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Review: "Ruth Hall" by Fanny Fern

Ruth Hall may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. This text has just gone through an update and will soon be available at Project Gutenberg through our proofreading project with Make sure to download a new copy of this one if you downloaded it before now! Our review follows.

Ruth Hall by Fanny FernThe first novel by Fanny Fern, otherwise known as Sara Payson Willis, is a semi-autobiographical tale of a talented writer who loses her husband and is forced to support herself and two young children in the mid-1800s. Fern writes with biting social commentary on the subject of traditional assumptions of a woman's place in society.

The chapters are short and character details are sparse. With a journalist's style, Fern builds her story through snippets of information and dialog. In these snippets, she fearlessly depicts real-life events and people, draping them in a fictional guise. Most of Fern's family is here--her father and brother and in-laws--in all their vicious detail. We follow the "story" of Ruth Hall from her happy married life to groveling for work while her relations turn a blind eye to her poverty and suffering. Upon her first successes as a paid writer, she takes the same approach in exposing the underhanded tactics of publishers, especially when dealing with women.

Fern states in her preface that Ruth Hall is not a novel, preferring the term "continuous story". She wrote at variance with the traditional themes and styles of the time and therefore received her share of criticism for it. However she also had supporters. Notably, Nathaniel Hawthorne hoped that Fern's writing would encourage her female contemporaries to follow her example and "throw off the constraints of decency...then their books are sure to possess character and value."


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