If ever there was a pioneer in women’s rights and feminism, Fanny Fern (born Sara Willis) was she. And if ever there was a book that was the cornerstone of such movements, Ruth Hall (1854) is it. Sure, there had been others before her, but Fern made such a statement with all her writings, and became so popular among women and men, that she must have at least made a huge impact in that step towards women’s independency, and her fictional autobiography shows it.
Fanny Fern became the first newspaper columnist in the U.S. during a period that was dominated by men in every field. And on top of that, she became the highest paid newspaper writer of her time, a huge blow to men everywhere, and a giant step for women. And she did so from a poverty so low that she could barely feed herself and one child on a daily basis, resorting to milk and bread for most meals, if she even had the money for that. Her family shunned her because of her free spirit, continued to shun her for her poverty after her husband died (a marriage arranged by her parents, by the way), embraced her only when she became wealthy, and then shunned her again when she exploited them for all the wrongs they did to her when she needed them the most. She is the epitome of feminine independence, for after she received no help from her own family, she strove to make ends meat, endured every hardship thrown her way, and worked all hours of the day to finally make enough money to support herself and her children. Then she wrote all about it, in a fictionalized way, in her novel Ruth Hall.
Though a bit exaggerated and sarcastic, Ruth Hall exploits the uncivil side of society that we all know exists: The negative, unsupportive, greedy people that prevail and preside over the average, honest, hard-working people that go unnoticed. But Fern’s exaggeration and witty sarcasm are what make us really realize the truth behind her words. She shows us how evil humankind can be – not just men, but women as well – and especially when assistance is needed most. She emphasizes the nation’s obsession with gender roles in the nineteenth century and ridicules the necessity of such, and she does so by retelling her own tale through the fictional character of Ruth Hall.
It is amazing how one person can go through so many hardships in one life, but Hall does it and prevails just as Fern did so priorly, and it makes for a great, riveting story that stands the test of time. As for the “Other Writings” as the title of the book pictured suggests, I have not read them, but I am sure they are equally engaging. I did, however, read the long-winded introduction, which is where I got the information of Fanny Fern’s biography. And by long-winded, I mean long-winded. The introduction amounts for 10% of the book, equal to about a fifth of the actual novel. The last 40% of the book, the “Other Writings,” include many of the actual newspaper articles written by Fanny Fern, which made her famous and opened the door to her life as a journalist and author.
If you have not had a chance to pick this story up yet, do so soon, as it is a great book for men and women alike, and I recommend it to all. I give Ruth Hall 4 out of 5 stars.