The dark but seductive tale of five generations of Southern women and the house that was both their greatest inheritance and their most confining prison.
In 1904, Ruth Yancey is only ten years old when she is brought to live at the magnificent mansion called Fox's Earth. But the impoverished daughter of an abusive mill worker has already internalized her mother's steely code: Men may hold all the power, but a woman possesses one thing that can get her anything in the world she wants...if she's prepared to make certain sacrifices. Deserted by her mother in order to give her a better chance at wealth, Ruth's own ambition drives her to possess Fox’s Earth at any cost, even though her sacrifice will ultimately be her own husband, children, and grandchildren.
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Anne Rivers Siddons was born in a small railroad town just south of Atlanta, where her family has lived for six generations. She attended Auburn University and later joined the staff of Atlanta magazine. Her first novel, Heartbreak Hotel, a story of her college days at Auburn, was later made into a movie called Heart of Dixie, starring Ally Sheedy. Since then she has written fifteen more novels, many of which have been bestsellers. Recently, a movie version of her later novel The House Next Door was aired on LifeTime Network. Ms. Siddons now divides her time between Atlanta and Brooklin, Maine.
Hometown:Charleston, South Carolina and a summer home in Maine overlooking Penobscot Bay
Date of Birth:January 9, 1936
Place of Birth:Atlanta, Georgia
Education:B.A., Auburn University, 1958; Atlanta School of Art, 1958
Read an Excerpt
By two P.M. they had walked for half and hour, THE man and his family, and the sweat of that sun-blanched September Saturday in 1903 lay sour in waistbands and collars and dampened pale hair and ran rank down thin necks and backs and legs. Pink dust puffed and flew from beneath the wheels of passing wagons and buggies, coating wet skin miserably and mingling with residual traces of cotton lint and waste to catch in the creases of elbows and neck and in hair. The dust was the effluvia of the great brick mill behind them to the south, where they all worked ... all except the small girl and the woman. It had not rained for nearly six weeks, and the small town lay in a near-coma of drought and unrelenting heat.
In the town, in backyards and browning gardens and over fences, the wives of the small merchants and liverymen and smiths and draymen paused over their black-iron washpots, their chicken coops, and their clotheslines. Steaming in closebuttoned, high-collared shirtwaists and long, swathing skirts, viciously bound in viselike, back-laced corsets, they pushed back straggling hair and mopped red faces and sighed to one another.
"Cruel hot, ain't it?" "Will it ever rain?" "Have you got summer sickness at your house? Two of mine are down with it." "Dear Lord, we need rain."
Downtown, their husbands struggled against the relentless pall of dust that lay over their stores and wagons and wares, and hauled water for their stock, and scanned the whitebronze sky a dozen times a day. The bell on the volunteer fire wagon rang frequently, and old Dr. Hopkins's buggy and young Dr. Hopkins's phaeton were seen often on the choking streets.Voices dropped, faces stilled, heads turned slowly when the bell rang and the buggy rolled. With the murderous heat and drought came the threat of the summer murderers: Fire. Typhoid, in stagnant and diminished wells and rain barrels and reservoirs. Infantile paralysis, from no one knew where.
But outside the town, in the rolling pink and green fields, the farmers sweated and stank and stumbled and drank more often from the water wagon ... and smiled.
"Good for the cotton, though, ain't it?" "Cotton looks real good this year. Real good." "Heard in town that cotton might go as high as twelve this fall, maybe higher."
Cotton! In Sparta, and all over the Deep South in that malignant third September of the new century, cotton was once more the lifeblood of the red land. For the first time since the guns of Sumter, in Charleston, tolled the death knell of the great plantations and the slave nation that supported them, southern agriculture was reversing its sickening downward spiral ... or, at least, the descent was becoming markedly less precipitous. And once again it was cotton that fueled the march back to prosperity and former glory. Not cotton in the role it had played before the war, when black backs broke in endless red fields to send the white tide surging north to mills and manufacturers. But cotton in a new role: grown by small farmers on small, poor farms, hauled in their own homemade, iron-wheeled wagons by lean-honed mules into the nearest town, to be sold on marketing day and fed into the maws of the great, forbidding mills that had sprung up across the southern earth like ravenous mushrooms
After the Civil War there had been only a scant handful of crude mills operating in the South; by 1900, four hundred mills bulked dark against the sky. And across the South, more than a quarter of a million of the white tenant farmers and sharecroppers, reduced by poverty of land, purse, and spirit to subsisting at the level of the blacks they despised and, worse, to working side by side with them, had flown for refuge into the mills. Cotton. What was good for cotton was good for the South, and those who damned the heat and drought of early autumn did so in small voices.
Around Sparta, on this late summer afternoon, the roads into town billowed and thundered with a steady stream of mules and white-laden wagons. Farm families sat decorously in large wagons and a few newer buggies, their cotton on the way to market and their purses filled with coins to buy household supplies and a small luxury or two in the shops of town. Saturday. Cotton-market day.
In all the crowd streaming into Sparta that Saturday, only Negroes walked in the dust of the roadside. Negroes and the family of Cater Yancey. None of the families from the rotting, rectilinear mill village owned buggies or wagons, let alone mules to pull them, but there were no other mill families afoot on the road into town that day. They all did their meager shopping at the company commissary, where thinstrung credit could be spun even tauter against the hopelessly small wages that never were enough. The Yanceys alone walked the streets of Sparta, with Cater at their head, his back straight and rigid in the dusty black clawhammer coat he wore, summer and winter, for Sunday preaching and weddings and funerals and town, his blue eyes far-focused and flat with hating. He did not break the long, rolling stride that he had learned on the blue mountains of North Georgia when he took his first steps. Seventy-two hours a week for twentysix years as a spinner in the roaring, radiant hells of two cotton mills had not crushed the long hill stride from his legs nor dimmed the mad blue of his eyes. The cruel, stem God of his Presbyterian ancestry thundered in his head day and night, and the Celtic gods of his ancestral Scotland chanted and howled silently to him of blood and red, sweet pleasures and wild rites in the thin blue air of the Highlands, and both took his tongue in turn on Sundays when he sometimes preached at the unpainted little church in the mill village, when the regular Baptist preacher from town had fatter and sleeker fish to fry.
Reading Group Guide
Ever since she first saw the huge, sprawling house they called "Fox's Earth," little Ruth Yancey knew she wanted it for herself. The poor daughter of an insane hell-fire preacher and his battered wife, Ruth discovered her sexuality was her only ticket out of poverty and abuse. Quickly snaring the love of the ugly, dim-witted young Paul Fox, Ruth ingratiated her way into the hearts of his sweet parents as well. With an incredible degree of determination and will power, Ruth slowly transforms herself from an uneducated mill town waif, into a Southern belle of proper breeding and manners. Cleverly manipulating her tractable husband and unsuspecting in-laws, Ruth begins a lifelong campaign to gain complete dominance over all who live in Fox's Earth. Ruth knew the key to her grasp on the estate lay in her ability to control the females of Fox's Earth, her own offspring included. She turns her only child, Hebe, into a frightened, clingy woman desperate for her mother's affection, and then attempts to manipulate her grandchildren as well. Ruth is strangely aided and abetted, by her servant, Rip, who quietly and carefully watches Ruth spin out her web of domination over the household. Rip remains her mute assistant in all of her machinations in a desperate attempt to protect the young children of Fox's Earth from Ruth's direst schemes. But as the grandchildren grow older, Ruth finds her control slipping away from her, and her dangerous plans must escalate in order to maintain power. It is the youngest grandchild, Nell, Ruth's chosen successor, that initiates the collapse of Ruth's carefully laid plans. Faced with a disappointing marriage and a stifled writing career,Nell slowly learns how to break free from her grandmother's domination, and chart a life of her own making.
1. How does Pearl Yancey prepare her daughter for life? What advice does she give Ruth, both spoken and unspoken? What role does Pearl's ghost play in Ruth's life?
2. The key relationship in the novel is between mother and daughter. How do the various mother-daughter relationships differ? Are any of them healthy? How is madness passed down to the next generation of Fox's women? Does Nell break the chain of abuse?
3. How would you define the complex relationship between Rip and Ruth? Why does each need the other? How does each have the other trapped? What is it that finally enables Rip to act out against her employer?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ms. Sidon is one of my favorite writers and she has not let me down with Fox's Earth. The story makes you wonder what is going to happen next and hard to believe that some people are so evil to their family. Greed and the need to dominate always amaze me. This book keeps you on edge.
I really struggled with this book because of how bad Ruth was and how stupid her daughters were. And I was annoyed with Rip and wanted her to just OUT how awful Ruth was. BUT, I ended up really liking it and looking for other Siddons books. I love stories of the South.
The main character of this book, Ruth Fox, scared the bejesus out of me! I liked the story and the way that it was woven as a tale that took place over several years, but that woman was a formidable character, no doubt about it. It was hard for me to reconcile the fact that the other women in the story, Ruth's daughters and granddaughters, were blind and gullible enough to not believe that Ruth was capable of true evil- Nell was the one who annoyed me the most, with her too-accomodating nature and guilt trips that nearly destroyed her. All in all, I enjoyed that story, but at the same time I was sighing over the fact that it was yet another novel written about how backward and evil the South is- that topic is beginning to bore me a bit.
Loved this story. I think it is her best work yet. The characters are vividly portrayed with all the southern charm that is so Siddons talents. I was sorry when I came to the end as I wanted to just continue on with more of Nell, Yancey and certainly Rip's future.....Thank you Ms. Siddons for a perfectly delightful novel.
Such is the power of Siddons' writing that for me, Ruth Fox could never be just fiction. I felt her eyes - 'as blue as polar seas' - while traveling through the pages of her manipulations and murderous obsession. A complete sociopath, Ruth let nothing and no-one stand in her way as she neatly despatched any actual or potential threat to achieving her 'destiny'. Except Rip... a valiant if inadequate adversary in every battle, she was ultimately victorious in the war. I have mentally cast and recast the perfect actors to play these characters in a film or mini-series of the novel, including Nicole Kidman ably portraying the toxic beauty of Ruth. Any producer who snapped up the movie rights to this novel would be on to a winner!