Introduction
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1 in a speech delivered at the Boston Book Fair in October 1942, ten months after the entry of the United States into World War II, Susan Glaspell declared: The huntsmen are up in America! I think of us today, this moment, as the huntsmen assembled for the hunt . . . and resolve . . . to see our way, do our part in shaping a better world than the world into which we were born. “The huntsmen are up in America” is a reference to “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid,” an August 1940 essay in which Virginia Woolf urged the Americans to join the war: [S]ome half-forgotten words of an old English writer come to mind: “The huntsmen are up in America.” . . . Let us send these fragmentary notes to the huntsmen who are up in America, to the men and women whose sleep has not yet been broken by machine-gun fire, in the belief that they will rethink them generously and charitably, perhaps shape them into something serviceable . (157)1 As the United States had now officially gotten involved in the combat against the Axis Powers, Glaspell resumed the Woolfian trope of the hunt to exhort American artists to get involved in the war effort and to “do [their] part in shaping a better world.” Glaspell stressed the performative power of literature, which she viewed as a weapon against oppression: as soldiers take up arms, so men and women of letters take up their pens to engage in what Woolf calls “the mental fight” for freedom. The metaphor • Introduction Introduction 2 of the hunt highlights the civilizing function of literature, which, in Glaspell’s eyes, should serve to chase down the wild, to eradicate any form of “aggressiveness, tyranny, . . . insane love of power made manifest” (Woolf, “Thoughts” 155). A couple of years before World War II broke out, Glaspell, then acting as director of the Midwest Play Bureau of the Federal Theatre Project, had already made her conception of art explicit when she publicly stated that “theatre is civilizing” (Glaspell, “Happy”). For the playwright, the civilizing mission of theatre concerns its capacity to emancipate people from alienation. Glaspell envisaged drama as “something serviceable” and conceived her own plays as vehicles for improvement, instruments of revolt against coercion and injustices. • You didn’t know—her? Susan Glaspell, Trifles Susan Keating Glaspell was born on July 1, 1876, in Davenport, Iowa, to Elmer S. Glaspell, a farmer, and Alice S. Keating Glaspell. She was the second of three children and the only daughter of this highly religious “middle-class” family—not “well-to-do,” as she specifies in her draft to Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft for their Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (1942) (“My Early Life”). Descended from Irish immigrants on her mother’s side and from the earliest pioneers who settled in the Midwest in the 1830s, Glaspell, Mary E. Papke notes, “was raised to be proud of her immigrant frontier heritage” (5). As her parents could not afford tuition fees, the young woman “helped [herself] through college by some work for the Des Moines newspaper.” Prior to her enrolment in 1895 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she studied philosophy, Greek, French, English, history, and biblical studies, Glaspell was hired as a reporter for the Davenport Morning Republican by Charles Eugene Banks. After graduating with a bachelor’s of philosophy in 1899, Glaspell accepted a full-time position as statehouse Introduction 3 and legislative reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. In 1901, she decided to quit journalism and devote herself full time to the writing of fictions, an ambition she had nourished since childhood: “I cannot remember the time,” she wrote by the end of her career, “I did not want to write and creative efforts began while still in grammar school” (“My Early Life”). Until 1915, when she and George Cram Cook collaborated in the writing of Suppressed Desires: A Comedy in Two Scenes, Glaspell was able to earn a living and support herself by writing only short stories and novels . Her financial autonomy, Barbara Ozieblo points out, was an “achievemen [t] neither valued nor expected in a young woman, particularly in a small Midwestern town” (“Susan Glaspell”). During the first decade of the century, Glaspell established herself as a productive and talented fiction writer: her short stories were published in numerous magazines— Harper’s, Leslies, The American, Booklover Magazine . . . —and her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered...