The Persephone Book of Short Stories: From A to Z by Susan Glaspell


From A to Z, a short story written by Susan Glaspell follows Edna Willard. Edna Willard, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, dreams of working in a publishing house. In her fantasy, she would have a little office all by herself, completed with a roll-top mahogany desk and “a big chair which whirled round like that in the office of the undergraduate dean.”

Alas, the Chicago publishing house she gets into turns out to be nothing compared to her fantasy! Forget the mahogany desk and the big chair that whirls, the publishing house located on Dearborn Street (not on Michigan Avenue, overlooking the lake!), does not even have its own building, let alone an entire floor. And the work, it turns to out be nothing of the sort Willard had imagined – when she is informed the publishing house is in the process of making a dictionary, and she is to “modernize and expand” the words in Webster without infringing the copyright!

Baffled by the turn of events (although, isn’t it almost ‘universal’ to get disappointed at your first job after graduating, save the lucky few?), Edna is considering rendering her resignation, when a voice which reminds her of “the voice the prince used to have in long-ago dreams” asks her if she needs any help.

The voice belongs to Mr. Clifford, the man who occupies the desk next to hers. Mr. Clifford, a kind gentleman quite older than Edna and not in perfect health, becomes her friend at the office. After awhile, it is clear to Edna that Mr. Clifford cares much for her. Things he does for her aren’t grand gestures of love, they are little things like always putting her overshoes in a warm place, so Edna has no proof of his love for her. But isn’t it true that “some of the most sure things in the world are things which cannot be proved”? So what will happen to the story of Edna and Clifford as they reach Z at last in the dictionary?

Written in 1909, From A to Z takes its readers to a long-lost era, a time with roll-top desks and paste-pots. It is also a story of love. Love here is far from madness, instead, it is generous and pure. The letter Clifford writes to Edna (which made me cry!) reminds us that true love is often selfless and not without complications.

If you are a fan of Jane Austen, this short story is for you. Luckily it is available online here, and it does not take long to read. 🙂


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