Fidelity, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


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Fidelity is set in Freeport, a small Midwestern town that, ironically, is neither a “port” nor “free.” Ruth Holland shocks the town by running away with a married man. Eleven years later, as her father is dying, she comes back to Freeport, and faces the censure of the townspeople.The novel, published in 1915, is the story of what happens when a young woman chooses her own happiness over that of other people. The novel asks, which is more important, “society?” Or the need for an individual to be “free?” It’s not until after Ruth returns to Freeport that she realizes the effect her actions have had upon the rest of the town—and that she starts to feel remorse for how much she has hurt them. Unusually, this is a novel about marital infidelity that is told from the point of view of “the other woman.”One of the main themes of the novel is love—not necessarily romantic love, but love for family and friends. It’s remarkable how many friends Ruth still has in Freeport, despite all she has done. Most remarkable of all is Deane Franklin, Ruth’s old friend, who seems to be the only one in the town who can view her situation objectively. The title refers not to marital fidelity, or the lack of it, but a fidelity to a certain set of principles. And, ultimately, this book is about Ruth’s search for identity in a society in which her life would have been circumscribed had she not made the decisions she made.

Review by

Susan Glaspell is no longer a well-known author, although it's difficult to understand why. The majority of her work is out of print and we have Persephone Books to thank for the re-publication of her novels Fidelity and Brook Evans. Glaspell was born in Iowa in 1876 and as a playwright she was considered the equal of Eugene O'Neill. Since her death in 1948, her popularity has waned. The Persephone publication will, hopefully, introduce her to a new audience.'Fidelity' is the story of Ruth Holland. At the start of the novel we learn that she left Freeport 11 years ago with her lover, Stuart Williams, a married man. Deane Franklin, now a doctor, has kept in touch with Ruth over the years. In love with her himself until he met Amy, whom he has recently married, he remains completely loyal to Ruth. He is hugely disappointed when he learns that Amy disapproves of her husband's friendship with Ruth, unable to understand how he could like 'a person who would do that'. She is quickly taken up by the women of the town, including the wife of Stuart Williams. Deane and one of Ruth's brothers agree that Ruth should be told to return home, because her father is dying. Ruth's return gives Glaspell good opportunity to demonstrate small-town attitudes towards a woman who has transgressed the unwritten rules. Most people refuse to have anything to do with her. Her former best friend and one or two others would happily see Ruth but feel unable to do so, because of 'society' and how 'society' would judge them for befriending Ruth. Instead, Ruth spends time with a girl she knew at school. This girl, Annie, wasn't a close friend - her background is poorer, she is from a lower social class. But unlike the society matrons she accepts Ruth for what she is. The implication is that Annie, a big reader with a rich inner life, sees beyond the values of shallow 'society', which are constricting: "It seemed it was the things not real that were holding people apart. It was the artificialities people had let living build up around them made those people hard."What I particularly like about this novel is that Glaspell shows that the situation isn't a simple one. Although we may feel her sympathies are with Ruth, other viewpoints are given sympathetically, including Stuart's wife, and there is no 'hero/ine' or 'bad guy', just a lot of people with conflicting and confused emotions. At times, we may feel that Glaspell is saying that, essentially, 'love conquers all'. But of course it's never that simple. "Love can't do it all, Ruth - not for long; I mean love that hasn't roots down in the spirit can't."The ending of the story is surprising, but fitting. Life isn't a fairytale, few things ever work out quite as smoothly as they ought, and people do get hurt. But everyone grows emotionally throughout the course of the novel. Whether or not we like Ruth, her fidelity to life is never in question. And that, really, is what Glaspell thinks should matter - that we really live our lives, with conviction and courage. [July 2006]

Review by

This novel, written in 1915, must have caused a sensation when it was published. Glaspell tells the story of Ruth Holland, a young woman who,eleven years earlier, eloped with her married lover and now has returned to her hometown to be with her dying father. Told from various points of view, the novel examines how Ruth's action impacted her family, the town society, and herself. Her family, once so content in their social position, has declined; the women of the town who were Ruth's friends now consider her an evil homewrecker; Ruth herself hardly seems to have lead the pleasurable and sinful life of a femme fatale.Ruth's lover Stuart Williams is so insignificent as a character that he disappears for about 3/4's of the book. In just a few pages the reader learns that Stuart was in a loveless, sexless marriage and he fell in love with the much younger vibrant Ruth. They met in secret for a year, stealing their pleasure when they could. Glaspell leaves no doubt that this is a sexual relationshiop, even broadly hinting that Ruth had to get an abortion from her friend who was the town doctor. When Stuart develops tuberculosis and has to go away for his health, Ruth leaves with him and, therefore, commits the unpardonable sin of stealing another woman's husband.Glaspell peels away the surface story to examine Freeport's reaction to Ruth. Did the town really turn against Ruth because she suddenly changed from an innocent to a whore? Glaspell suggests otherwise. Ruth's major sin, even more than her sexual transgression, was her apparent disregard for social mores of Freeport. The middle-class women of the town had only one position.....that of wife and later mother. Their entire lives revolved around creating the home. That's what they did. They supervised the servants; planned social events; dictated fashion; did good works. Ruth was a threat to their very existence by her behavior. If they acknowledged her, even a nodding acceptance for her grief at her father's death, they would seem to accept her behavior, And that could not be allowed to happen. The sanctity of the home must be protected at all costs. The home was all these women had and if someone broke up the home, she was evil.Glaspell does not excuse Ruth's actions. Her heroine has a miserable eleven years, even if the first years away from Freeport were filled with romantic love. Ruth is an outcast and cannot escape her reputation even on an isolated farm in Colorado. But she is no worse off than her former friends who adhere to social rules at the expense of character development and individual freedom. In the end, it is Ruth who faces an unknown future with brave anticipation, while her friends stagnant in Freeport.This is a bold novel for its time and should have a respected place in the genre of regional fiction.

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