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

Part 6

LOT'S WIFE AND DAUGHTERS, DINAH, TAMAR, AND
POTIPHAR'S WIFE—THE OTHER WOMEN OF GENESIS

Introduction

Nineteenth-century women looked to Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel for inspiration and self-understanding. They overlooked many of the less prominent and more controversial female figures like Lot's wife and daughters, as well as Dinah, Tamar, and Potiphar's wife. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: "The texts on Lot's daughters and Tamar we omit altogether, as unworthy a place in the 'Woman's Bible.'"1 Other women writers shared Stanton's opinion of the accounts of women involved in "unspeakable" acts. Many authors omitted these stories entirely from their writings; others referred to them briefly, with disdain; others used the negative examples of these women to admonish and preach to their readers. Only a few writers moved beyond judgment to empathize with the plight of marginalized women like the rejected Tamar and the abused Dinah.

The reaction of the nineteenth-century writers to the stories involving sexuality reflected the sensibilities of their culture. Women craved and cultivated "delicacy," or an inner intuition that allowed them to distinguish between good and evil. Delicate women were supposed to be shocked at every encounter with evil; to maintain this sensibility, women avoided frequent contact with immoral behavior, so they did not write about these questionable stories in Genesis.2

1 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible (New York: European Publishing Co., 1895),
67.

2 For a more detailed discussion of the sensibility of delicacy in the nineteenth century, see
Noel Perrin, Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America (New
York: Atheneum, 1969), 7–15.

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