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Fidelity (1915)

por Susan Glaspell

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19911136,324 (4.06)34
Ruth Holland, bored with her life at home, falls in love with a married man and runs off with him. When she comes back more than a decade later we are shown how her actions have affected those around her.
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Persephone book No. 4 is by an American author, published in the early 1900s. The story centers around a small town in Iowa and a scandalous affair. A young woman named Ruth Holland, beloved by the town, meets and falls in love with a married man a decade older than her, Stuart Williams. When he gets ill, they finally make the move to leave the town together. His wife is unwilling to give him a divorce, so they live together for the next decade unmarried in Colorado. When Ruth's father becomes terminally ill, she returns to Freeport, which brings up the whole drama again.

This book is written in a highly interior manner. The author treats every character with an omniscient point of view and describes and analyzes their feelings and motives. At first I found this a little much, and thought I would prefer to see their actions and have a little more autonomy as a reader to draw my own conclusions. But it started to really work for me about half way through the book as so many characters were explored deeply. Just a short list of the characters that I truly got to know and saw their individual point of view: Ruth Holland; Stuart Williams; Ted Holland, Ruth's younger brother; Harriet Holland, Ruth's older sister; Edith, Ruth's best friend; Deane, Ruth's best male friend and the person the town thought she'd marry; Amy, Deane's wife who can't understand Deane's reaction to Ruth when she returns; Mrs. Williams, Stuart's wife who refuses a divorce.

It was so interesting to really delve in to how all of these people were affected by Ruth and Stuart's decision. And, without giving away the plot, I thought the ending was surprising for the times and perfect. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Feb 28, 2024 |
This is an extremely intense read, focussing completely on the emotions and inner life of its characters.
It's 1915 and Ruth Holland is returning to her childhood home. Some eleven years earlier, she ran off with a married man; since then her friends and relatives have cut her off, but now her father is dying...
Among those in town are her former admirer, now the local doctor. Despite being "thrown over" for the married man, he retains a fondness for her and recognises her sufferings- to the disgust of his supercilious young wife.
And then there are friends...some willing to reach out, some still sternly disapproving...and some of the former held in check by fear of the latter group and the demands of "Society". Not to mention the icy deserted wife.
The title-as becomes clear- pertains not only to one's marital vows but also - as Ruth discovers- the need to be faithful to what life has to offer.; not staying in a rut that no longer satisfies, but breaking free and living. A lesson she takes on board from poor yet free-thinking local girl, Annie (Chapter 23 is quite an inspiring look at how to live.)
VERY well written. ( )
  starbox | May 19, 2021 |
When Ruth Holland does the unthinkable and runs away with a married man, her hometown of Freeport buzzes with angry gossip. The fact that she was helped by her dear friend Deane only makes matters worse. Twelve years later Deane, now a physician, returns to Freeport with his new wife Amy. As Amy begins assimilating into Freeport “society,” she pieces together the details of Ruth’s story. She meets Ruth’s best high school friend and the wife of the married man, and aligns herself with “Team Freeport.” When family matters compel Ruth to return home for a visit, Deane suggests Amy visit her, sure that she will see the good in Ruth. Amy wants none of it. And frankly, no one else in town wants to see Ruth, either.

Ruth’s visit to Freeport is filled with sadness, but also a degree of healing that strengthens her and changes her world view. Her reappearance also has a ripple effect on Ruth’s siblings, on Deane, and even on some townspeople. Susan Glaspell’s depiction of petty small-town society caught up in the moral constraints of the early 20th century is spot on, and her resolution of Ruth’s central conflict is unconventional and brilliant. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Apr 21, 2020 |
I knew little of Susan Glaspell when I put this book on my Classics Club list; just that two of her books had been republished by Persephone and that she was both a novelist and a dramatist.

That was reason enough.

The opening of this book told me that she was mistress of each art.

In Freeport, a small town in Iowa, an old man was gravely ill. He was asking for his daughter and his numbers wondered if she would dare to come home. She had left town in the wake of a terrible scandal. She hadn’t come home when her mother died, and that hardened the widely held opinion that she wasn’t the nice girl had thought she was; that she was a selfish, manipulative woman who shouldn’t be allowed in decent society. But if she was ever to come back surely this was the time.

Amy Frankin, the doctor’s wife, was a newcomer to the town and she had no idea what her new friends were talking about, or what disgraceful thing Ruth Holland had done. She would learn that Ruth had fallen in love with a married man, and that, when his health had broken down and his doctor suggest a change of climate, they had left town and set up home together in Colorado.

Ruth Holland was coming home, and she was well aware that it wouldn’t be easy.

“It was over the pain and the sweetness of life that this woman—Ruth Holland—brooded during the two days that carried her back to the home of her girlhood. She seemed to be going back over a long bridge. That part of her life had been cut away from her. With most lives the past grew into the future; it was as a growth that spread, the present but the extent of the growth at the moment. With her there had been the sharp cut; not a cut, but a tear, a tear that left bleeding ends. Back there lay the past, a separated thing. During the eleven years since her life had been torn from that past she had seen it not only as a separate thing but a thing that had no reach into the future. The very number of miles between, the fact that she made no journeys back home, contributed to that sense of the cleavage, the remoteness, the finality. Those she had left back there remained real and warm in her memory, but her part with them was a thing finished. It was as if only shoots of pain could for the minute unite them.”

She wasn’t aware – but she would learn – was that her behaviour had caused terrible problems for her family. That so many things she had said and done would be re-evaluated and misunderstood after her departure. And that friends and neighbours would still say that what she had done was beyond the pale and turn their backs on her.

Deane Franklin, the town doctor, supported her. They had been close friends and he had helped her to when she needed to keep her relationship secret, he had listened when she needed someone to talk to. Amy couldn’t understand why her husband was still drawn to another woman, why his view of what had happened was so different to her friends’ views, or why he would make himself complicit in such a scandalous situation

“I do know a few things. I know that society cannot countenance a woman who did what that woman did. I know that if a woman is going to selfishly take her own happiness with no thought of others she must expect to find herself outside the lives of decent people. Society must protect itself against such persons as she. I know that much—fortunately.”

Susan Glaspell tells her story beautifully. The pace is stately; the perspectives shift; and she moves between a traditional third-person narrative and more modern visits to her characters’ thoughts. There was complexity, there there was detail, and yet there was always such clarity of thought and purpose.

I found it easy to be drawn into the world she created, and to believe that these people lived and breathed, that the events and incidents I read about really happened.

I could see where the suthor’s sympathies lay, but I appreciated that she had understanding and concern for all of her characters and their different views.

I loved the telling of the story, and I loved its emotional depth.

The title of this book was very well chosen. It is underpinned by the question of who or what we owe fidelity. Our spouses? The standards of society? Our families? To the lover with whom we’ve aligned? Or our selves?

There are no easy answers, but the asking of the question allowed Susan Glaspell to make a wonderful exploration of the possibilities and the problems that it presents.

A conversation with an old school-mate – a girl who had came from a much poorer background that Ruth and her friends and had not had an easy life – gives Ruth food for thought and helps her to face the future.

“It’s what we think that counts, Ruth. It’s what we feel. It’s what we are. Oh, I’d like richer living—more beauty—more joy. Well, I haven’t those things. For various reasons, I won’t have them. That makes it the more important to have all I can take!”—it leaped out from the gentler thinking like a sent arrow. “Nobody holds my thoughts. They travel as far as they themselves have power to travel. They bring me whatever they can bring me—and I shut nothing out. I’m not afraid!”

This is a story set in a particular time and place, the world has changed a great deal in more than a hundred years since it was written, and yet it still has the power to touch hearts and minds.

The questions it asks would need to be asked differently today, but they are as important now as they were then. ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | Mar 24, 2017 |
Ruth Holland runs off with another woman's husband and Glaspell asks 'Was it worth it?'. I was prepared to hate Ruth, struggled to hate her, and yet wound up liking her enormously. Other than running off with someone else's husband, which she did while still very young, she was actually awfully nice and, indeed, quite an honorable person.

What interested me most about the book was the author's arguments for and against the adultery and the pain it caused Ruth's extended family. Sure everyone was devastated by it but it was done for LOVE! And yet, what sort of LOVE is claimed at the expense of other people? On the other hand, haven't we all stood up to our families for LOVE and in some cases, rightly so? In the 100 years since the book was written we now cross all sorts of barriers to be with our lovers, be it race, gender or religion, and yet most women still have expectations of monogamy within those relationships. Glaspell who was a Greenwich Village, free love, Bohemian might be disappointed to find that not much has changed since 1915.

On a par with the best of Edith Wharton, in my view, and highly recommended. ( )
3 vote romain | Oct 23, 2011 |
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Ruth Holland, bored with her life at home, falls in love with a married man and runs off with him. When she comes back more than a decade later we are shown how her actions have affected those around her.

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