March 18, 2003

Hearts-ease, or, Brother's Wife, Charlotte M. Yonge

In summary, a sweet young girl named Violet, married at sixteen into a rich cold family, slowly teaches all of them affection patience and Christian virtue by her own exercise of the same. She is much inspired by reminiscences of a dead fiancée of tremendous serene grace: as in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, women can be good, happy, beautiful or alive, but not all at once. Violet loses her beauty to repeated childbirth, made worse by unkindness & fiscal ineptitude on the part of her husband & the rest of his family.

The erring women of the piece are most interesting - one who has grown headstrong through isolation, two who become manipulative for or with money, a fourth who runs her reputation way too near the edge & eventually falls off. They're interesting because, unlike Violet, they make plans and carry them out despite setbacks and opposition - sometimes they change their minds. The men make plans, but have relatively simple lives (as presented by Yonge, who doesn't show us politics or economics), since they don't have the double-standard minefield a respectable woman faced. Violet is wounded when her husband does immoral or unkind things, but must be too sweet and soft to tell him so in any way; mostly she nearly dies in childbirth, & while he's flattened by grief one of the more forceful characters gives him the what-for. This reminds me unpleasantly of The Little Duke; Yonge makes much of her characters' self-denying virtue but then has to bring in an unvirtuous rescuer.

URL: So wrote clew in Fiction (19th c.).

And thus wrote others:
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