American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

By Brian Roberts | Go to book overview

Seven
Widows and Helpmates

Harriet Dunnel envisioned her situation as much like that of the forty-niners. Forced because of expenses to move from Manhattan to the countryside around Athens, New York, she was, as she put it, a “stranger in a strange land.” Her husband missed his home, she missed hers: “the country,” she exclaimed, “looks very dull and dreary to me who is accustomed to City life.” The house she was to occupy in his absence was even drearier. “I had never looked into such a dismal place,” she thought at the time, later writing that “if my husband was here to take a look with me he would pity me.” And yet, as she had promised, she would keep up a brave front, only exposing her true feelings to him: “according to your request,” she wrote, “I have endeavored to make myself as happy as possible, and have so far succeeded as to make many in this place think I bear your absence very well, it only shows my dear John how little they know of this heart of mine.” 1 Indeed, her brave facade seemed to be working. “Don't get uneasy about your family,” wrote one of the Dunnel family members to John, “you are taking better care of them in California than you could here.” All was well, added another, “Harriet has purty good spunk, … she has kept up uncommon and [is] as busy as a little bee—from all I hear they think a great deal of her in Athens.”

Assumed bonds of intimacy allowed Harriet to express a different story to her husband. Despite word to the contrary, she was suffering: “had I been told,” she wrote him, “for a certainty, you would not return in two years, I do not believe I would have lived through the [confinement], … it is very unpleasant in this place in the winter.” As for the good people of Athens, they too were a source of strife: “there is a great degree of selfishness in this place,” she added, “and it impresses me with the perfect inactivity and want of energy of most of

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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • American Alchemy *
  • Introduction 1
  • One - California Gold and Filthy Lucre 17
  • Two - Gold Fever as a Cure 43
  • Three - Husbands and Wives 69
  • Four - Numberless Highways to Fairy Grottos 93
  • Five - A Great and Perverse Paradise 119
  • Six - California Is a Humbug 143
  • Seven - Widows and Helpmates 169
  • Eight - A Wild, Free, Disorderly, Grotesque Society 197
  • Nine - The Prude Fails 221
  • Ten - The End of the Flush Times 243
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 277
  • Index 321
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