Contented Reader

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Folly As It Flies

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Folly As It Flies

Fanny Fern

Project Gutenberg

This is the second of Fanny Fern’s collections to be added to the archives at Project Gutenberg, and I’m becoming quite a fan of her work.  According to Wikipedia, six collections of essays and columns were published; I earnestly hope that some PG volunteer is working on obtaining and digitizing all of them.

This book was published in 1868, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War.  Fern does have a few pieces about the aftermath of the war, but most of the essays are about domestic topics: how to make a happy home, how to raise children.  She’s sentimental in places, but she’s also very pragmatic and straightforward, and she has strong and progressive opinions about women’s suffrage and about fair treatment for everyone who lives under others’ financial control: women, children, factory workers, domestic workers.

Her work is a fascinating look into what it was like to be a wife in the nineteenth century.

“Now, I am a clerk, with eight hundred dollars salary, and yet my wife expects me to dress her in first-class style. What would you advise me to do—leave her?”

These words I unintentionally overheard in a public conveyance. I went home, pondering them over. “Leave her!” Were you not to blame, sir, in selecting a foolish, frivolous wife, and expecting her to confine her desires, as a sensible woman ought, and would, within the limits of your small salary? Have you, yourself, no “first-class” expenses, in the way of rides, drinks and cigars, which it might be well for you to consider while talking to her of retrenchment? Did it ever occur to you, that under all that frivolity, which you admired in the maid, but deplore and condemn in the wife, there may be, after all, enough of the true woman, to appreciate and sympathize with a kind, loving statement of the case, in its parental as well as marital relations? Did it ever occur to you, that if you require no more from her, in the way of self-denial, than you are willing to endure yourself—in short, if you were just in this matter, as all husbands are not—it might bring a pair of loving arms about your neck, that would be a talisman amid future toil, and a pledge of co-operation in it, that would give wings to effort? And should it not be so immediately—should you encounter tears and frowns—would you not do well to remember the hundreds of wives of drunken husbands, who, through the length and breadth of the land, are thinking—not of “leaving” them, but how, day by day, they shall more patiently bear their burden, toiling with their own feeble hands, in a woman’s restricted sphere of effort, to make up their deficiencies, closing their ears resolutely to any recital of a husband’s failings, nor asking advice of aught save their own faithful, wifely hearts, “what course they shall pursue?”

And to all young men, whether “clerks” or otherwise, we would say, if you marry a humming-bird, don’t expect that marriage will instantly convert it into an owl; and if you have caught it, and caged it, without thought of consequences, don’t, like a coward, shrink from your self-assumed responsibility, and turn it loose in a dark wood, to be devoured by the first vulture.

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Written by Contented Reader

August 7, 2012 at 7:42 am

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