Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times


"Venturesome feminist," historian Nancy Cott's term, perfectly describes Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), America's first important modern female playwright, winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and one of the most respected novelists and short story writers of her time. In her life she explored uncharted regions and in her writing she created intrepid female characters who did the same. Born in Davenport, Iowa, just as America entered its second century, Glaspell took her cue from her pioneering grandparents as she sought to rekindle their
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"Venturesome feminist," historian Nancy Cott's term, perfectly describes Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), America's first important modern female playwright, winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and one of the most respected novelists and short story writers of her time. In her life she explored uncharted regions and in her writing she created intrepid female characters who did the same. Born in Davenport, Iowa, just as America entered its second century, Glaspell took her cue from her pioneering grandparents as she sought to rekindle their spirit of adventure and purpose. A journalists by age eighteen, she worked her way through college as a reporter. In 1913 she and her husband, fellow Davenport iconoclast George Cram "Jig" Cook, joined the migration of writers from the Midwest to Greenwich Village and were at the center of the first American avant-garde. Glaspell was a charter member of its important institutions-the Provincetown Players, the Liberal Club, Heterodoxy-and a close friend of John Reed, Mary Heaton Vorse, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, and Eugene O'Neill. Her plays launched an indigenous American drama and addressed pressing topics such as women's suffrage, birth control, female sexuality, marriage equality, socialism, and pacifism.

Although frail and ethereal, Glaspell was a determined rebel throughout her life, willing to speak out for those causes in which she believed and willing to risk societal approbation when she found love. At the age of thirty-five, she scandalized staid Davenport when she began an affair with then-married Jig Cook. After his death in Delphi, where they lived for two years, she began an eight-year relationship with a man seventeen years her junior. Youthful in appearance, she remained youthful in her approach to life. "Out there-lies all that's not been touched-lies life that waits," Claire Archer says in The Verge, Glaspell's most experimental play. The biography of Susan Glaspell is the exciting story of her personal exploration of the same terrain.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
American playwright and novelist Susan Glaspell won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize in drama yet remains largely unknown outside of drama and/or feminist circles. By placing Glaspell into a historical and literary context, Ben-Zvi (English, emerita, Colorado State Univ.) hopes to bring Glaspell's work to a broader contemporary audience. Born in Davenport, IA, in 1876, Glaspell was fiercely independent and adventurous. By 18, she had worked her way through college as a reporter. After she and her husband moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, to pursue their literary and artistic dreams in 1913, they shot to the center of what became known as the American avant-garde. Their circle included Edmund Wilson, John Reed, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, and Eugene O'Neill. Glaspell's plays reflected her sympathies toward topics not always considered suitable for American audiences-women's right to vote, birth control, female sexuality, equality in marriage, socialism, and pacifism. Sadly, unconvinced of her own importance in the world of letters, she didn't date her correspondences or diary entries, believing that they would be of no value outside her family circle. In an ideal world, this important scholarly biography would inspire a second look at Glaspell's oeuvre. Most likely, however, it will probably find an audience only in academic and public libraries with large collections in women's studies, theater, and American literature.-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Linda Ben-Zvi's exhaustively researched and impressively detailed biography rescues Glaspell from her usual role as stage manager. This is a richly textured look at a writer who deserves--and will now surely receive--more attention."--Lisa MacFarlane, American Literature

"An important scholarly biography."--Library Journal

"Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times provides a thoroughly researched, richly detailed, and eminently readable analysis of Glaspell's professional rise from 'society girl' reporting in her native Iowa to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of international fame.... This critical biography, which complements and expands without duplicating existing scholarship, is the product of nearly twenty years of meticulous investigation.... In addition to scrupulous literary detection and astute critical insight, readers will appreciate Ben-Zvi's lucid, engaging, jargon-free prose. Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times is highly recommended for anyone interested in Glaspell, women's biography, American theatre and drama, or the fascinating era in which Glaspell lived and worked."--Theatre Journal

"Ben-Zvi animates her scholarly sources to create a fully rounded narrative, carefully reconstructing the life and times of a complex woman who often guarded her privacy.... If ever a thick, scholarly book could be recommended as a Provincetown summer read, a book you can even take to the beach, this one is it."--Provincetown Banner

"Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times both complements the burgeoning field of Glaspell studies and provides nuanced and fresh readings of Glaspell's oeuvre.... Ben-Zvi provides new and distinct perspectives on the individuals and events connected with the legendary company (Provincetown Players).... Ben-Zvi's deep engagement with Glaspell's texts, career, friendships, loves, and beliefs complements her portrait of a woman experiencing some of the most eventful periods of recent U.S. history."

"Once ranked with Shaw and O'Neill, winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize, the prolific and pioneering American playwright and novelist Susan Glaspell has disappeared from standard literary history. Linda Ben-Zvi's fascinating critical biography of Glaspell restores an important American writer to twentieth-century cultural history. Move over, Millay!"--Elaine Showalter, Princeton University

"If Susan Glaspell has said it for women, Linda Ben-Zvi has said it for Glaspell. What she has said, through a virtual travelogue of fastidious research, impelled by the persistence of unaccountable neglect, is a kind of poetic justice."--Herbert Blau, University of Washington

"A much welcome and most necessary biography. We don't know nearly enough about the pioneering writer Susan Glaspell; her story seems to have been passed over. Linda Ben Zvi's engaging and informative work restores this fine writer to her rightful place at the center of the American stage and makes us Glaspell's eager and avid audience."--Suzan-Lori Parks, Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195313239
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/12/2007
  • Pages: 492
  • Sales rank: 1,423,755
  • Product dimensions: 0.10 (w) x 0.10 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Ben-Zvi is Professor of Theatre Studies at Tel Aviv University and Professor Emerita of English and Theatre at Colorado State University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
"Murder, She Wrote": The Genesis of Susan Glaspell's Trifles 19
Small Things Reconsidered: "A Jury of Her Peers" 49
Murder and Marriage: Another Look at Trifles 71
"The Haunting Beauty from the Life We've Left": A Contextual Reading of Trifles and The Verge 85
Suppression and Society in Susan Glaspell's Theater 105
Reflections on The Verge 123
The Verge: L'Ecriture Feminine at the Provincetown 129
Beyond The Verge: Absent Heroines in the Plays of Susan Glaspell 145
Bernice's Strange Deceit: The Avenging Angel in the House 155
Chains of Dew and the Drama of Birth Control 165
Glaspell and Dickinson: Surveying the Premises of Alison's House 195
Conflict of Interest: The Ideology of Authorship in Alison's House 219
Susan Glaspell: Mapping the Domains of Critical Revision 239
Susan's Sisters: The "Other" Women Writers of the Provincetown Players 259
Lifting the Masks of Male-Female Discourse: The Rhetorical Strategies of Susan Glaspell 303
Forging a Woman's Identity in Susan Glaspell's Fiction 317
Susan Glaspell Chronology 331
Susan Glaspell Bibliography 337
Contributors 345
Index 349
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