Ruth Hall (which is based on actual events in the author's life), is about a woman who is left destitute and unable to support her children following the death of her husband, because her relatives and in-laws are poop-heads (at least, I think that's the precise literary term) who won't give her any money (or very, very little), so in desperation, she starts writing columns for the newspapers and eventually becomes a tremendous success and is able to gain financial independence. That summary doesn't do it justice, though; it's very clever and very satirical. The first part reminds me of the Lemony Snicket books in that it appears to be a typical novel of the day, but at the same time it's parodying them.
The edition we are using in class includes some of her newspaper articles, which are even better than the novel. She wrote on a lot of different subjects, but mostly women's issues. Her broad caricatures of men and married life are so extreme as to be nearly offensive, but nevertheless so clever that I can't help but laugh at them; she's like the nineteenth-century Erma Bombeck, except much edgier.
This is the simultaneous gift and curse of studying literature: when you're a literature student, you have less time (and sometimes less inclination) to read the material of your choice, but on the other hand, you're exposed to some wonderfully enjoyable material that you might never have discovered on your own.