Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time (Girlebooks Classics)

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Please email the diagnostic information above to help pglaf. The software we use sometimes flags "false positives" -- that is, blocks that should not have occurred. Ruth and Harry have two more daughters, Katy and Nettie; then, while Nettie is still an infant, Harry contracts typhoid fever and dies. Ruth, left with very little money, applies to her relatives for help. The elder Halls and Ruth's father grudgingly provide her with a tiny income.

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She moves into a boarding house in a slum district, just up the road from a brothel, and searches unsuccessfully for employment as a schoolteacher or a seamstress. Her rich friends drop her, her relatives snub her, and only rarely does anyone offer help or encouragement. When Katy falls ill, Mrs. Hall persuades her to give up Katy to them and then treats the little girl harshly. Meanwhile, Ruth's funds continue to diminish, forcing her to move into a barren garret and live on bread and milk.

Ruth, nearly desperate, hits on the idea of writing for the newspapers. She composes several samples and sends them to her brother Hyacinth, who is an influential publisher. He sends the samples back, along with an insolent note telling her she has no talent. Ruth perseveres, adopting the pen name 'Floy', and finally finds an editor, Mr. Lascom, who is willing to purchase her writings. Her columns are a hit; soon, she is publishing several pieces a week for Mr.

Lascom and for another editor, Mr. Subscription lists burgeon and fan mail comes pouring in, but Ruth is still barely getting by because neither editor will give her more money for her contributions. Accordingly, when a publisher named Mr. Walter offers her twice her present rate of pay to work exclusively for his magazine, she accepts.

Walter becomes her best friend and advocate. Since she now has to write only one piece per week, Ruth has time to compile a book-length selection of her columns. This becomes a best-seller, making Ruth not only independent, but wealthy. She ransoms Katy and moves into a comfortable hotel with both her daughters. In the last scene, she visits her husband's grave and looks sadly at the space reserved for her at his side, then leaves the cemetery, thinking of the good things life might still have in store.

Ruth Hall was Fern's first novel; her previous writings were short newspaper editorials written in a brisk conversational style, usually under intense deadline pressure. This hasty, staccato style carries over into the novel, which is just over pages long in contemporary editions but contains forty separate chapters averaging two to three pages each.

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The earlier chapters describing Ruth's marriage unfold as a series of vignettes presenting the heroine's life from various viewpoints. Ruth's good qualities can be inferred mostly from her mother-in-law's efforts to blacken her character; in one scene, for example, old Mrs. Hall, desperate to find some fault with her hated rival, goes through Ruth's home room by room, conducting a spiteful internal monologue as she seeks avidly for the minutest error in housekeeping. At this point, the narrator breaks into the narrative to apostrophise about the ominous future closing in on youthful innocence.

Then Harry dies, leaving Ruth nearly penniless and saddled with two young children.

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Finding that her well-to-do relatives will give her only the most grudging pittance, Ruth sheds her illusions and resolves to make her own way in the world. This angry, defiant Ruth ceases to be the passive object of the narrator's pity and steps to the center of the action, a full-fledged protagonist. However, it is ironic because Fern structures her novel around the fundamental contradiction of the cheerful brutality of capitalism.

Harnett brings in the capital aspect to his thesis when explaining the money Ruth has encountered by becoming a writer by emphasizing many conversations between Ruth and Mr. This can be viewed as an economic and political conclusion of victory for the capitalist culture of industry and stands in ironic contrast to the sentimental novel. Fanny Fern, and her fictional counterpart Ruth Hall are used in this novel as a case study to display a new capitalistic need for women's literary talents during the stage of high supply and demand throughout the s.

Previously, publishers had trading rights over their writers, but with the emergence of Fern's writings, many overlooked this courtesy.

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Ruth Hall's relationship with Walter in the novel reflects Fern's relationship with her publisher, and they exhibit these new, warm-hearted qualities. Through the publication of Fanny Fern's literature, she encourages publishers to end trade courtesy, and allow open bidding for greater success. With this newfound success, Fanny Fern uses her own professional authorship as an opportunity to challenge the 19th century view of the ideal woman, break free of typical, domestic spheres, and lead women towards independence.

Ruth Hall received mostly good reviews, and sold well. However, Fern's unflattering portraits of her family and her first two editors soon got her into difficulties. William Moulton , editor of the True Flag , recognised himself in the parsimonious Mr. Tibbetts and decided to retaliate. He put together a book called The life and beauties of Fanny Fern which consisted of his former star contributor's most satirical pieces, together with an essay that not only impugned her character, but revealed her true identity to the public.

The Story of "Ruth Hall"

Fern was deeply wounded, and the novel became more controversial; critics began perceiving a want of filial piety in Fern's lampooning of her own family, in addition to a most unfeminine thirst for revenge. The scandal, however, did nothing to damp sales, which soon climbed to 70, Despite his notorious comment about a "damned mob of scribbling women", Nathaniel Hawthorne admired the novel and in confided to his publisher:. In my last, I recollect, I bestowed some vituperation on female authors.


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I have since been reading "Ruth Hall"; and I must say I enjoyed it a good deal. The woman writes as if the Devil was in her; and that is the only condition under which a woman ever writes anything worth reading. Generally women write like emasculated men, and are only distinguished from male authors by a greater feebleness and folly; but when they throw off the restraints of decency, and come before the public stark naked, as it were—then their books are sure to possess character and value.

Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time by Fanny Fern

Can you tell me anything about this Fanny Fern? If you meet her, I wish you would let her know how much I admire her. Letters to Ticknor , Ruth Hall has since become Fern's most enduring work. In most domestic novels of this period, the heroine's quest ends with a happy marriage and the surrendering of all employment outside the home. In this case, however, the happy marriage is only a prologue; it is also a mixed blessing, bringing with it the sorrow of a child's death, along with a truly awful set of in-laws who must always be placated and appeased.

When her husband dies, Ruth finds out how little her domestic virtues are worth in the marketplace.


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  • Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time by Fanny Fern!

No-one offers Ruth much charity: newspaper editors treat her unfairly; men at her boarding house try to prey on her; her brother won't publish her columns; her father urges her to give up her children, Katy and Nettie, so he won't have to support them; and her in-laws take in Katy because Ruth can't afford to feed her, then treat her with more than Calvinist harshness.