A Jury Of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell, 1917
The magic trick:
Centering gender in a what could be a standard murder mystery
Susan Glaspell takes us to the bitterly cold Iowa winter today in “A Jury Of Her Peers,” a story which I think could be called a minor classic.
Given such a reputation, I was excited to read it, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s very well done and very enjoyable.
And current-day audiences should love it too, considering our modern obsession with true crime. It’s basically a story version of an Iowa murder case.
But whereas the detective in a normal mystery story very much wants to solve the case, our detectives here – Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters – are torn between wanting to know the truth and wanting to keep the truth from coming out.
That push and pull and the remarkable way the story is able to introduce and sustain the conflict in a completely believable and organic way marks this as one of the most original mystery stories I’ve read.
And that’s quite a trick on Glaspell’s part.
Even after she had her foot on the door-step, her hand on the knob, Martha Hale had a moment of feeling she could not cross that threshold. And the reason it seemed she couldn’t cross it now was simply because she hadn’t crossed it before. Time and time again it had been in her mind, “I ought to go over and see Minnie Foster”–she still thought of her as Minnie Foster, though for twenty years she had been Mrs. Wright. And then there was always something to do and Minnie Foster would go from her mind. But now she could come.
The men went over to the stove. The women stood close together by the door. Young Henderson, the county attorney, turned around and said, “Come up to the fire, ladies.”
Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. “I’m not–cold,” she said.
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