“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell
“A Jury of Her Peers” is a short story by Susan Glaspell, loosely based upon an actual murder in 1900.
Glaspell covered the news story while working as a journalist for the Des Moines newspaper in Iowa.
In 1916 Glaspell wrote the account as a one-act play entitled “Trifles” for the Provincetown Players.
She later adapted it into the short story presented here for you today.
This story is often anthologized in “Best of” compilations. Glaspell would later go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her other work.
Join Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters as they investigate a run-down home where something went terribly wrong, in “A Jury of Her Peers!”
What do you think happened?
- Why is this psychological play named “Trifles?”
- Explore the title “A Jury of Her Peers.”
- Why was this considered an early feminist play?
- What does the first sentence reveal about the character of Mrs. Hale, and how is this fleshed out or supported by later descriptions of her character and thought process, in the story?
. . .A bit about Susan Glaspell . . .
According to a brief biography by Krystal Nies, Susan Glaspell was born in Iowa and raised by a conservative family with a modest income.
After receiving a degree from Drake University, she became a reporter for the Des Moines News. According to the Susan Glaspell Society, she worked as a reporter for less than two years, then quit the job to focus on her creative writing. Her first two novels, The Glory of the Conquered and The Visioning were published while Glaspell was in her 30s.
The Provincetown Players
While living and writing in Iowa, Glaspell met George Cram Cook, the man who would become her husband. Both wanted to rebel from their conservative upbringing. They met in a socialist society during a time when Cook had divorced for a second time and longed to experience a rural, commune lifestyle. However, his series of divorces conflicted with the traditional values of Iowa, and so the newly married couple traveled to Greenwich Village. (Susan Glaspell Society).
According to “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door,” Cook and Glaspell were the creative force behind a new style of American theater.
In 1916 she and a group of writers, actors, and artists co-founded the Provincetown Players. Both Glaspell and her husband, as well as other drama icons such as Eugene O’Neill, created plays that experimented with both realism and satire. Eventually, the Provincetown Players gained fame and economic success which, according to Cook, led to disagreements and disenchantment.
Glaspell and her husband left the Players and traveled to Greece in 1922. Cook, shortly after achieving his life long dream to become a shepherd, died two years later. Glaspell returned to America in 1924 and continued to write. Her work focused more on her best selling novels, but also included a Pulitzer Prize winning play, Alison’s House.
The Origin of “Trifles”
“Trifles” is currently Glaspell’s most popular play. Like other works of early feminist writing, it was rediscovered and embraced by the academic community. One of the reasons for this short play’s enduring success is that it is not only an insightful commentary on the different perceptions of each gender, but it’s also a compelling crime drama that leaves audiences discussing what happened and whether or not the characters acted unjustly.
While working as a journalist for the Des Moines Daily News, Susan Glaspell covered the arrest and trial of Margaret Hossack who was accused of murdering her husband. According to a summary by True Crime: An American Anthology:
“Sometime around midnight on December 1, 1900 John Hossack, a well-to-do, 59-year-old Iowa farmer, was attacked in bed by an axe wielding assailant who literally beat out his brains as he slept. His wife became the prime suspect after neighbors testified to her long-simmering hatred of her abusive spouse.”
The Hossack case, much like the fictionalized case of Mrs. Wright in “Trifles,” became a hotbed of debate. Many people sympathized with her, seeing her as a victim in an abusive relationship. Others doubted her claims of abuse, perhaps focusing on the fact that she never confessed, always claiming that an unknown intruder was responsible for the murder.
True Crime: An American Anthology explains that Mrs. Hossack was found guilty, but a year later her conviction was overturned. The second trail resulted in a hung jury and she was set free.¹
Learn more about Susan Glaspell at The International Susan Glaspell website.
“Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser
Looking for a pairing for this week’s story, “A Jury of Her Peers?” If so, here’s another poem by Ted Kooser: “Abandoned Farmhouse.”
By Ted Kooser
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
Ted Kooser, “Abandoned Farmhouse” from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser.
Learn more about Ted Kooser HERE.
“The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare
Music by Bernd Wahlbrink
Did you know Ted Kooser received inspiration for his poem “Abandoned Farmhouse” from an actual farmhouse he passed on his daily morning walks? And he received inspiration from Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners.”
“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
. . .A bit about Walter de la Mare . . .
Walter John de la Mare (25 April 1873 – 22 June 1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist. He is probably best remembered for his works for children, for his poem “The Listeners”, and for a highly acclaimed selection of subtle psychological horror stories, amongst them “Seaton’s Aunt” and “All Hallows”.
His 1921 novel Memoirs of a Midget won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction,and his post-war Collected Stories for Children won the 1947 Carnegie Medal for British children’s books.