Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric

By Carol Mattingly | Go to book overview
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"Wine Drinkers and Heartless Profligates": Water Drops from Popular Novelists

Among women, excluded as they are from all participation
in the conviviality which leads astray so many of the stronger
sex, a clearer and more rational view early prevailed. They
experienced not the tempting pleasure, but they observed the
next day's depression or irritability, and they counted the cost!

-- Caroline Kirkland, "Agnes: A Story of Revolutionary Times"

TEMPERANCE WAS THE woman's issue of the nineteenth century. Temperance novels and stories proliferated, apparent in titles that announced their subject matter, such as "The Drunkard's Daughter" or "The Intemperate Reclaimed," or because they were published by temperance publication houses. But anxieties about alcohol's use and abuse, and consensus about its detrimental ramifications for women, were so pervasive that scarcely a popular nineteenth-century woman's novel exists that does not make reference to intemperance, attesting to its inherent dangers. Not only did references to problems associated with alcohol surface in the writings of the century's most popular novels, many popular writers wrote explicitly temperance fiction. Such fiction writing was probably comfortable for them. As Mary Kelly suggests, many of these women "could enter the man's world [of writing] because they had not left behind woman's work" (287). By writing temperance fiction, they both contributed to the notion of temperance as rightfully a woman's issue and maintained their own association with woman's work.

While such writing among popular authors was often less "radical" than that written by women who wrote primarily temperance fiction,


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