Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

§66 Clara Lucas Balfour
(1808–1878)

Clara Lucas Balfour (née Lyddell) married James Balfour at age 15. Balfour educated herself by reading extensively. She was raised in the Church of England but became a Baptist at age 32. The Balfours had six children. Balfour supported the family by public speaking and writing because her husband was unable to hold down a job due to his drinking problem. He later signed the temperance pledge and gave up drinking entirely.

Balfour joined the Baptist church at the same time she joined the temperance movement. Temperance, social justice, and feminism were important themes in her writing and speaking. These themes influenced her reading of scripture. Balfour wrote over seventy works (novels, journal articles, stories) on temperance over a forty-year period. She also wrote four books on women: Women of Scripture (1847); Working Women of the Last Half Century: the Lessons of Their Lives (1854); The Bible Patterns of a Good Woman (1867); and Women Worth Emulating (1877).

This selection on Leah and Rachel is taken from Women of Scripture (1847). Balfour's interpretation of the story was similar to other women's readings. Like O'Keeffe, she used descriptive language to bring the story to life. Like Hall and Aguilar, she gave the reason for Jacob's tears when he first met Rachel. Balfour addressed the issue of parental favoritism raised by Jacob's treatment of Rachel's sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Balfour suggested this was not favoritism but the "compensating tenderness" of a father who had to be both mother and father to his sons. Balfour recognized the historical distance of the patriarchal times; she used developmental language in referring to that era as "the infancy of civilization." Like both Aguilar and Cornwallis, Balfour compared Leah and Rachel. Balfour requested readers to interpret using their judgment rather than their sympathies and feelings so they could see the lesson provided for them in the contrast between the two sisters.

Like Aguilar, Balfour addressed the Woman Question in this chapter. Balfour, however, was more direct in her approach to the question: she noted that both sons and daughters needed to obey their parents, so this was not unjust to women. Balfour also noted the strong influence of mothers on their

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