6. “The Madwoman in the Tower”: Rebelling against the Community
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142 in his 1921 review of The Verge, Stephen Rathbun introduces Claire as a “heroine striv[ing] for the absolute freedom of the individual . . . , seek[ing] freedom for herself.” Claire’s frantic individualist search for independence from “conventions, family ties and all the other obligations of society,” to borrow Rathbun’s words, has been perceived by Marcia Noe as “[Glaspell’s] strongest attack on female virtue,” so strong that it even disconcerted those who, in actual life, did revolt against it (“The New Woman” 158). On the opening night at the Provincetown Playhouse on December 6, 1921, Mary E. Papke recalls, “reviews noted the positive reception given [to] the play by its special audience of intellectuals and nonconformists even though,” she adds, “the play seemed to baffle the majority” (64). Despite their largely Bohemian profiles, the spectators were “baffle[d]” by Glaspell’s new piece and left astounded by its heroine whose uncompromising pursuit of total freedom brought them into uncharted territories, beyond Greenwich Village and its radical conceptions of New Womanhood. The iconoclastic Claire epitomizes the individualist rebel who, as Maeve Nelligan phrases it, “privileges her right to self-development over maternal and wifely devotion, articulately demands satisfying and egalitarian relationships with men, and is committed to exposing and destroying the conventional boundaries that crush her individuality” (91). Claire’s individualism goes as far as to feel permitted to exceed all limits to attain a decisive “total negation of existence” and kill in the name of her own freedom: Claire is of the breed of the Camusian revolutionist. For Albert Camus, the revolutionary is “an accomplice to murder.” If Mrs. s i x • “The Madwoman in the Tower” Rebelling against the Community “The Madwoman in the Tower” 143 Patrick in The Outside appears, as we saw, as an accomplice to murder in her insistence on having the lifesavers leave and consequently abandon their attempts to rescue the young sailor, the protagonist of The Verge is, on the other hand, more than a mere accomplice to murder but an actual murderess, since she does perform the ultimate irrevocable act for fear of being trapped and not as an act of self-defense like Mrs. Wright in Trifles, as we are led to surmise. This chapter will explore The Verge, Glaspell’s best-known work after her adaptation of the Hossack case, and study the author’s portrayal of her revolutionary rebel as a Superwoman, a madwoman and tragic heroine victim of her hubris. The mirror image of Charlotte Brontë’s radical rebel, Bertha Mason, Claire, who secludes herself of her own free will—not in an attic but in her tower—goes beyond radical feminism into an extreme form of individualism. The Scientist, the Superwoman in The Verge (1921) The Verge, whose title echoes that of Glaspell’s 1917 one-act play—The Outside—because of its implied reference to a threshold, revolves around Claire Archer, a New Woman, the antithesis of the True Woman, of the Victorian wife and mother. In “The New Woman in the Plays of Susan Glaspell,” Marcia Noe defines Claire as a woman who “violates all boundaries and norms of femininity to define herself, her purpose in life, and the terms of her existence” (158). The spatial image used by Noe is all the more relevant to the portrayal of Claire’s unorthodoxy since, in her quest to throw off the yoke of conventionality, the heroine has created new spaces of her own on the margins of the family habitation. The first and final acts of the play take place in a “greenhouse” whose original function has been distorted by Claire, like that of the lifesaving station in The Outside. After a detailed description of the elements that compose the set, the introductory locational stage directions conclude, “[T]his is not a greenhouse where plants are being displayed, nor the usual workshop for the growing of them, but a place for experiments with plants, a laboratory” (230). The hammering repetition of negatives emphasizes the willful rejection of the primary purposes of the place. The transformation of the established function of the greenhouse and its geographical d r a m a o f r e s i s ta n c e 144 liminal position represent the heroine’s rejection of norms and conventions . Although Claire has made the greenhouse her own, her space is repeatedly invaded by the members of her family with whom she is in conflict because they cannot comprehend why a woman...


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