Overnight trips to London for events like this can be very expensive from Devon, so they have to be justified in this new economy and only planned when the billing is so alluring that I couldn't possibly miss it, but this was easy, anything on either Susan Glaspell or Dorothy Canfield Fisher falls into that category.
Both on the same billing and it's a must.
I've read just about all I can find on the life of Susan and I'm fast catching up with Dorothy, but there's nothing like hearing the spoken word from an authority like Elaine Showalter on favourite subjects to inspire.
Both women born in the American Mid-West, both attended university at a time when only 2% of women did so, both travelled to Europe and thence to New York. Self-supporting, independent women who transcended the era of the Woman Problem and were moving towards the newly-fledged realms of Feminism. So though Dorothy and Susan were contemporaries with a great deal in common there is no evidence to date that they ever met.
Elaine Showalter offered interesting details about the influence of British women writers like Virginia Woolf and New Zealander Katherine Mansfield (next on my hit-list, Volume 5 of the Letters has arrived, can't keep my hands off it for long) on both Dorothy and Susan but gradually the similarities between them are effaced by huge differences.
Dorothy embraces a happy marriage and children, a farm in Vermont, war work and the educational ideas of Maria Montessori, whilst Susan, embarks on a trail of self-destruction, the high life (and the bottle it would seem), finding herself embroiled in the troubled life of self-absorbed playwright Jig Cook and his obsession for all things Greece. Jig it was stated 'lived passionately and failed passionately' and in many respects Susan followed.
Reading again Barbara Ozieblo's biography of Susan Glaspell, she asks,
' Why the rebel in her chose so often to acquiesce to convention...Glaspell constantly ceded centre stage to the men she loved...Glaspell shows just how difficult it was for women to rebel.'
and suddenly you recall the huge and
gaping sadness that existed in her life and now I want to read
all those books about Susan Glaspell's life again.
Both women however no strangers to tragedy and ensuing grief, and it cannot be denied both gifted and prolific writers who have largely faded from the public eye, with just a handful of books in print despite having written forty or more between them.
Elaine Showalter gave interesting accounts of both The Homemaker and Fidelity, and I was delighted to confirm with her afterwards that my recent reading of A Montessori Mother by Dorothy Canfield Fisher has set me off on the right track to explore just how this influences her writing on children, parenting and the family. I've sat through more work-related parenting training courses than can be good for anyone over the years, dished up enough suggestions to anguished parents, so I'm interested to see just how Dorothy's ideas hold up in comparison to what we spout today.
Have the Montessori principles of self-education, independence and self-reliance been incorporated to such a degree that we now take it as a given?
Or have we lost it all, suffocated beneath fears of 'stranger danger', child protection, government-led educational targets and Ofsted reports ?
Elaine Showalter's closing words on both women were poignant .
Arguing that by the 1920s feminism was being seen as a failure, women were deemed incapable of coping with home, marriage, work and children combined and still no framework for the notion of the 'stay-at-home' husband, yet whilst the sadly childless Susan Glaspell may have been unencumbered by much of that, she was among the first to discover that free love for a woman was never free; in fact it was proving the most costly way to organize your life.
Applause, some very interesting questions and deliciously interesting news of Elaine Showalter's forthcoming book from Virago, A Jury of Her Peers : American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, 600 + of them and the very first definitive book on the subject to be written. The title appropriately that of Susan Glaspell's short story version of her play Trifles, mentioned here least week.
America, you get it in February, we have to wait until May.
Then it must be admitted, I for one was very happy to get my presumably rush-embossed gluteals off that very lovely chair, but with my interest piqued and inspired for a great deal more in-depth reading of the writing of these two amazing American women, and doubtless at least 598 more when I finally get hold of this book.
Meanwhile Virginia and Katherine beckon too.