Saturday, November 07, 2009

"The Little Foxes" - Lillian Hellman

"Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes I think it ain't right to stand and watch them do it."

The Hubbards are a familiy with ambition. Their greed is all consuming as they struggle to profit from exploiting what is left of the Old South after the Civil War. Ben Hubbard is head of the family with his younger brother Oscar towing the family line as a sheep would obey a sheperd. Regina is their sister, wife to Horace, mother to Alexandra, with a dangerous hunger for profit. The trio hatch a plan for a cotton factory in town, partnering with a Northerner but they need to raise the capital to start building. By coincidence Horace has a great number of bonds in a safety deposit box and it seems up to the siblings to pressure him to donate to their future financial happiness. Should their plan fail, Oscar's son Leo just happens works at the bank.

I'm not a great reader of plays so this was a good introduction to post-modern theatre. Hellman has a real understanding of dialogue as the tension rises, the sentences get shorten, the diction more terse. Also, the infighting between siblings is believable and enticing to read. The intrigues of their attempted manipulation of each other reminds me of "The Lion in Winter" with bickering royals.

My complaint is how few and weak the protagonists seem. Horace, Birdie, Oscar's wife and Alexandra are all that stand up to the Hubbards. Horace is an invalid, Bertie has personal problems and Alexandra is a child. They seem unequal to the task of holding on through the play. If Hellman had only created one strong character I would have felt the odds more in their favour.

It's a good play and was even turned into a movie with Bette Davis as Regina. If you're a fan of reading about sibling rivalries this is the book for you.

Rating: 3/5

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