Essay on American Women in the Nineteenth Century

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Contrary to popular belief, ideas on femininity in the eighteenth century were not so much restrictive as in the nineteenth, at least not where sex was concerned. Catherine Clinton, a professor of American history, elaborates in her book, The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century, that it was even accepted for women to have a high sex drive. Clinton also reveals that it was not uncommon to see a pregnant bride (147). At the turn of the century, however, those free ideals morphed into strict guidelines. Society began to value a woman by her sexual purity and dependent behavior. During the nineteenth century, the type of woman who was most valued was a ‘trophy’ wife, much like Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady by Willa…show more content…
She does even trivial things to show her affection, like helping, “… the Captain divest himself of his… coat and [putting] it away for him,” or by helping him undress (Cather 58). Taking care of her husband, who is twenty-five years older than her, is undeniable evidence that she has a good heart because she always could have left Mr. Forrester. She sacrifices a lot to be with the Captain: her livelihood. Throughout the book, Mrs. Forrester’s desires for fun and excitement are evident. She expresses that she, “… feels such a power to live in [her],” and longs to return to California (Cather 125). In spite of this, Marian suppresses her own aspirations to stay and care for her husband. Overall, Marian proves herself to be at the very least, a decent woman. Unfortunately, in Niel’s eyes, no amount of kindness can make Mrs. Forrester redeemable after he hears her with Frank Ellinger. After the incident, Niel feels, “…he had lost one of the most beautiful things in his life,” (Cather 86). His feelings, however, seem very absurd. Before that moment, Mrs. Forrester was everything to the young man, and after, her infidelity completely destroys Niel’s image of her. Later, he scornfully calls her a “common woman” after he sees Ivy Peters put his hands on her breasts (Cather 169-170). Both incidents are definitely disillusioning for Niel, especially since he put her on such a high pedestal, but the quickness to disown her illustrates how imbalanced
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