Friday, September 16, 2011

Ruth Hall (Fanny Fern, 1855)

The Heroine: Ruth Hall, a spirited and intelligent woman atypical of the time period. Happily married with three little girls, Ruth's sunny world crashes down on her when her husband dies and leaves her with nothing. Turned away by her family, Ruth is forced to find a way to support her children and herself, without any help from a man. Written as an autobiography of the author, Fanny Fern (the first weekly newspaper columnist in America, male or female!), the story is just as relevant today as it was during the 1800s.

The Highs: I have so much admiration for Ruth. Not only does she overcome poverty, ridicule, starvation, and alienation, but she does so with her faith and good spirits in tact. I love the tender way Fanny Fern writes about motherhood: it is treated much more emotionally than in most period novels, where the bond between parent and child usually seems more like one between owner and pet.

I also love that the book focuses on Ruth providing for herself, not searching for a husband to provide for her. This makes the story and character so much more relevant for modern days, where the trend of marrying for money is generally over. Ruth's do-it-yourself attitude is so inspirational. If Ruth Hall could become free and independent back in 1855, I'm surely capable of it here in 2011.

The writing is very modern, so no need to worry that the author's meaning will get lost in translation. Not to mention the hilarious minor characters to bring on the laughs!

The Lows: There is one chapter on phrenology that I found quite random. It didn't really fit in with the rest of the story, almost as if someone had just slotted it in there after the fact. There are also some loose ends left dangling that might irk at some curious minds (what was that whir-whir-whir noise from the attic?? If anyone knows, fill me in!)

As well, this isn't the book for you if you're looking for a great love story. Ruth's husband, her one true love, dies early on and the rest of the story is devoid of romantic interludes.

Final Thoughts: I read it over the course of a day because I found it so fascinating, given the historical context. I hadn't heard of Fanny Fern before I picked up this book, but now I think I'll have to add her to the list of Most Inspirational Women of All Time.

Rating: I'll rate it seven bouquets of wildflowers out of ten.

To buy Ruth Hall on Amazon, click here
To learn more about Fanny Fern, click here
Photo from here

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