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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Culture and Life

The Tragedy of Indulgence

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

This article, by Fanny Fern, is about the tragic over indulgence of mothers towards their daughters, protecting them and not preparing them for life.


The Tragedy of Indulgence

…. This is the reason why so many excellent, thorough, old-fashioned, motherly housekeepers allow their daughters, willing enough, we grant, to be thus reprieved, to grow up ignorant of those things which no woman can safely afford to neglect, especially in a country where wealth changes hands with so little warning. It is so much easier to take hold and do a thing in ten of fifteen minutes, than to explain to the pretty but useless Anna-Maria that it would be wise for her to roll up her sleeves and descend to the kitchen, to get some idea of the process by which wholesome dinners and manufactured against the evil day of Betty’s defection when she is the distressed mistress of a house of her own. The feat, at last accomplished, of luring the unwilling damsel below stairs, how much easier to mix flout and butter deftly yourself, trusting that the damsel’s observant eyes will be on you - instead of being blankly fixed upon the window-pane – than to put these ingredients into her own hands, and stand by, while she does everything the wrong-est possible way, as no doubt you did yourself when you took your first lesson in culinary matters.

But this latter fact is not apt to be remembered by these capable but blameable mothers, who, after two or three up-hill attempts to initiate Anna-Maria into these mysteries, slide back into the old proverbial groove, “it you want a thing done well, do it yourself,” and quiet present and future responsibility with the thought that, “after all, she is but a child, and there’s time enough yet.” Meanwhile, Anna-Maria is dawdling away the most precious hours of her existence in castle-building and flirting; and some fine day she stands twiddling the rings of her fingers before her astonished mother, as she tells the time-old story of the lover who has some to woo; and then follows a short courtship and a speedy marriage, and this salve to the mother’s uneasy conscience, that “experience is the best teacher, after all,” and that no doubt Anna-Maria will manage somehow, as other married girls have done.

“Somehow!” Alas! But what a time to be learning A. B. C. when one is put at the head of a class to fill the responsible office of teacher! “Somehow!” But who shall promise that “love,” though “blind,” shall never open its eyes to misrule and discomfort? “Somehow!” But when inevitable sickness comes, and cares multiply with crushing weight upon feebleness and discouragement – what then? Ah! mothers – what then? Will it not be small comfort that she idly folded her hands and “enjoyed her girlhood,” and that you soothed yourself with the vision of her fresh prettiness, and murmured “cares will come soon enough.” Ah! you did not see then in the future the prematurely broken down, fretful woman, who should then, in her glorious prime, full of vigour, be dispensing and accepting happiness, instead of gazing upon every little face sadly, as if it were a pity it had ever looked into hers; as it motherhood and wifehood were the evening instead of the rosy down of her life-dreams!

Granted she may have “money and servants,” what security has inefficiency and discouragement that the former will never take wings, and that the other will not constantly impose upon the inexperienced mistress the convenient manufactured fibs, for their ease and her own hourly discomfort, which she has not knowledge enough to dispute, although she may feel somehow that “things are going altogether wrong.”

As I took round upon these feeble girl-wives, growing prematurely old under the burdens of their household; becoming love-loss and repining, because sick and discouraged, and often un-sympathised with, for what, after all, is not so much their fault, I feel only the tenderest pity and compassion for their unfortunate and irretrievable condition. I say “irretrievable,” because how are things to be remedied when ill health is the only foundation for a new superstructure? To mothers who read this, I would way, at any cost of time or patience to yourselves, give your daughters that educational home-training which shall prepare them to meet the necessary cares and burdens, which – however favourably situated – they may not hope to escape. Thrust them not out unarmed to fight the battle of life, trusting that “somehow” accident or chance will rectify your own criminal short comings. – FANNY FERN.