Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric

By Carol Mattingly | Go to book overview

6
"The Feelings of the Romantic and Fashionable": Women's Issues in Temperance Fiction

I never saw a bridal but my eyelids hath been wet It always seemed the saddest sight of all To see a gay and girlish thing lay aside her maiden gladness, For a name and for a ring.

WITH THIS TRENCHANT epigraph, Henrietta Rose introduces the chapter "The Bridal Excursion" in her 1858 temperance novel, Nora Wilmot: A Tale of Temperance and Woman's Rights (129). Rose questions narrow societal strictures that leave few choices for women, a major concern in much temperance fiction by women. An excerpt from Lydia Sigourney's 1833 sketch, "The Intemperate," illustrates an even more prevalent topic in such fiction: women's often dangerous dependency on men. Sigourney's narrator comments on protagonist Jane Harwood's danger as she moves away from family and friends with her husband John: "He felt she had no friend to protect her from insolence, and was entirely in his own power; and she was compelled to realize that it was a power without generosity, and that there is no tyranny soperfect as that of a capricious and alienated husband" (178).

Such examples typify the issues that nineteenth-century women writers of temperance fiction discussed at mid-century. Authors addressed the very real concerns women had about alcohol, but the temperance topic also allowed them to examine other issues of concern to women, as did women temperance speakers: societal and legal injustices, issues of physical abuse, and the generally unequal treatment of women. Like women speakers at mid-century, they portrayed women as victims of inebriate men, providing both a rallying point and a justification for temperance

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