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Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time
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Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  448 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Drawing on her own experiences - suffering the death of her child and husband, a bitter estrangement from her family, and her struggle to make a living as a writer - the author's heroine, like herself, is forced to create a life that defies traditional assumptions about a woman's place in society.
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1854)
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A roman a clef by the nineteenth-century Erma Bombeck. "Fanny Fern" aka Sara Willis Parton (no relation to Dolly) was an acerbic columnist from 1851-1872 and at one point America's highest paid newspaper contributor. In retrospect, it's easy to see why her writing would prove popular: she is one of the few nineteenth-cen women whose style tended more toward the sarcastic than the pious, and she was all about calling dudes in cravats out on their hypocrises---especially her brother, Nathaniel Par ...more
Marne Wilson
I wrote my master's thesis on Fanny Fern, so obviously this book is very special to me. Like a lot of first novels, it hews pretty closely to Fern's own biography, and therefore the plot doesn't have a lot of big surprises, but Fern had a real eye for human behavior, and even the smallest bit characters in the story are rendered with surprising depth in just a few words. This is definitely the easiest of Fern's novels to obtain these days, but if you want to read the best, I would recommend Rose ...more
Poor Ruth. She, like Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. But she's tough and determined and driven and soon enough things go Ruth's way. Hooray!
I do have one issue with this book though. Apparently, Ruth Hall's story closely parallels her author's--Fanny Fern. So when you get to the end of the book after Ruth has found some success you become subjected to page after page of how great Ruth (aka Fanny) is. There are four (!) pages where "Ruth" visits a phrenologists and he explains, based on his
Ruth Hall can be rather sentimental at times if one looks at it from our 21st century eyes. I gave it four stars because it is a great example of American Victorian "women's" literature. Deserves to be read for the experience of reading a Victorian popular novel. I fear, however, that we, comfortably seated in our reading chairs nearly 150 years into the future, will find it easier to toss it aside as "sappy" and "emotional" rather than to bravely admit to enjoyinig it as the simple little gem t ...more
Sarah Echo
I was pleasantly surprised while reading this book. It’s of course sad that women still face many of the struggles depicted in this book, which was written 150 years ago. But the heroine, Ruth, faces her obstacles head-on admirably, and without complaint. Ruth is strong, courageous, and intelligent, much more so than her ill-fated husband, Harry. I’ve read many books from the nineteenth century in which the female heroines are portrayed as meek and inconsequential, never raising their voices aga ...more
Wow! This book is crazy. The author has so much talent; she vividly and completely paints such stunning descriptions - fun! alive! intelligent! - with just a few words. The book itself is interesting in that it was written by a woman in the 1850's, and yet it eschews the marriage plot entirely. On the surface the book appears to disdain organized religion and to abhor racial prejudice, championing intelligence, hard work, and an almost secular ethic of fair treatment and individual freedom. But ...more
She does her work with jump cuts and accounts for Ruth Hall's character by representing what other people say about her for the most part.She critiques the cult of true womanhood from within it. She is also able to show hypocrisy and way the public opinion and reputation was made at the time. The use of a pseudonym is intriguing and I feel like I am outing her to call her by her real name. Upon her death she was Sarah Payson Willis Parton. Her first husband died and she divorced her second husba ...more
Oh what a maddening books. There’s a lovely story, drawn from the author’s own experiences, a story with something to say, and at times it’s wonderful, but there are too many times when it is spoiled by the author pushing her point, her side of the story, a little too hard.

Of course I should make some allowance for the fact that Fanny Fern’s ‘Present Time’ was in America in the middle of the 19th century, but that isn’t quite enough.

Fortunately I could see the heart of the story, and I am glad t
I'm giving it only 3 stars simply because this is one of the most depressing books that I've ever read. Never before have I encountered a book where I couldn't stand so many of the characters, in this case the horrible in - laws, the cruel and pathetic Hyacinth and his father and also Ruth's cousins.
The plight of Ruth was immensely moving and I daresay a number of modern-day women could relate to it.

I finished the book in two days simply because I was eager to reach the end with hopes that thi
Kim Adamache
Read this for a graduate seminar on American popular culture. There are some sad and despicable characters in this book, but this is a very enlightening look at antebellum America and the attitudes of the emerging middle class struggling so hard to separate themselves from the working class from which they recently were part of. That she may have exaggerated over the treatment she received from her family is probable, however, that just emphasizes the immense inequalities and selfishness that ex ...more
This was a drag to read.
Perry Whitford
Ruth Hall, a young, sensitive girl with an unfeeling father and a self-obsessed brother finds love and marries into another family. Her husband treats her well but her in-laws are cold to her, 'like two scathed trees, dry, harsh, and uninviting'.
As Ruth grows into womanhood, her fortunes are shattered by the death of her husband. Her father and brother abandon her, her in-laws attempt to take her children from her, and left in a state of poverty she turns to writing as a way out.

Fanny Fern's wik
Jenn McCollum
Ruth Hall is, as its author Fanny Fern is careful to note, a "continuous story" rather than a novel. It is a work marked by a few covert postmodern gestures such as its vignette style, fragmented narrative, and its layers of subjectivity. At its core Ruth Hall takes up the popular nineteenth-century question of female authorship. Fern, like Marie Corelli in novels such as The Sorrow of Satan or The Murder of Delicia, manifests a literary protagonist who much resembles herself. Yet unlike Corelli ...more
The stars aren't letting me give this a rating, but I would give it 5 stars if I could.

The book club I attend chose this for the month of August and I loved it. I took a lot of American humanities and literature classes in college and I wonder why we never read this. The author, Fanny Fern (a pseudonym) was the first paid female columnist in America, and was at one time the highest paid columnist during her time.

I love stories with strong female character and I love stories written by strong wo
Elizabeth Suzanne
If you think Dickens is funny, you have another thing coming with Fanny Fern. This is a satisfying, almost-vengeful, but ultimately good-natured inversion of the sentimental domestic. Fern explores class strife, respectability politics, and Victorian sexism in a rags to riches story of powerful, sassy womanhood.
Phew. I am so glad that I am done with this.

This is a biography about Sarah Payson Willis (pseudonym Fanny Fern) writen in the form of fiction. A couple of things that I love her for include stealing pickles at seminary school, carving her initials on desks, being aggressive in that time period, wearing low-cut dresses, cross-dressing for a period of her lifetime and praising the sexual passages in Leaves of Grass.

When read without knowledge of the person the book may come off a bit dull but n
Ruth Hall is one of those books that unabashedly allows its characters to say what most people only think. Feeble Ruth, bears the brunt of it all from father to brother, to mother-in-law, to employer, to stranger. It all works out for Ruth though doesn’t it? She gets all the fame, all the money, and all the glory, while ironically those who coveted their money so dear, and kept it so far from Ruth, can now only wallow in their remorse. Could we expect anything else? There was no other way for Fe ...more
Laura Garner
A curious mixture of soggy sentiment and wry social commentary.
An interesting (sometimes overly sensational) story.
Haley Petcher
I read this book for a class called History of American Authorship, and when you read it with female authorship on the mind, the book (or at least the last third) is pretty interesting. Otherwise, it's not my favorite. The first two thirds are closer to the sentimentalism side. So if you're interesting in that type of work, you might enjoy it. Fanny Fern's newspaper articles take a very different tone from the book and are actually pretty funny. Definitely check those out!

*Read for grad school (
I found this book at a "used book" store, and became enthralled immediately with this easy-reading, engaging novel. I don't usually say that about books written in the mid-1800s. The story is semi-autobiographical about a woman's life, with her beloved husband, and then, as a widow trying to achieve financial independence as a result of her family's lack of support. The book transports you to her time - for those who don't think they can read classic literature, give this a try. I highly recomme ...more
Karen Hogan
This is a must read. Fictional autobiography of a woman and her two children, left destitute after her young husband dies. Her family turns their backs on them, and she must try to earn a living writing. It is said, that this story parallels the author's own story. Even reading this little gem today, you still get a sense of how dependent women were on their husband's and familes. The woman's struggles will disturb you.
One of those books I bought for a freshman/sophomore year women's lit class and never got around to reading. Really enjoyed it, actually. A woman is pretty much treated horribly by her in laws and doesn't get any support after her husband dies, still manages to earn money for herself and her child. You go, Ruth!
Lisa C
An excellent choice by a college professor for its uniqueness compared to other literature generally taught. It isn't so much that the work was unique in and of itself, but the exposure to an author who was popular in her time but ignored by history is something for which I have always been grateful.
Cassie Norton
Finished last week, just forgot to change my status. It was an okay. Gave some good perspective about women in nineteenth century America and was very well paced. It was a little annoying how perfect Ruth Hall was - but I guess that's what happens in a thinly veiled autobiography.
The overall story seems fairly obviously a criticism of family life, and in learning that it's autobiagraphical doesn't help make the message seem any more compelling. What does make this interesting to read is the over-the-top humerous presentation of the in-laws.
If you enjoy 19th century literature, read this book! It goes along with her real life story and also shows the importance of newspapers in the 1800's.
I really enjoyed Fern's development of the characters and how she used dialogue to show their inner thoughts.
Aug 08, 2007 Ivette rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All Women and Girls
This book is wonderfully written. Ruth Hall (our heroine) faces many obstacles. Her family turns her away when she is at her lowest. As a single mother in the 1800s Ruth struggles to survive and persues a seemingly ever-fleeting career in Journalism.
Finn Oliebollen
I did not enjoy this so much mainly because it was so soggy with revenge that it took away from the story. It had a narrow sighted purpose. She writes as though she was a pearl fallen in among the trash and she just needed to be plucked out.
Jan 08, 2008 Mary rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: classic lit geeks / feminists
Recommended to Mary by: assigned for my American Literary Renaissance class
Actually a really interesting read. You've got to love classic literature with a strong female lead (not to mention author.) Also, the chapters are ridiculously short, making it a quick go, which is especially nice so late in the semester.
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Fanny Fern, born Sara Willis (July 9, 1811 – October 10, 1872), was an American newspaper columnist, humorist, novelist, and author of children's stories in the 1850s-1870s. Fern's great popularity has been attributed to her conversational style and sense of what mattered to her mostly middle-class female readers. By 1855, Fern was the highest-paid columnist in the United States, commanding $100 p ...more
More about Fanny Fern...
Ruth Hall and Other Writings Rose Clark Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio. 2D Series. with Original Designs by Fred M. Coffin. Fresh Leaves Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, Volume 1

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