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text 2014-11-29 21:06
Autodidactic Rabbit Trails: Susan Glaspell, Random Online Reading Recomendations, and the Pardon of a "Boy Murderer"

Autodidactic Rabbit Trails: Where I meander around the web, bring back links of things that are oddly interconnected in some way, and in theory we all learn interesting things.


I was having one of my usual online days of wandering around via google - but I'll only share a few links before getting to the murder part. Er, the murder mentioned in the title that is. Because there are two murders in this post.


First I really wanted to run down a copy of Susan Glaspell's novel, Fugitive's Return (1929). If you've heard of Glaspell (and her wikipedia page makes for interesting reading itself - more bio here) it's possibly from the excellent short story Jury of Her Peers, about a murder and the accused, and how the women see things differently than the men. The story was rediscovered by various literary historians/authors and is now often used in anthologies and women's studies classes. If you haven't read it before here're some links:


Wikipedia page: Jury of Her Peers

Full text of story: Jury of Her Peers (and also here)


It's a fairly quick read, and I remember enjoying Glaspell's style. So when I bumped into a reference to her online, I found myself wanting to read Fugitive's Return, which is a novel that's somewhat autobiographical in covering the time when Glaspell and her husband left the US to go live in Greece. (Details on this bio page, where it's called "what many consider to be her greatest novel.") (Also, scroll down on this page for, randomly, a photo of Glaspell and her husband in Greece, with him wearing traditional Greek garb for some reason.) But nope, it's out of print. Sad reader moment. But this happens a lot when I'm looking up old books.


Then I spent a bit more time reading about Glaspell - and specifically the murder in Jury of Her Peers. I had no idea that it was based on a real murder (see the above wikipedia link for the short story), or that Glaspell had covered it in a series of articles for the Des Moines Daily News:


Glaspell articles on the Hossack Case


That particular page is part of a website for the book Midnight Assassin (by Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf), which chronicles the murder. (And I've had it on my wish list but has yet to go on sale, sigh.) Because I'm a greedy reader, I did peek at the "what the authors are up to next" page (I can never resist those), and Patricia Bryan has a few paragraphs on her research of the case of John Wesley Elkins, "an eleven-year old boy who was arrested for the murder of his father and stepmother in an isolated Iowa farmhouse in 1889." And of course I had to know more.


Bryan doesn't have a book out about it yet, but there's the next best thing - a 48 page long article she authored, and that's the meat of this recommendation post, because it's a good read:


John Wesley Elkins, Boy Murderer, and His Struggle for Pardon
Patricia L. Bryan, University of North Carolina
State Historical Society of Iowa: The Annals of Iowa, Vol 69 No 3 (Summer 2010), pps 261-307


Most of the footnotes are to primary source documents too, so this is not material you'd bump into elsewhere. Warning, I'm now going to launch into book review mode, even if it is 48 pages, because it's interesting history.

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