Monday, May 19, 2014


In my reading recently I came across this post, Patriarchy in Homeschool Culture by Samantha Fields, in which I found a quote from the book Beautiful Girlhood. Beautiful Girlhood was originally written by Mabel Hale and published in 1922, and has been more recently revised by Karen Andreola and republished.

The section that Samantha quoted went as follows:

One day a handsome young gentleman alighted from a train … As he paced the platform, he soon attracted the attention of a young girl. She watched him flirtatiously out of the corner of her eye, coughed a little, and laughed merrily and a bit loudly with a group of her acquaintances; but at first he paid no attention …
At last he noticed, turned, and came directly to her, while her foolish little heart was all in a flutter at her success …
“My dear girl, he said, tipping his hat, “have you a mother at home?”
“Why, yes,” the girl stammered.
“Then go to her and tell you to keep you with her until you learn how you ought to behave in a public place,” and saying this he turned and left her in confusion and shame. It was a hard rebuke; but this man had told her only what every pure-minded man and woman was thinking. Girls can hardly afford to call down upon themselves such severe criticism. (130-31)

This is where a wide reading of true mid-nineteenth century literature comes in handy for a girl. Let me tell you the rest of the story, without the flowery prose (okay, maybe a little flowery prose).

The young girl immediately got the attention of the conductor and pointed to the offender saying, “Excuse me, sir, but that person, while unacquainted with me, presumed to come up to me and address me with words that insulted both my mother and myself. I trust I can rely on your protection from any further advances on his part.”

I mean, seriously? Let's look at the sequence of events as presented, shorn of any editorial content designed to influence our views of who is at fault here. A young man alights from the train, sees a bevy of attractive young ladies, and begins to pace around the platform. Why is he pacing? Whether he is waiting for another train, or a cab, or his valet to come and get him, the wait won't be made any shorter by him walking up and down. He sees a group of acquaintances, including one particular young lady, and attracts her attention.  Is this the purpose of his pacing? It would seem so to an observer not inclined to blame the woman in any interaction between a woman and a man.

But then, what does the young lady do? She laughs merrily at something that one of her acquaintances says. Obviously she's a strumpet, or wait, here's another thought. Maybe the group has noticed the young man's efforts to get her attention and one of them has said something amusing about him. And now she's laughing at him! So he does what he can to preserve his pride: make it seem like she's the one trying to attract his attention, and insult her for it.

I mean, otherwise we'd have to believe that this paragon of male virtue presumed to approach and address a young lady without a proper introduction just to correct her manners. He’d be lucky not to be horsewhipped. Young Victorian ladies suffered from a lot of disadvantages, true, but a lack of ways to deal with insults from young popinjays was not one of them.

As the authors would have known if they had bothered to read good literature instead of writing the bad kind.


  1. Heh true. It's amazing how much you can see the influence of the writer's culture on what's being written, particularly when they're setting it in a different time and place. George R.R. Martin gets really antsy about it in interviews I've read, pointing out that the interactions between people, particularly of different classes, were completely different in mediaeval (and later!) times than they are at present.

  2. The girls and women I know, thankfully, would have derided him on his appearance and mocked him and told him to F*** Off. In several languages. While laughing loudly at his discomfort.