace and insist that Naomi marry Caleb Evans, an unsuccessful farmer and lay preacher who has courted Naomi since her fifteenth birthday. He is relocating to Colorado and Naomi's disgrace will be hidden by distance. With no education, skills, or money and not allowed to remain with her family, Naomi has no choice but to agree.

Caleb is a "good man." He works hard to provide for his wife and the daughter he accepts as his own, but he is a cold man who views the sexual act as the means to relieve the sexual tension which he regards as a sin. His social life, and therefore the life of his family, revolves around a fundamentalist church which interprets the Bible literally and is obsessed with converting heathens in Africa. Naomi is a proper wife to Caleb, although she never feels any love for him and dreads his heavy footsteps to her bed. Only the fading photograph of Joe and her daughter give her any solace or joy and when Brook (boldly named for the little stream where she and Joe made love) becomes a young woman, Naomi urges her to listen to her heart where relationships are concerned. When Brook is attracted to a laughing young man, Naomi actually helps him to woo her daughter.

Brook, torn between her passion and her fundamentalist belief, is devastated when Naomi reveals the truth of her birth. She rejects her mother and the young man who would whisk her away to a new life in California, instead embracing her step-father who raised and loved her. She decides to devote her life to missionary work "somewhere far east of Constantinople." In a letter to her father, she states she was betrayed by "someone close." She never sees Naomi again.

The book to this point is really a very good, if a bit overly dramatic, portrayal of the plight of a woman who, without the means to support herself, is forced into a soul-destroying relationship. Naomi clung to the belief that nothing was wrong with the passion she and Joe shared . But this book was written in 1928 and society certainly did care if a farm girl from a decent family was pregnant by a dead lover. She had to be punished and any husband was better than shaming the community with a bastard. Naomi was turned into an empty shell whose only wish was that her daughter would find real love and not be forced to live the life of her mother. Brook's rejection of her mother 's beliefs in favor of the narrow views of her father is the tragedy and, had the book ended here, it would have been a satisfying regional novel about passion versus duty.

Bur Glaspell does not end the book here. She adds a fourth section. Brook is no longer a missionary "somewhere far east of Constantinople." In fact, she is a wealthy young widow, with a seventeen year old son, living in Paris and smoking and drinking martinis.What happened??? Glaspell, in a few short flashback sentences has Brook meet a dashing soldier, the younger son of English aristocracy; they marry, have a child, and the husband is conveniently killed in WWI. Brook alternates between Paris and the English estates while her boy goes to the best schools. So much for missionary zeal! Since Brook is still a young widow, she can't have ministered more than a few months before she married.

There is a real disconnect with the rest of the novel and I found it disconcerting to read about Paris fashions, cocktail hours, and modern music after the starkness of the first three sections. Brook's big decision is whether to remarry a solid and very wealthy aristocrat friend of her late husband's or a passionate and penniless adventurer who wants to take her on a trek through the Himalayas. Will she follow her heart and finally become the true heir of her mother or listen to her son who represents the conservative upper-crust of England? At this point I could care less.

There is a curious final chapter when her son visits his dying grandfather (the reason he goes instead of Brook is too silly to contemplate). Here the aristocratic young man is exposed to his unsophisticated farmer relatives and a bitter old man. Very briefly, Glaspell regained my interest when the reader realizes that Naomi's sacrifice did not matter one little bit to her remaining family who don't even remember the story of Naomi and Joe. ( )
  Liz1564 | Mar 19, 2011 |
I read "Fidelity" before "Brook Evans", and in both books it seems that the author was eager to bring down social customs of her time. This one I have a little more sympathy with, since the heroine of the first part of the novel suffered because of her innocence and was punished by those who had failed to teach her properly to begin with. Unfortunately, instead of making the best of her situation, she takes out her resentment on her daughter, and cannot understand the differences between the two of them. However, her daughter learns from her mother's mistakes and turns out to be a decent person in the end, so hurray for happy endings.
  kdcdavis | Feb 27, 2011 |
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A novel written in the same year as Lady Chatterley's Lover about the effect of a love affair on three generations.

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