From Opposition to Integration:

From Opposition to Integration: Stages in the Development of the "New Woman" in Selected Provincetown Plays

Susanne Auflitsch

This paper was originally presented as a poster at the British Association for American Studies (BAAS) Annual Conference held at Oxford University, April 5-8, 2002.

Put simply, the quintessential aim of Modernists has been to reconnect all that the Victorian moral dichotomy tore asunder - to integrate once more the human and the animal, the civilized and the savage, and to heal the sharp divisions that the nineteenth century had established in areas such as class, race, and gender. Only in this way, they have believed, would it be possible to combat the fundamentally dishonest conception of existence that the Victorians had propagated, free the natural human instincts and emotions that the nineteenth century had bottled up, and so restore vitality to modern life.1

In his essay "Towards a Definition of American Modernism," Singal argues that modernism strives for the integration of all aspects that had been hitherto separated. With respect to the New Woman, the New Psychology, the New Art, the New Politics, and the New Theatre, Rudnick and Heller, editors of 1915: The Cultural Moment (1991), likewise detect "language of breakdown - the breakdown of binary oppositions, of formalism, of boundaries, of hierarchies, and conventions in all spheres of American life."2 When Ezra Pound, in his theory of imagist poetry, defines an "image" as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time"3 in 1913, he in fact argues for the integration of the poles of reason and emotion, hitherto assigned to man's and woman's spheres respectively.

This essay will argue that the nineteenth-century philosophy of bi-polarity, as manifest first and foremost in the concept of separate spheres, is still largely unaltered in the short plays of Susan Glaspell, Neith Boyce and Rita Wellman, the three most prolific female playwrights among the Provincetown Players.4 The plays analyzed in this paper are Glaspell's "Trifles" (1916), "The Outside" (1917), and her short comedy "A Woman's Honor" (1918),5 Wellman's "Funiculi Funicula" (1917)6 and Boyce's "Constancy" (1915),7 "The Two Sons" (1916), and "Enemies" (1915), the latter of which Boyce co-authored with her husband. Although the artistic merit of these short plays has often been challenged, they may deserve esteem as "important literary, cultural and social documents that reflect sincere attempts to fuse theatrical originality with social concerns."8 The cultural and social aspect in focus here is the New Woman. In spite of depicting more or less successful representatives of the New Woman, the worlds presented on stage are marked by the established polar categories. Although displaying the ambitions of the New Woman, the female characters are trapped in polarized worlds.

* * *

She is a "new woman," ambitious and energetic, a hard worker, more or less disliked by all my friends that know her.9

This is how Hutchins Hapgood describes his partner Neith Boyce in a letter to his mother. The term "New Woman" expressed both a social reality and a cultural concept and was coined in the mid-1890s. Used to the end of the 1920s, it described "women who experimented with new forms of public behavior and new gender roles."10 Charlotte Perkins Gilman employed the term even before it became a catch phrase, asserting that "the 'new woman' will be no less female than the 'old' woman, though she has more functions, can do more things, is a more highly specialized organism, has more intelligence."11 So what exactly is so new about the New Woman? In her autobiography, Rheta Childe Dorr asserts: "I wanted all the freedom, all the opportunity, all the equality there was in the world. I wanted to belong to the human race, not to a ladies' aid society to the human race."12 Some of the plays to be discussed portray New Women in their struggle with conservatism whereas others present a New Woman at a more advanced stage. Irrespective of the developmental stage, the New Women are exposed to a world defined by binary oppositions. Their world is marked by polarity and opposition stretching from the physical to the intellectual.

* * *

The man, who constitutes the progressive wing of the human race, went on outside as best as he might, organizing society, and always enshrining in his heart the woman and the home as one and indivisible.13

In all of the plays discussed, the audience is presented with the opposition between the New Woman and the old way of thinking. The Victorian concept of separate spheres, as described by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her sociological treatise The Home: Its Work and Influence (1904), is incorporated into the plays by representatives of the older generation on stage and by reminiscences of the past as expressed by the characters.

Looking at the constellation of characters, the polar principle serves to contrast oppositional figures, thus invoking a concept of separate spheres that is very much alive. In Glaspell's "Trifles" and "The Outside," as in her short comedy "Woman's Honor," the polarity in character constellation is collectively among the sexes, a group of females being opposed to a group of males. Neither group attempts to understand the other sex. The separation of spheres remains unquestioned, men and women adhere to their respective stereotypical roles. The men in "Trifles" therefore contend that "women are used to worrying over trifles" (38) when the women in fact start putting the evidence together proving why Minnie murdered her husband, and one of the men in "The Outside" observes that Mrs. Patrick apparently deviates from his conservative notion of 'woman': "A woman - she makes things pretty. This not like a place where a woman live. On the floor there is nothing - on the wall there is nothing" and another man concludes that "the woman's crazy" (49). Judging by the surface aspect of character constellation, the separation of spheres is largely unaltered in these plays.

In both "Constancy" and "Enemies," only two characters are present on stage, immediately suggesting binary opposition again. Even though the plays evidently employ a bipolar set of characters, for example husband - wife ("Enemies," "Funiculi Funicula"), brother - brother ("The Two Sons") or men - women ("Trifles", "Woman's Honor," "Constancy," "The Outside"), the problems faced by the characters are not caused by disagreement between them. Instead, the male characters act as mere representatives of the situation the women are exposed to. Thus, the problems addressed gain significance: the audience witness not just petty fights between opposed characters, but substantial criticism of living conditions.14

In some of the plays discussed, the polarity employed as a structural principle throughout the plays is reflected in the conflicting values as displayed by representatives of different generations. In "Funiculi Funicula," the New Woman Alma is opposed to the old Doctor Collins, a representative of the older generation's standards: He disapproves of the fact that Alma and her daughter's father, Taddema Tanner, are not married (168), whereas Alma's opinion is that "[b]eing married or not married is a private matter" (168). To Alma, caring for her child takes second priority after her art (169), which the doctor admonishes. He recommends that Alma and her partner move to the country and "sacrifice" (170) themselves for the child's health. In Boyce's "The Two Sons," Hilda is a similar representative of the older generation. Mistaking interference for care, her over-exercise of what she believes are her maternal duties results in the destruction of both her sons.15 Not only is she eager for Paul to find a "real woman" (123) for a girlfriend, but she also disapproves of the New Woman Stella, who in her view is not good enough for either son. Stella, although only a minor character in Boyce's play, can be linked to the concept of the New Woman by the fact that she had been enjoying a sailing trip with a male friend. She was "having a good time [...] laughing and singing and telling queer stories" and she "loved sailing with him and swimming out in deep water" (124). As her behavior is condemned by her prospective mother-in-law, Stella is silenced half way through the play and leaves.

In Hapgood and Boyce's "Enemies" we see another New Woman living with a man assuming a conservative position. He accuses her of not being a proper housewife: "I've asked you a thousand times to have some order in the house, some regularity, some system! The lamps never have oil, the wicks are never cut, the chimneys are always smoked!" (119) Moreover, he criticizes her New Woman-lifestyle: "All you want to do is to lie in bed for breakfast, smoke cigarettes, write your high literary stuff, make love to other men, talk cleverly when you go out to dinner and never say a word to me at home!" (120) "Enemies" is therefore another example of a theoretical New Woman who would require a New Man for her self-concept to materialize. The title of the play indicates that the couple have not yet arrived at what Rousseau named the "companionate marriage."

Further instances of polarity can be found in the opposition of past and present. The plays are all set in the present, but the past is felt throughout. In Glaspell's "The Outside," the present seems to be less happy than the past was. One of the men who tried to rescue a drowned person remarks that "This Patrick woman used to be all right. She and her husband was summer folks over in town. They used to picnic over here on the outside." (50) But now Mrs. Patrick is on her own, denying all feelings of being alive while looking at how the sand buries the woods underneath. In "Funiculi Funicula" the audience receives a romanticized account of the past. Again, the past presents a stark - or polar - contrast to the present. Alma recollects: "Poets joined in passion. That was our phrase, Taddem. And it was all so fine and high. Let us never do anything ugly, we vowed, let us never do anything unworthy. [...] And our dream of the Bambino. That was to prove it." (175) The female character in Boyce and Hapgood's "Enemies" also adopts a probably romanticized version of the past: "Our past to me is wonderful and will remain so, no matter what happens - full of color and life - complete!" (134) The past is seen as an ideal that has been lost. The situation presented on stage is the result of reality interfering with dreams. Yet again, the polar principle is at work, contrasting the past and the present, thus underlining the characters' process of maturing.16 The characters' perception however is still so intensely imprisoned in the polar way of thinking that the past appears all the more happy as the present state of affairs deteriorates. They are as yet unable to realize that the past is one stage in their maturing process. It is in fact linked organically to the present rather than an opposite. Only if the characters acknowledge growth as integration of past and present will they be enabled to escape the mental straitjacket of thinking in polar terms.

* * *

The polar principle is manifest in both character constellation and temporal setting. In terms of spatial setting, all plays display an opposition between the inside and the outside, reflecting once more the Victorian polar world view. Gilman's description of the separate spheres not only asserts that the outside space is the male domain - "The man, who constitutes the progressive wing of the human race, went on outside [my emphasis] as best as he might, organizing society" - but at the same time implies the woman's captivity. Not only are woman and home indivisible, but the situation is intensified by the man who perceives of the woman as a saint to be enshrined rather than an equal.17 Even from a syntactic point of view, the man in Gilman's description of the concept of separate spheres constitutes the agent, whereas the woman is a mere complement.

All of the plays under consideration are set inside a house, but still the outsides are equally important. The settings in both "Funiculi Funicula" and "The Two Sons" hint at a gloomy existence within and a wild existence without: the insides are grim, and the outsides represent freedom. "The Two Sons" is set in a "low room" (117) suggesting oppression. Outside the house is the wild and stormy sea. Alma's apartment in "Funiculi Funicula" is described as shabby, neglected, and very untidy (166), but outside of it a costume party and dance take place. The very title of Glaspell's "The Outside" establishes a polar view of the world and encourages assumptions about the inside. Indeed, the inside of the former life-saving station is rather dull: "It is painted the life-saving grey, but has not the life-saving freshness (48)."

The female characters are confined to their houses, whereas entertainment happens outside. The very title of the play "Funiculi Funicula," a line taken from a cheerful Italian song, suggests entertainment.18 The song penetrates the wall into Alma's apartment. The state of the flat constitutes a stark contrast to the cheerfulness and carefreeness of the song. Alma is torn between her desire to attend the dance the music of which she can hear in her apartment and her duties as a mother (176). Alma has been described as a New Woman, and the example of the opposing forces of confinement and entertainment - represented by the inside and outside space - illustrates the dilemma a New Woman faces.19] According to the play, this dilemma cannot be solved. If she stays at home, she denies her individuality, if she goes out, she acts irresponsibly.

In "The Two Sons," the world presented owes much to the physical separation of spheres as well. The over-protective mother Hilda and the effeminate son are inside the house, whereas the more energetic Karl and the New Woman Stella have just returned from a sailing trip on the outside. By their clear separation of inside and outside spaces, the plays do not allow for any compromises. The world is either black or white, women are confined to the inside, and if they disobey society's standards, they are ostracized. Any attempts of integrating the inside with the outside are doomed and lead into more suffering: Alma is hysteric and Stella is charged with instilling fraternal hatred and is ultimately silenced and driven away. Although the plays are set inside, the outsides are very much present, encouraging the audience to widen their horizon rather than remain confined to the inside space.

Not only does the inside present a contrast to the outside, but in Glaspell's play "The Outside" the outside space mirrors and visualizes what happens on the inside. The woods struggle for life under the sand dunes, just as Mrs. Patrick and Allie Mayo struggle to re-define their own lives without their husbands. Thus, the very set-up of space in the plays discussed enforces a view of the world in binary terms. Life is not confined to one place, but life is a struggle between one place and another, an inside space and an outside. The bipolar settings visually illustrate the women's struggle with their sense of belonging - with their sense of place in society. Do they belong to the inside? Arguing from the plays, no. The insides are oppressive and dull. Do they belong to the outside? In a way, the outsides are all presented as wild, and, if we assume a psychoanalytic view, we might contend the women are restricted from admitting the instincts of the id.

It is significant though that the plays first and foremost dramatize the interrelation between the outside and the inside. The New Woman apparently needs both a room of her own (= inside) and a life beyond the home (= outside). Most of the women are indeed very possessive about their houses / rooms. Mrs. Patrick asserts a few times, angrily, "This is my house! And - I want my house to myself!" (49) and "I must have my house to myself!" (50). The more successful New Women, by defining space as their own, exert their right of making their own decisions. Just as they cannot tolerate men intruding into their houses, they want to control them intruding into their bodies. Viewing the houses as symbols of their bodies, the women's insistence on control ties in with the campaigns for birth control, abortion, and female sexual confidence raging at the very time the plays were written. Mrs. Patrick is very outspoken about her wish for the men to leave. Moira in Boyce's "Constancy," though slightly less volatile, still displays a firm sense of physical space. The very act of Rex, the only other character, entering the stage is highly revealing. Like a burglar, he initially attempts to use a rope ladder to get into Moira's apartment via the balcony.20 Moira invites him in through the door but will not have him intrude any further, for example back into her life. In fact, intrusion from the outside into a woman's personal space can be detected in many of the plays discussed here. In "Trifles," the law itself invades Minnie's house, along with a few neighbors. The sheriff and the attorney's search for evidence of Minnie murdering her husband, however, remains unsuccessful. In a way, Minnie has thus defended her home - and herself - against the male intruders. Even though they enter her house, they are unable to enter her mind: the evidence remains obscure to the men as only the women are able to put the pieces together.

Alma's apartment in "Funiculi Funicula" is also invaded by an official authority - this time a doctor who gives Alma lots of advice, for example to get married to her daughter's father and to move to the country so that the child gets some fresh air. In "The Two Sons," the same motif of a woman defending her home against intrusion is present, albeit in this play it is not male intrusion but the intrusion of a prospective daughter-in-law that would take her son away. Whereas for Hilda the concept of separate spheres with all its implications is still very much alive, many of the other female characters in the plays discussed have transformed the duty inherent in the concept into a right - a right of one's own space. This shift in perception - from regarding the domestic space as a space of confinement to considering it as a retreat and materialization of one's self - is a step towards leaving the bi-polar thinking behind. If one's personal domestic space becomes equally positively connotated as the outside, the gap narrows. Rather than floating from one extreme (the inside exclusively) to the other (the outside exclusively), the re-definition of the inside can be regarded as an attempt of integration.

* * *

The physical opposition of outsides and insides mirrors further conceptual dichotomies. In the short plays addressing motherhood, we detect an opposition between creativity and motherhood. It is striking that "Funiculi Funicula" directly thematizes one of the major arguments used by conservatives in their attempt to decelerate the woman's movement, namely that women are intended to be mothers. Alma anticipates Doctor Collins' accusations: "You are going to tell me what a bad mother I am. I know I am. I was never intended to be a mother. And now you are going to tell me that all women were intended to be mothers" (168). Alma's aspirations however do not lie in her motherhood but in her artistry. She is a painter, and New Art paintings are displayed on the walls in the apartment (166). Alma is torn between her art and motherhood: "How can I have an art when I am a slave bound by hand and foot?" Comparing her own situation with that of her partner, she complains: "You can work. You can go on being yourself no matter what happens. But I must give up everything. I must be a mere protective animal. I must sacrifice everything. I'm to be nothing but a mother!" (175). Alma's perception is very much tied to the polar way of thinking. For her, it is either motherhood or artistry. Although she has the ambitions of a New Woman, the forces operating against her (a conservative doctor and a negligent partner) are too strong to counter.

In "The Two Sons," we observe a different though equally detrimental kind of motherhood. Whereas Alma seems to hate her daughter for limiting her professional ambitions, Hilda's maternal over-protectiveness interferes with the happiness of her two sons. In this play, maternal behavior and creativity do not clash within one person, but between mother and son. Hilda believes that it is her duty as a mother to protect her son Paul against his stronger brother Karl. However, the play does not indicate that there was any necessity. Rather, the artist Paul suffers from his mother's unjust behavior. He is constantly defending his brother, as he is defending Stella. Although there is no direct evidence in the text that his art is actually inhibited by the situation, it is clear that he is not able to do anything but sit at the table in a paralyzed and desperate manner.

Yet another instance of inhibited creativity can be found in Glaspell's "Trifles." Minnie, as symbolized by the dead bird, liked singing, but her husband disapproved. Other examples suggesting that the oppression of her creativity contributed to her despair are the unfinished quilt and the broken preserve jars. The insufficient housework is not simply an indication that Minnie was a bad homemaker. Rather, her husband seems to have denied her the freedom to exert her creativity, with the result that Minnie felt just like the dead bird - robbed of the right to be herself. The very usage of symbols is common in the short play and underlines the genre's affinity towards the polar principle. In fact, the etymology of "symbol" - being derived from the Greek sym-bllein (to throw together, to hold together) suggests a longing for unification.21

Lacking action and stage symbols, Boyce and Hapgood's "Enemies" might not be the greatest representative of the short play. Nevertheless it portrays a woman who refuses to have her creativity crushed by her husband. Being a New Woman, she resents household chores, smokes, writes what her husband calls "high literary stuff" (120), assumes a degree of sexual freedom and accuses her husband of inhibiting her:

You, on account of your love for me, have tyrannized over me, bothered me, badgered me, taken my time and strength, and prevented me from accomplishing great works for the good of humanity. You have crushed my soul, which longs for serenity and peace, with your perpetual complaining! (129)

The fact that the characters are named "He" and "She" underlines the parabolic quality of the play. It is also reminiscent of the still clear-cut opposition of the genders. The characters are thus stereotypical, a quality of the short play linked to its lack of magnitude. The female character's great accomplishment - as opposed to e.g. Minnie in "Trifles" - is that she is firm about her ambitions and capable of expressing her limitations in words, which might be regarded as a step out of the straitjacket of the gender opposition as suggested by the title. After all, their marriage is not doomed - before the curtain falls, the couple reconcile in what they call an "armed truce."

* * *

Another dimension in which the polar principle becomes visible is the opposition of egotism and (altruistic) love. In some plays, the two seem to be mutually exclusive. Opposition has not yet given way to integration. Alma of "Funiculi Funicula" is utterly egoistic. The only reason why she wants her three-year-old daughter Bambi to recover from her illness is that she could have some peace for working (175). Moreover, Alma seems to hate her own child for being such an inhibition:

She's in our way. She's always been in our way ever since she was born. Ever since she became a reality she's annoyed us. She's cost us money. She's kept us home when we wanted to go out. She's cried when we wanted to work. She's made our love ridiculous. She's made a family out of us - something we can't stand. We've never forgiven her for making us feel that all our passion was for her sake. (175)

Bambi's father Taddema is extremely uncaring. Most of the time he is utterly egoistic and negligent of his daughter: "The doctor and the druggist have nothing to do with my immortal soul" (173). The two young professionals love their work over their child. They are unable to find a balance, and they opt for egotism, self-love. The price to be paid is the death of the child. But I wonder what, according to the play, is considered worse - the death of the child or the death of one's own individuality. In any case the characters are thrown into a no-win situation. The possibility of an integrative approach is not even contemplated.

Whereas "Funiculi Funicula" makes the characters choose between love for oneself and love for others, feelings of egotism and love are confused in "The Two Sons." Hilda, the two men's mother, seems to love her sons, but is egotistic insofar as she is overprotective.22 By suffocating her son Paul with her protectiveness, she tries to bind him to herself. After all, her other son Karl had been away for a year, and earlier her husband had been lost to the sea. So Hilda is desperate to hold on to her only remaining charge. She tricks herself into the belief that feeble Paul needs her care. However, the effects on both Paul and Karl are detrimental.

Thus, the characters have failed to establish integration. Tied to the world of duality, they are unable to find a balance between egoistic and altruistic love. In one case, they consider themselves forced to choose ("Funiculi Funicula"), in the other they confuse love for themselves with love for others. Moira in Boyce's "Constancy" comes closest to an ideal of a woman being able to acknowledge the mutuality of egoistic and altruistic love. She realizes that she can only love somebody who will return her love in a similar way.

* * *

A further instance of polarity as a structural principle in the plays under consideration is the dichotomy of rationality and emotionality. Both "Funculi Funicula" and "The Two Sons" show women whose personality is marked by over-emotionality. Both Alma and Hilda are unable to reason and are shown to be victims in the tug-of-war between the opposing forces dominating their lives. Alma indeed goes crazy at the conclusion of the play: after her three-year-old daughter Bambi has died she is all the more eager to attend the costume party, thus changing her role. She is drawn out of the domestic space towards the outside space of the dance which promises distraction. Alma, who was earlier portrayed as an intelligent woman, loses control: "She staggers out left, weeping hysterically" (178). Ending up utterly hysterical, the character proves a point for the patronizing believers in female emotionality. Neither of the women experiences a situation of epiphany by the conclusions of the plays. They are presented as mere victims of their living circumstances, unable to act, paralyzed by the events and ultimately victims of their own inability to realize, accept and enforce the integration of their multiple roles.

Whereas both "Funiculi Funicula" and "The Two Sons" prove that over-emotionality just leads into disaster, some of the plays under consideration show more successful examples of the New Woman. The inherent message seems to be "You can be what you choose but you have to be rational in pursuing it." The question whether women were at all able to argue rationally had in fact been one of the major issues in feminist history for centuries. Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Judith Sargent Murray, Margaret Fuller and Charlotte Perkins Gilman had all stressed that women were indeed capable of rationality if only society provided them with better education.23 "Constancy" thus shows a woman who has come to the rational decision to no longer tolerate her unfaithful lover. The very setting of "Constancy" underlines the resulting happiness of the female protagonist whose room is described as "luxurious and gay, in delicate, bright colors" (52). In both "Constancy" and "Enemies" the women are firm and witty in their reasoning and thus prove that the era of separate spheres, a concept partly based on the assumption that women were by nature incapable of rationality, has fallen under siege. In fact, Moira in "Constancy" expressedly defies over-emotionality:

MOIRA: If I had behaved like a jealous fury, showered reproaches on you, threatened you, pursued you, tried to get you away from Ellen, that from your point of view would have been the natural thing for me to do.
REX: Yes, if you loved me. (60)

It seems paradoxical to dismiss Boyce's "Constancy" as "too talky" when the very fact that the partners actually talk to each other is a great victory. Whereas Alma and Taddema in "Funiculi Funicula" dream about the past in a flash of escapism, Moira in Boyce's play draws conclusions. Her accomplishment is her insight into the importance of her own individuality:

In love one cannot be free - I lived only for you for a year and I wasn't happy. Don't you remember how I absorbed myself in you, gave up all my other interests, gave up my friends, could see nothing and nobody but you? And I wasn't happy. (61)

Moira has implemented rational thinking and thus arrived at a sense of her own self. Even Minnie's act of murdering her oppressive husband (albeit before the play commences) could be taken as an instance of finally bringing up the courage to act.

In fact, many of the plays discussed show the female characters at a moment of epiphany.24 The stage action in both "The Outside" and "Enemies" can indeed be regarded as crucial moments in the lives of the characters. The plays seem to advocate that integration could be possible, albeit in the future. The characters have a crucial insight. Mrs. Patrick and Allie Mayo of "The Outside" find out that communication could help them in overcoming their grief, thus opting for the life force over the death force. In "Trifles," the women are able to put the evidence together and thus understand Minnie's suffering. Moira in "Constancy" decided not to reunite with her former lover Rex after she discovered that their ideas of love and fidelity were incongruent. The women assert their right of an opinion and act accordingly.

* * *

Viewed synoptically as parts of one picture, the plays discussed show the destructive effects of the binary world order as inherited from the nineteenth century. The Victorian concept of separate spheres has not yet left the imagination of the playwrights who still use polarity as a structural principle. Bound to the binary thinking of the nineteenth century, the plays nevertheless argue for the desirability of the future integration of oppositions.25 The characters who recognize polarity are enabled to accept it as facets of their own personality. The issue is no longer: motherhood or creativity, but motherhood AS creativity; inside OR outside, but inside AND and outside; individuality OR responsibility, but individuality AS responsibility. In an article in the New York Times (February 18, 1914), novelist Rose Young defines feminism along the very lines of individuality:

To me feminism means that woman wants to develop her own womanhood. It means that she wants to push on to the finest, fullest, freest expression of herself. She wants to be an individual...The freeing of the individuality of woman does not mean original sin; it means the finding of her own soul.26

The plays argue that individuality can only materialize when the women refrain from viewing the world in bi-polar terms.

As the production and performance history of the plays in question suggests, the playwrights have indeed embarked on a journey away from the polar principle. The workshop-atmosphere in Provincetown was utterly inimical towards clear-cut role divisions such as playwright - actor - director - designer: everybody performed a variety of tasks. Even the polarity of stage and audience was eradicated, as an account of the first production, which included Boyce's "Constancy," shows:

The evening began with the performance of "Constancy," which was an unqualified success. The Hapgoods' sitting room was crowded with sympathetic, though critical, friends who took the play as a cue for yet another discussion on the New Woman's ambitions. Opinions were divided. [...] Chairs were shuffled around and moved back onto the verandah, so that the auditorium now occupied what had been the stage for "Constancy." "Suppressed Desires" was acted in the sitting room, with the audience looking in from the outside.27

However, the short plays can only hint at the possibility of integrating their polar constituents. Brevity seems to have hindered such integration. It could be interpreted as frustration with the limitations of the short play that neither Glaspell nor Boyce nor Wellman adhered to the one-act play as a means of artistic expression but moved on to longer forms, such as novels and full-length dramas.28 Judith E. Barlow's hypothesis that the Provincetown women, "who in some cases had to fit their play writing into time shared with household and family obligations, found the one act form more congenial and hence were reluctant to follow the trend to longer dramas,"29 is therefore not entirely true for Glaspell, Boyce, and Wellman, whose plays as well as whose literary careers suggest that in a world marked by polarization a union of roles is desirable but needs room for development.

Works Cited


Boyce, Neith. "Constancy. A Dialogue." The Provincetown Players. A Choice of the Shorter Works. Ed. Barbara Ozieblo. Sheffield, GB: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994. 52-63.

. "The Two Sons. A Play in One Act." The Provincetown Players. A Choice of the Shorter Works. Ed. Barbara Ozieblo. Sheffield, GB: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994. 117-130.

, and Hutchins Hapgood. "Enemies." The Provincetown Plays. Ed. and Selected by George Cram Cook and Frank Shay. With a Foreword by Hutchins Hapgood. Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd, 1921. 118-136.

Glaspell, Susan. "The Outside." Plays by Susan Glaspell. Ed. C.W.E. Bigsby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 48-55.

. "Trifles." Plays by Susan Glaspell. Ed. C.W.E. Bigsby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 35-45.

. "Woman's Honor. A Comedy in One Act." Susan Glaspell. Trifles and Six Other Short Plays. London: Benn, 1926. 81-102.

Wellman, Rita. "Funiculi Funicula." The Provincetown Players. A Choice of the Shorter Works. Ed. Barbara Ozieblo. Sheffield, GB: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994. 166-178.

Secondary Literature

Barlow, Judith E. "Susan's Sisters: The "Other" Women Writers of the Provincetown Players." Linda Ben-Zvi, ed. Susan Glaspell. Essays on Her Theater and Fiction. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. 259-300.

Ben-Zvi, Linda, ed. Susan Glaspell. Essays on Her Theater and Fiction. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Bigsby, C.W.E. "Introduction." Plays by Susan Glaspell. Ed. C.W.E. Bigsby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 1-31.

. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Vol. 1: 1900-1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Boni, Margaret, ed. Fireside Book of Folk Songs. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1947.

Bradbury, Malcolm and James McFarlane, eds. Modernism. A Guide to European Literature, 1890-1930. 11976. London: Penguin, 1991.

Curnutt, Kirk. Wise Economies. Brevity and Storytelling in American Short Stories. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1997.

Dorr, Rheta Childe. A Woman of Fifty. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1924.

Filene, Peter Gabriel. Him / Her / Self: Gender Identities in Modern America. 1st ed. 1974; 3rd ed. 1998. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Finney, Gail. "Theater of Impotence: The One-Act Tragedy at the Turn of the Century." Modern Drama 28 (1985):451-461.

Friedman, Norman. "What Makes a Short Story Short?" Modern Fiction Studies 4.2 (1958). 103-117.

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1 Singal 1987:12-13; on feminists challenging the "Victorian faith in sexual polarity" cf. Rosenberg 1982:xiv.

2 Heller 1991:3.

3 Pound 1954:4.

4 Susan Glaspell provided eleven plays, Neith Boyce and Rita Wellman both had four plays produced by the Players (cf. Bigsby 1982:20).

5 While "Trifles" is now widely acclaimed and anthologized, her other short plays are considered "genuine trifles," offering "nothing of real interest beyond an unusual stance of self-consciousness" (Bigsby 1982:26); for interpretations of "Trifles" cf. Bigsby 1987:9-12; Bigsby 1982:25-26; on production history and sources cf. Ozieblo 2000:28.

6 Wellman's short play "Funiculi Funicula" is one of the very few Provincetown plays to have won some critical appraisal; Barlow regards it as "one of the most disturbing if not best written plays of the group." (Barlow 1995:281).

7 Her first Provincetown play, "Constancy," was part of the first impromptu event staged at the Hapgood house after Glaspell and Cook's joint short play "Suppressed Desires" was turned down by the Washington Square Players; "Constancy" is based on the love affair of the Provincetowners John Reed and Mabel Dodge (cf. Bigsby 1982:9; Bigsby 1987:7); on the production and performance history of "Constancy" cf. Trimberger 1991:100; Ozieblo 1994:295; Barlow 1995:274-276; Ozieblo 2000:71-75; "Constancy" faced several modifications by Boyce and is considered by J. Barlow as "[s]tatic, talky, and didactic, [...] not Boyce's best play, but her revisions on it unfortunately diminished the little charm it had" (Barlow 1995:276).

8 Barlow 1995:262. On the fact that the plays are seldom considered 'great art' cf. Barlow 1995:262; Heller 1991:10: "We cannot claim these plays are lost classics in the history of American drama, but they do signify a time when it was possible for writers and artists to believe in the power of cultural expression as a transformative agent in society." C.W.E. Bigsby's critique of Glaspell's short plays, cf. Bigsby 1982:26.

9 Qtd. in Trimberger 1991:103.

10 Glenn 2000:6; Rosenberg 1982:54: "In the 1890s American magazine writers discovered the New Woman. Her distinguishing characteristics were her independent spirit and athletic zeal. She rode a bicycle, played tennis or golf, showed six inches of stocking beneath her skirts, and loosened her corsets. She expected to marry and have children but she wanted a life beyond her home - perhaps even a career"; for further descriptions of the New Woman cf. Rudnick 1991:73; Filene 1998:19.

11 Gilman 1998:160.

12 Dorr 1924:101.

13 Gilman 1904:22.

14 Trnqvist also emphasizes that "[t]he one-acter [...] lends itself to depicting parabolic situations. Here we deal not so much with people in conflict with each other as with Man in conflict with an outer and/or inner fate. Existential and universal problems reign supreme. This is characteristic of many one-acters/short plays since 1890; it is, however, not typical of thousands of earlier one-acters, let alone of short plays for amateur theatre" (Trnqvist 1996:136).

15 "The Two Sons" has been described as a "tragedy of misunderstood maternal love" (Ozieblo 2000:102); both Eugene O'Neill (Beyond the Horizon, 1920) and Susan Glaspell (The Comic Artist, 1928) would later employ a similar theme; Judith Barlow emphasizes that rather than motherhood, the focus in "The Two Sons" is on "the relationship between the two young men and their attitudes toward women" (280). I disagree: if motherhood was not the central idea, why is the play called "The Two Sons" rather than "The Two Brothers"?

16 Friedman argues that in a short story there can be indeed character development (104), a view differing from the opinion held by many theoreticians of the short play, namely that the short play's lack of magnitude restricts its capacity to show character development: cf. Schnetz 1967:89-91; Kosok 1980:86; Finney 1985:453.

17 Gilman 1904:22.

18 The lyrics of Funiculi, Funicula: Some think the world is made for fun and frolic / And so do I! And so do I! / Some think it well to be all melancholic/ To pine and sigh, to pine and sigh / But I, I love to spend my time in singing / Some joyous song, some joyous song / To set the air with music bravely ringing / Is far from wrong! Is far from wrong! / Harken! Harken! Music sounds afar! / Harken! Harken! Music sounds afar! / Funiculi, funicula, funiculi, funicula! / Joy is everywhere! Funiculi, funicula! [Cf.]; on the title of "Funiculi Funicula," cf. Boni 1947:43; Barlow 1995:282.

19 Apart from "Constancy," "Suppressed Desires," and "Funiculi Funicula," Ozieblo 1994:25 includes among New Woman plays performed by the Provincetown Players Lawrence Langner's "Matinata" and Alfred Kreymborg's "Lima Beans"; on Alma as New Woman cf. Barlow 1995:283.

20 One might of course argue that entering via a rope ladder is very romantic, above all the image of the balcony being reminiscent of the famous scene in Romeo and Juliet.

21 Curnutt asserts for the short story that "good fiction must show rather than tell" (Curnutt 1997:2); some of the plays discussed here are often dismissed as average in artistic merit; the reason for this might lie just in the opposition of telling vs showing, with showing being the preferred mode; Hebel also mentions the dilemma faced by writers of short plays: on one hand, they strive for complexity, on the other hand brevity forces them to use conventional and straightforward symbols to use the little space given to its best advantage (cf. Hebel 1996:287).

22 Cf. Ozieblo 1994:295: "Like many women of her day, although convinced that independence and a career were essential to her full development, Boyce believed above all in the power of love; her heroines sacrifice their careers to serve a loved one."

23 Cf. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Hints, ed. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge: CUP, 1995); John Stuart Mill, "The Subjection of Women," Three Essays (London, Oxford and New York: OUP, 1975):425-548; Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century  (Toronto and London: Dover, 1999), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics. A Study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women As a Factor in Social Evolution (Berkeley: U of California P, 1998); Judith Sargent Murray, Selected Writings of Judith Sargent Murray, ed. Sharon M. Harris (New York: OUP, 1995). In her essay "On the Equality of the Sexes" (1790) Murray wrote: "Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence" (5).

24 On the short play depicting a situation of crisis or epiphany, cf. Szondi 1965:92; Schnetz 1967:34; Kosok 1980:86; Stein 1991:vii: "Just as one might catch a glimpse of the truth from the corner of one's eye [...], so one is apt to catch a significant moment of truth through the narrow aperture of the short play. Such an experience may not have Aristotelian magnitude but it may penetrate nonetheless with the insight of that epiphanic moment - as potent, one might suggest, as any of Joyce's short stories in the Dubliners."

25 Cf. McFarlane 1991:92: "In Modernism the centre is seen exerting not a centrifugal but a centripetal force; and the consequence is not disintegration but (as it were) superintegration"; on earlier fragmentation and later integration in modernism cf. McFarlane 1991:71-93.

26 "Talk on Feminism Stirs Great Crowd," New York Times Feb 18, 1914, p.2; qtd. in Schwarz 1986:25.

27 Ozieblo 2000:74-75; on the modernist breaking of boundaries between stage and audience cf. Singal 1987:14.

28 "Glaspell was nothing if not experimental. Each play offered her an opportunity to explore different problems, to test her own abilities. Thus, though the one-act form was ideal for the purpose of the Provincetown Players, just as she had moved from short story to novel, so inevitably she moved to a full-length play, her first, Bernice, being produced in 1919" (Bigsby 1987:15).

29 Barlow 1995:288.


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