Susan Glaspel Fidelity Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge
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Susan Glaspell


UK Paperback

ISBN: 0953478033

Publication Date: 10-21-1924

362 Pages; £10.00

Date Reviewed: 12th October 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



General Fiction


Fidelity is the kind of novel which would have been called progressive once upon a time - and such is the fate of progressive novels that they end up seeming old-fashioned. Certainly the title sounds rather old-fashioned to modern ears, as does much of the content, but it is a valuable novel despite, or perhaps for, that. Set in the ironically named mid-Western town of Freeport, where no one in the town is free from the gossiping of society, this is very much a tale of the ills of society. Bringing home his new wife, Dr Deane Franklin remembers an old friend, Ruth Holland, and her scandalous story. Eleven years before the novel is set, Ruth left Freeport with a married man, and the outrage seems never to have abated. Now, however, her father is dying and she comes home at last to see him one last time. She is given scant welcome, even by her family and once best friend, Edith, now herself a respectable married woman. Only Deane welcomes her, and in the end he pays for his warmth.

The book is about fidelity, of course, but not in a particularly antiquated way. Glaspell is making a point about society, vividly illustrated by the tale of Ruth Holland (whose name is of course shared with that of the faithful Ruth in the Bible). Since the story is superficially about betrayal, or infidelity, as Ruth's lover Stuart had deceived and left his cold and unfeeling wife, the title seems both ironic and unlikely; however, it is with fidelity to oneself and one's ideals no matter what the cost which is concerned here. Ruth and Stuart remained true to their love for one another although it meant leaving behind their homes and families forever; they remained true to each other despite years of pain and hardship; and they - and Ruth in particular - stay faithful in their minds even to those who have rejected them.

Ostensibly this is a book about the harm that a critical and self-interested society can inflict on individuals when it judges too fiercely someone who transgresses their strict moral code. The restrictions of society are fully considered here, and it is certainly an enlightening look at the enclosed nature of a town in the nineteenth century, but this is more about allowing the human soul freedom to think and act in accordance with love, truth and fidelity.

The cost of doing so is made clear: both Ruth and Stuart lost everything they once had, and in remaining stalwart in his defense of Ruth, Deane also loses much. However, Glaspell's point is clear: what they gain is peace of mind, and eventually an unclouded happiness knowing that what they have done is in accordance with their own beliefs. This is a somewhat gloomy novel, but well worth a read - it's refreshment to a cynical mind too used to the modern world.