An Early Classic Feminist Short Story
"A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell (1876 to 1948-Davenport, Iowa, USA) is a classic early 20th century feminist short story. Glaspell won the Pulitzer Prize for best dramatic work in 1930. She was very active in the theater, wrote nine novels (one of which was brought back into print in 1999 by Persephone Press, Fidelity-The Literary Stew has an excellent post on this novel), and numerous short stories. (You can read more about her active and interesting life HERE.) It appears "A Jury of Her Peers" is by far her most still read work.
"A Jury of Her Peers" starts of at the home of a married couple, living out in the country. The sheriff and some of his men (as well as his wife) are at the house as the husband has been founded dead. It kind of looks like suicide by hanging but the sheriff does not feel right about this so he wants to look around and ask some questions. The wife of the families nearest neighbor is there. The sheriff's wife also seems to have know about the woman a bit. The sheriff is telling the county attorney what he found during his investigation. He had gone to the house of the murdered man without knowing what happened. He was just there to suggest to the isolated couple that they get a phone. He finds the woman to be very distraught and her husband either hung himself somehow or was strangled. The sheriff is suspicious of the wife as no one else was around (and of course the spouse is always the first suspect) but he can find no motive for the killing. The county attorney says he cannot bring the wife to trial without at least a motive to tell a jury about. As the wife talks a picture of the husband develops. He was a harshly dominating man who kept his wife a near captive in her house.
Here is where the very real fun of this story develops. I will not spoil what happens next for you. I really liked the ending a lot.
There are several very good blog posts on this story.
Lakeside Musings has a very interesting and insightful post on what this story has to say about the relationships between men and women in America in the early part of the 19th century.
Free Listens talks about the condescending way in which even well meaning men sometimes treat their wives.
You can read "A Jury of Her Peers" HERE
I really enjoyed this story. It is simply and very well written and easy to follow. It would probably make a good class room story for those 12 and above. I am glad I read it and I think most others will be also.
As always I am grateful for any suggestions of short stories I might enjoy. I also prefer stories I can read online. This better for me (no libraries!) and better for blog readers.
Thanks for the link, mel. This was a very difficult story to write about without spoiling the ending. I love how it seems like there is little action in the story, but all the plot is implied in the surroundings. I think this structure echoes the themes of inattention and isolation.
I actually teach the dramatic version of this story, "Trifles," each semester at the beginning of the drama unit. Students always have a reaction to it. =) Thanks for the links. -Miss GOP
This post is yet another fine example of why I like this blog so much! You always feature fascinating writers, some almost forgotten, some of other cultures, that make me think I must rush off and find out more. If I don't comment every time I think this it's only because I don't want to become a bore!
This one sounds too good to pass up. Thanks for the link!
"A Jury of Her Peers" helped rekindle my interest in short stories - glad you enjoyed it, too. Thanks for the link!
I was quite intrigued by Fidelity, so I'll have to look into this one. I've only learned of Susan Glaspell from the Persephone publications, so I'm glad you told me more. And, thanks for not spoiling any surprises. ;)
I read this as Trifles for a uni course (20th Century American drama, and sadly Glaspell was the only female author on the whole unit) and you're right it is such an excellent story! As for other short stories- I have read basically all Annie Proulx's short stories and I always find them really engaging; and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams has some of Sylvia Plath's short stories in if she floats your boat (she definitely does mine!)
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