Vine and Oak: Wives and Husbands Cope with the Financial Panic of 1857

By Foroughi, Andrea R. | Journal of Social History, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Vine and Oak: Wives and Husbands Cope with the Financial Panic of 1857


Foroughi, Andrea R., Journal of Social History


As the vine which has long twined its graceful foliage about the oak, and been lifted by it into sunshine, will, when the hardy plant is rifted by the thunderbolt, cling round it with its caressing tendrils and bind up its shattered boughs; so is it beautifully ordered by providence, that woman, who is the mere dependent and ornament of man in his happier hours, should be his stay and solace when smitten with sudden calamity... (1)

In 1820, Washington Irving published the selection "The Wife" in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which included the oft-repeated metaphor of man as oak and woman as vine. This imagery pervaded nineteenth-century publications directed at the middle class. (2) The narrator in "The Wife" relates the story of a husband who feared telling his wife of his business failure because he assumed she could not cope with changed living circumstances that would result from his financial losses. In the end, the wife was relieved to know her husband's troubles, helped him secure a modest cottage outside of the city, and began arranging their new home. While the husband worried that she would now have "a home destitute of every thing elegant,--almost of every thing convenient," the wife made the cottage comfortable by playing music; placing "several pots of flowers tastefully disposed about the door"; presenting herself in a "pretty, rural dress" with a happy and bright face and flowers in her hair; and preparing a tea table outside to enjoy strawberries she had gathered. Thus, Irving's fictional wife supported her husband like the metaphorical vine by maintaining the appearance of domestic security even though he had lost his financial stability. (3)

Irving's fictional story was rooted in personal experience. His brothers' business had failed in 1818 on the eve of the first of a series of financial panics that occurred approximately every twenty years over the course of the nineteenth century. According to Irving scholar Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, Irving felt the failure keenly, both as a loss of financial support and as a humiliating personal shortcoming that left him feeling cast adrift. These feelings provided the impetus for him to compose the sketches that made up his book-to stabilize himself financially and professionally. (4) Rubin-Dorsky might have gone one step further; Irving needed to write a successful book to succeed as a man. Historians such as Toby Ditz, Scott Sandage, and Judy Hilkey have explored the experiences, language, and meanings of failure for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American men, finding that failure was indeed a challenge to individuals' as well as society's notions of masculinity. (5) Although increasing numbers of schola rs have analyzed women s economic behavior, demonstrating conclusively that American women participated actively in a wide variety of economic endeavors, few have noted women's responses to financial failure and whether this challenged femininity in the way masculinity was questioned when men failed. (6)

Irving's metaphor of the female vine and male oak provides a framework for examining husbands' and wives' strategies for responding to financial crisis. First, it suggests that husbands needed wives to cope with financial difficulties and the damage wrought by financial and gender instability on men. Second, the metaphor and the story of "The Wife" suggest in sentimental language and culturally approved ways that women were responsible for supporting men. (7) What did this mean to real women in financially straitened circumstances? Reading through the sentimental and pastoral imagery embedded in Irving's depiction, it is clear that an integral part of women's role was to keep up the appearance of comfort and security without appearing deceptive or artful about it, a role that middle-class wives repeatedly carried out. (8) For this reason, women probably did not experience the gender dislocation that men did when faced with economic failure; women's duty to keep up appearances was embedded with more cultural and social importance but was nevertheless the same whether in flush or hard times. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Vine and Oak: Wives and Husbands Cope with the Financial Panic of 1857
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.