Legacy 20.1&2 (2003) 206-207
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Martha Carpentier's The Major Novels of Susan Glaspell directs the spotlight, for the first time, on Glaspell's novels. As Carpentier indicates in her introduction, Glaspell studies have focused on the plays, and the novels have generally been dismissed as inferior, a trend set in motion by Arthur Waterman and, of course, emphasized by Christopher Bigsby, who has done so much to recover Glaspell for American drama. It is indeed high time to recover the novels too, and Carpentier's exploration of these, based on psychological and mythological models, is particularly illuminating and more than justifies her claim that Glaspell should be included in the pantheon of modernism. This much needed study opens the way for further discussion of her novels by critics who will no longer feel hemmed in by disparaging labels such as "sentimental" or "romantic."
Rather than argue for the literary value of the sentimental novels of the nineteenth century, as so many critics have done already, Carpentier vehemently dismisses the idea that such categories apply to Glaspell's texts (103). She rightly points out that although Glaspell's protagonists at times may sacrifice everything for love, romantic love consistently is presented as illusionary and ephemeral. Using a mythological model that she astutely bases on Glaspell's own reading and experience, Carpentier establishes the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy with which Glaspell endowed the protagonists and plots of the novels she wrote after returning from Greece. Further, "although their fictional techniques were often different" (158), she insightfully compares the Iowa writer to Virginia Woolf, the one woman that modernism has always accepted into its fold. However, Carpentier is not the first to put Glaspell and Woolf together. This was first done by "I. R. M" in "Three Novels by [End Page 206] Women," published in the Oxford Magazine on June 141928; this reviewer wrote that the work of these two novelists is of the "highest distinction... inimitably feminine... [and] as unique in kind as it is eminent in quality."
Carpentier's argument is weakest when she uses a psychological model she derives from Chodorow, Kristeva, and Cixous. This model leads her to make apparently contradictory statements about the relationship between Glaspell and her husband, George Cram Cook; on the one hand, she would have Cook be a "feminized" (35) and "infantile" (61) man, but he is also a representative of the "logos" (36), and thus of patriarchy. Taking into account the "mother-child" (26) intimacy that Glaspell's relationship with Cook offered her, as well as her unfulfilled desire to have a child, Carpentier recognizes that these aspects of her personal experience color the relationship between Norma and Max in Norma Ashe and that of Blossom and Lincoln in Ambrose Holt and Family. However, as she points out, in these novels, as in Brook Evans, Fidelity or The Morning Is Near Us, the relationships between the protagonists and other men (fathers, step-fathers, fathers-in-law, or brothers) are much more complex, and here the psychological model works more satisfactorily to illuminate the woman's quest for identity and independence within both the family and society.
It is perhaps a pity that Carpentier has eliminated the early novels, The Glory of the Conquered and The Visioning, from her study, which she limits to the middle or "psychosexual" and later or "sociocultural" novels (133). Although structurally the earlier novels are perhaps less interesting, both present a feminist view of women's role in society. And The Glory of the Conquered avoids the troublesome ambivalence of the endings of so many of Glaspell's novels, which Carpentier explores and satisfactorily explains. Glaspell's second novel was directly influenced by Floyd Dell's socialist crusade in Davenport. Dell's principal converts were Glaspell and her husband Cook, and their novels, Glaspell's The Visioning and Cook's The Chasm, both published in 1911, offer a strong, if somewhat romantic and idealistic critique, of class, labor, and...