Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
Alison’s House , the last produced play by Glaspell, was first presented at the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City on December 1, 1930. The production, produced and directed by Le Galliene, ran for forty-one performances and won for Glaspell the 1931 Pulitzer Prize in drama—a decision that outraged...
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Alison’s House, the last produced play by Glaspell, was first presented at the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City on December 1, 1930. The production, produced and directed by Le Galliene, ran for forty-one performances and won for Glaspell the 1931 Pulitzer Prize in drama—a decision that outraged some critics who disliked her play and thought it too literary.
Alison’s House concerns a noted fictional poet, Alison Stanhope, who has been dead for eighteen years when the curtain rises. Her poetry, published after her death, has brought her posthumous fame. The play begins on December 31, 1899, in the library of the Stanhope estate. John Stanhope, Alison’s brother, is selling the property, and there is much confusion as family members gather to say goodbye and pick up keepsakes. One of the recently arrived relations is Elsa, Alison’s niece and John’s daughter, who had scandalized the family some years earlier by running off with a married man. A Chicago newspaper reporter, Ted Knowles, has also come to do a story on Alison; he is curious to know if all Alison’s poetry has been published.
Slowly, the dark secret buried inside the house comes to life. Alison’s family has withheld some of her poetry. Agatha, Alison’s spinster sister and close friend, decides to burn down the mansion to destroy the papers and bury the secret. Failed in her attempt, she gives Elsa the unpublished poetry and dies shortly after of a heart attack. The final act takes place in Alison’s old room. Alison’s secret is revealed: She was in love with a married man, but unlike Elsa, she sublimated her secret passions into poetry. The play ends with Elsa planning to publish Alison’s lost poetry because it belongs to the world and the new century.
Glaspell based the play loosely on the life of the New England poet Emily Dickinson; she moved the setting to Iowa. Unable to use Dickinson’s poetry, Glaspell freely borrowed from the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. She again used one of her favorite literary devices; the title character is never seen, but her presence is felt through the other characters. The newspaper reporter Knowles sums it up best:You know, I think all your family have something of the spirit of Alison Stanhope. . . . Yes, coming in fresh, I can tell better than you. It’s as if something of her remained here, in you all, in—in quite a different form.
The dramatist ends the play on the note of rebirth and love. The play is tightly constructed and adheres to the classical dramatic unities. Through the various characters, Alison becomes a reality, an ideal who brings hope and regeneration.