1. “A Jury of One’s Peers”: Unjust Justice
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25 during her time at the Des Moines Daily News as reporter, Glaspell, in the words of journalist Edith D. Stiles, learned about “human nature and life in general.” This experience was decisive in the development of Glaspell’s career as a fiction writer. In a bibliographical essay dated from 1942, Glaspell wrote: “I was assigned [on the Des Moines Daily News] to the State House and covered the Legislature when in session. There I was always running into things I saw as short stories, and after less than two years of newspaper reporting I boldly gave up my job and went home to Davenport to give all my time to my own writing” (“My Early Life”). The Hossack affair was the last story Glaspell covered for the Des Moines Daily News: it concluded her journalistic career and marked the debut not only of her full devotion to fiction writing but also of her dramatic career with Trifles. If the author initially envisaged adapting the case into a short story, the stage eventually “took it for its own” (The Road to the Temple 197). As we are going to see in this first chapter devoted to Glaspell’s first play, her contemporary “history”—that is real events taking place in her society—was her first source of inspiration to write stories for the stage. We could argue that the writing of Trifles deeply influenced her whole career as a playwright, since her dramatic writings directly addressed the political injustices of her time, which she denounces. The Hossack Case, the “his-story behind Trifles” that will be our initial focus of attention, exposed Glaspell to the unfairness of the judicial system in the United States and its patriarchal biases, which she denounces in her play by dramatizing domesticity as female invisibility. The author’s tour-de-force, as o n e • “A Jury of One’s Peers” Unjust Justice d r a m a o f d e n u n c i a t i o n 26 the third section of this chapter introduces, dramatically makes up for the democratic paradoxes of her contemporary legal system by adapting the judicial concept of “a jury of one’s peers” to the context of the playhouse as she turns her spectators into a “jury of their peers” onstage at a time when roughly half of the population was denied the right of jury service in many American states. The Hossack Case: The His-Story behind Trifles (1916) From December 1900 to April 1901, Glaspell wrote more than twenty articles on the Hossack trial, which had attracted widespread attention in the press. In Midnight Assassin, published thirteen years after Linda Ben-Zvi’s discovery, Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf—who followed in Glaspell’s footsteps when, in the 1990s, they set about reconstructing the history of the Hossack affair—trace the details of the trial.1 On the night of December 2, 1900, John Hossack, a well-to-do sixty-year-old farmer in Indianola, Iowa, was struck twice on the head while sleeping in his bed with his wife, Margaret Hossack. On December 5, Glaspell broke the news to her readers that Mrs. Hossack had been arrested. In an article dramatically titled “Sheriff after Mrs. Hossack. Sensational Turn Taken at Indianola,” she wrote: “The robbery theory has been wholly abandoned, as absolutely nothing was taken and no suspicious characters were seen in the neighborhood prior or subsequent to the murder” (qtd. in Bryan and Wolf 196). The most suspicious circumstance in connection with the crime is the testimony of Mrs. Hossack that she lay in bed beside her husband while his skull was crushed in two places, yet did not awake in time to see anyone leave the house. Despite the lack of hard proof, the farmer’s wife was charged with murder on circumstantial evidence: the reported quarrels she had with her husband and her allegedly dubious statement that she was asleep when her husband was attacked were enough to indict her. On Monday morning , April 1, 1901, the trial of Margaret Hossack opened. Ten days later, the jury delivered its verdict: “We, the jury, find Margaret Hossack guilty of murder in the first degree and recommend that she be sentenced for life to hard labor in the state penitentiary.” “A Jury of One’s Peers” 27 Even though Glaspell had little exposure to criminal law, she approached the affair like a detective. The only female reporter in the...