Carl Degler
At Odds

She knew that she could not possibly hear from him for another two weeks and so she resolved to contain herself, as she had promised. 'It is a sin to be wishing these glorious June days away,' she confessed, 'but it is a sin that I cannot help committing.' Then when she did hear from him, she became suddenly aware of how slow and sad the summer was, compared with the last, when he had been able to be with her. 'I shall lead a sort of half life till you come back. How could I ever have let you go?'

Their closeness continued and ripened through the 1860s and into the 1870s, though by then their children were grown. In 1863, for example, when he was working in New York City, she admitted the practical necessity of the arrangement only because she knew she was 'infinitely happier to have you away from me while I know that you love me, than I should be with you if ours were such a match as some that I might mention.' Nor had the romance in their marriage dissipated even then. When he returned to New York after an extended visit to their home she wrote that his departure 'makes me feel decidedly sentimental and I grieve over your loss like a widowed dove. What a foe to love is business! Do let us retire and live in Andover an Arcadian life, our only business being to make each other happy!' In January 1870 she was still trying to reconcile herself to his absences, promising not 'to grieve over your absences again. I ought to be too happy to think that such a being exists, and lives to love me. It is enough for one mortal.'

The love and warmth that flowed between Henry, and Mary Poor were probably not typical of middle-class marriages of the Victorian era, as Mary herself at one point suggested. But the affection and emotional dependence were not rare, even among families much less well off, or in which the spouses were less suited to one another. Mary Hallock Foote had a difficult life in the far West, married to a mining engineer who was not always able to support his family, much less provide emotional security. So difficult was his situation—and therefore hers—that he took to drink; Mary Foote was so disgusted that she ran off briefly with her children to Victoria, British Columbia. But that absence brought home to her, as she confessed later, in 1896, to her girlhood chum and confidante, that she could not endure being separated from her husband. 'I tried it once in Victoria, as you know, such a little step, but I felt so lost. No,' she continued, any long visits away from home 'must be both of us or neither.'

The emotional dependence of the wife on the husband in the 19th-century family served an important purpose for the husband, just as the ideal of separate spheres prescribed. Her presence provided emotional support, nurturance, and encouragement, if only because he learned thereby of his importance to another human being. The quality and extent of that support or encouragement was most clearly observable when adversity or disappointment struck. Sarah Bell Waller, the wife of a Kentucky lawyer, in 1855 exemplified as well as defined this role. 'You seemed so sad and troubled this evening,' she wrote soon after he had left home on a business trip. 'I longed my dear love to leave all and go with you tonight that I might drive away all your vexations and cares, and cheer you and love you and caress you, till you ceased to feel sad, or troubled.' After assuring him that she was the proper one to whom he should bring his troubles, she went on. 'T'is to me, you must come for sympathy and consolations, for I am nearest to you and have a right to all these dear confidences. You are my dear sweet husband, whom I love most dearly, and truly, and I cannot be unmoved by what affects you.' And when Melville Anderson in 1876 was discouraged about his professional future as he perceived it from his European place of study, he wrote about it to his wife Charlena. Her response was at once supportive and indicative of her emotional need to be with him. 'When you come back to America I am going to stay right with you. Don't be discouraged. I am going to follow you to Texas, New Mexico, Alaska or any other place you may be offered a post,' she promised. 'A year with you would be worth twelve without you,' she assured him. The dependence of women had two sides to it: subordination undoubtedly, but also strength and self-reliance. Husbands not only depended on both, but required both.

The dual character of a woman's relationship to her husband was neatly epitomized by an incident in the life of Mollie Dorsey Sanford. When her new husband was ordered to join his company to fight the Indians in New Mexico, she stood beside him 'in the midst of those men, only wishing for one moment when I could abandon myself to grief,' that is, to show her dependence. But before she could find the occasion, the supportive side of her wifely role was called upon. She noticed that her husband's emotions had anticipated hers, for tears were trickling down his cheeks. 'Then all the heroic in my woman's nature came [forth] and I turned to be the comforter,' she proudly recalled.

In the relationship between Mary and Arthur Foote, the strong supportive side of the wife's role was the one more frequently called upon. Because she was a professional writer and artist as well as a mother, Mary Foote was well aware, as she told her confidante Helena Gilder, that she was not a very conventional wife, and so Helena could well 'imagine how often I lean very hard upon Arthur's generosity and magnanimity.' At the same time, it was Mary who was providing the income for the family when Arthur was unable to. Yet Arthur needed more than income, as she recognized when he reached the depths of his despair and had written to her from the field about his empty future.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Through Eden took their solitary way.