Monday, April 21, 2008


I finished Susan Glaspell's Fidelity last week and count it as one of my favourite books of the year:

Set in Iowa in 1900 and in 1913, this dramatic and deeply moral novel uses complex but subtle use of flashback to describe a girl named Ruth Holland, bored with her life at home, falling in love with a married man and running off with him; when she comes back more than a decade later we are shown how her actions have affected those around her. Ruth had taken another woman's husband and as such 'Freeport' society thinks she is 'a human being who selfishly - basely - took her own happiness, leaving misery for others. She outraged society as completely as a woman could outrage it... One who defies it - deceives it - must be shut out from it.'

I was struck at different times in the book by how much the moral society in Fidelity reminded me of the aspect of Chinese culture which values the collective goodwill over individuality and independence, one's own desire is selfish and must be suppressed, except, it seems slightly twisted in the novel.

Without giving away the entire story, I was heartened by how others were able to be true to themselves: "Forget society...and be just a human being! If you can forget - forgive - what seemed to you the wrong Ruth did you - if your heart goes out to her - then what else is there to it?...after all, what is society...Just a collection of individuals, isn't it? Why must it be so much harder than the individuals comprising it? If it is that - then there must be something wrong with it, wouldn't you think?"

And I was saddened and frustrated by how some of the characters behaved because that's how they were supposed to since "one isn't free. Society has to protect itself. What might not happen - if it didn't?"

The novel had a bittersweet but hopeful end and if I had to sum it up in a nutshell, I'll leave you with this, which I've come to believe, more or less, depending on my mood, in the last few years: "Love could not fail if it left one richer than it found one. Love had not failed - nothing had failed - and life was wonderful, limitless, a great adventure for which one must have great courage, glad faith. Let come what would come!"

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