Raising an interesting question
And after reading it, I had to wonder: was there more to Louisa’s refusal to marry than just wishing to remain an independent spinster? I suspect the reason was more complex.
Christie finds comfort in a friend
In chapter 8, Christie, saved from her despair by the kindly Cynthy Wilkins, draws much consolation from Cynthy’s life. Beneath Cynthy’s rough exterior, the “fuzzy, red hair, the paucity of teeth, the faded gown” lay a deep sense of joy, peace and satisfaction with life.
Finding true religion
As recalled in a previous post, Christie sought initial consolation in religion but could find none. In Cynthy Wilkins, she finds it: “This woman has got the sort of religion I want, if it makes her what she is. Some day I’ll get her to tell me where she found it.”
We do find out in chapter 9 but that will be discussed in the next post.
Why so devoted?
For now, Christie finds the life example she is looking for in Cynthy Wilkins. She is comforted by the woman’s stories but admitted to being puzzled by Cynthy’s devotion to her husband Elisha despite the fact that there truly was nothing extraordinary about him.
Once she heard Cynthy’s story, her view changed.
A marriage in trouble …
Cynthy told a lengthy story of her marriage, how at first she succumbed to the poor advice of a troublemaking neighbor and indulged in a life of frivolity and fashion. Her husband did all he could to please her but her self-centered ways and excessive spending took its toll.
Pride gets in the way
Despite doing what she pleased, Cynthy described herself as “dreadful fractious;” the home front was disorderly and discordant, the children ran wild, and Elisha could find no peace. They ended up having a terrible fight where he slapped her. He was remorseful but it was to no avail. Cynthy in a huff left home to live with the meddling neighbor and in a prideful snit, waited for Elisha to come and fetch her.
He did not and she began to regret leaving him. A sudden flash flood from a heavy rainstorm and the possibility that he had been swept away sharpened that regret. Fortunately he was alright and they reunited and reconciled. They both mended their ways and she came to appreciate a simpler life with him and her children. She also recognized that her neighbor was no friend and kept a wide berth of her.
What makes a successful marriage?
Louisa painted the picture of a true marriage in all its complexities, its ebbs and flows. Cynthy and Elisha were not an attractive couple; each had their faults. Their strength however was their devotion and commitment to each another. Their relationship relied on something deeper than creature comforts and was strong enough to weather storms of pride, meddling neighbors and anger.
No doubt Louisa witnessed all of this in her parents’ marriage.
Marriage closer to home
Bronson and Abba had a complex relationship and Abba certainly suffered at the hands of Bronson’s narcissism and lack of propensity to provide for his family. She was angry, depressed, frustrated and frightened, and she poured all of her distress into the daughter who understood her so well.
A trap, or something workable?
It’s no wonder Louisa saw marriage as a trap. This story from Work, however (and her description of Meg and John Brooke’s marriage in Little Women) demonstrates that she did see marriage as workable and even desirable.
What was Louisa afraid of?
Louisa was ambitious, wishing make her mark in the world as a writer. She took on the yoke of breadwinner for her family, finding it both satisfying and a burden. Louisa was bold and at times appeared fearless. Yet her work made a great excuse for avoiding the thing in her life that truly terrified her: intimacy.
Friendships without strings
Think about it. How many intimate relationships did Louisa have beyond her immediate family? Consider the relationships she had with men: they were either old enough to be her father or young enough to be a son. These relationships were safe; they required no real commitment on her part.
Hard to manage
Louisa described Cynthy as hard to manage in her younger days; she was so difficult that her husband would not come and fetch her when she up and left him.
Did Louisa see herself that way?
She often described herself as “topsey-turvey.” In a letter to her father she writes, “I was a crass crying baby, bawling at the disagreeable old world…. I scrambled up into childhood,…fell with a crash into girlhood & continued falling over fences, out of trees, uphill & down stairs tumbling from one year to another till strengthened by such violent exercise, the topsey turvey girl shot up into a topsey turvey woman …” (pages 148-149 ebook, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen)
Moods, moods …
She often wrote in her girlhood diaries of her bad temper and the sorrow she felt as a result. Her moods put her on a constant and violent roller coaster ride. The vortex that she entered in order to write erected a barrier around her such that no one could enter, and when she’d emerge, she would be cranky, bereft and irritable.
Lack of acceptance
Her life would have been easier if those at home and society at large could have accepted Louisa for the way she was; there’s no doubt she had a generous dose of the famed artist temperament. Louisa would indeed have required a man of great patience and understanding if she wished to marry.
Avoiding the issue
So it makes me wonder if her relentless pursuit of writing plus the need to support her family were convenient excuses to avoid the deeper issue of facing and accepting herself as the woman she truly was.
My instinct tells me there was more to her remaining a spinster than her desire to remain independent.
What do you think?
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