Sunday, September 19, 2010

Alison's House by Susan Glaspell (1931)

Summary:  On the last night of the 1800s (December 31, 1899), a family has gathered to pack up their family estate, where only ailing Aunt Agatha currently resides.  Agatha will move in with her brother (male protagonist Mr. Stanhope) and the home will likely be sold to a couple who will transform it into a summer boarding house.  Aunt Alison is the unseen title character of this play--a poet of national acclaim who died many years ago.  Regardless, she is still the main topic of conversation in the house, especially after a reporter from Chicago visits, hoping to see her room and get an answer to the question, “Have all of her poems been published?”

Thoughts:  This play did a really excellent job of holding my interest in the two essential questions of the text:  1.  Have all of Alison’s poems been published?  and 2.  Why does everyone keep talking about her as if there is some sort of secret surrounding her?  The obvious answer to the first question is no, which becomes a pivotal issue in the third act; but the second question led me to a number of different hypotheses while reading.  A suicide?  A lesbian?  Incest?  Inquiring minds want to know! 

From the outset, it is clear that Aunt Agatha does not want to move because she feels closest to her sister Alison in the family mansion; and the strain of moving eventually results in her death—but not before she can hand over a satchel of unpublished poems to a recently returned niece (Edna).  Edna is the source of family scandal and not entirely welcomed at home because she recently ran off with a married man.  Eventually, it becomes clear that both old Mr. Stanhope and Alison experienced the same sorts of pining toward married people…but they didn’t act on their feelings.  Instead, Alison wrote poetry that ultimately both united and divided her family.  Most of the characters in this play, seen and unseen, have dealt with unrequited love and find themselves sharing stories (and poems) that have long been buried on New Years Eve, 1899.

“And then—all of a sudden—We had been dancing; we stopped by the door.  We just looked at each other—stared, rather, and he said—“Why, Elsa!”  We stood there, and then he said, “It is Elsa.”  And we went out to the veranda, and everything was different, because he was Bill and I was Elsa.  And everything we had together in the past—when we used to slide down hill together—was there, alive, giving us a past we hadn’t known we were making for ourselves.”  
(Act 3)

No comments:

Post a Comment