[Here's another entry in the Women's Art is Women's Work series, an essay by Eberle. Sad to say, it does appear that this series may be winding down, but I believe there are a handful of other essays out there, so I'm sure there will be installments in October]
The heroines of many nineteenth century novels make successful marriages in the final pages where living happily ever after is characterized by plenty of money and servants. Rose Terry Cooke’s Miss Lucinda, published in 1866, presents a different vision. Rose’s portrait of domestic bliss is not based around a family but has as its human center a single woman, an old maid. And this idealized domestic landscape does not involve a large staff of servants and the absence of housework—in fact, lingering descriptions of the kitchen, pantry, and garden point to housework as the vital force of bliss. What Miss Lucinda has, however, is legal ownership of her house and complete control over her domestic labor.
Her housekeeping, but for her pets, would have been the proper housewifery for a fairy. Out of her fruit she annually conserved miracles of flavor and transparence, —great plums like those in Aladdin's garden, of shining topaz, — peaches tinged with the odorous bitter of their pits, and clear as amber, —crimson crabs floating in their own ruby sirup, or transmuted into jelly crystal clear, yet breaking with a grain, —and jelly from the acid currants to garnish her dinner-table or refresh the fevered lips of a sick neighbor. It was a study to visit her tiny pantry, where all these "lucent sirops" stood in tempting array, —where spices, and sugar, and tea, in their small jars, flanked the sweetmeats, and a jar of glass showed its store of whitest honey, and another stood filled with crisp cakes.
The death of her father enables Miss Lucinda to move into a small house left to her by an aunt where she lives with a variety of pets, including a pig named Pink—“Miss Lucinda took an astonishing fancy to the pig.” Even before the death of her father, her community consisted mostly of animals; she was “the centre of a little world of her own, —hens, chickens, squirrels, cats, dogs, lambs, and sundry transient guests of stranger kind.” She is not anti-social, but merely unsociable; she has succeeded in removing herself from the social structure in which women typically became objects of exchange as wives or daughters. This created world is distinct from the common run of experience, and the very emblems of its curtains come from a world unknown to natural science:
Besides, it would have been hard to be cheerless in that sunny little house, with its queer old furniture of three-legged tables, high-backed chairs, and chintz curtains where red mandarins winked at blue pagodas on a deep-yellow ground, and birds of insane ornithology pecked at insects that never could have been hatched, or perched themselves on blossoms totally unknown to any mortal flora.
So far, in fact, has Miss Lucinda strayed from the common currents of civilized thought that she invents “a version of Christianity that endowed animals with souls.” Her pig, Pink, would find a place in Heaven, because, as Lucinda openly declared, “she believed creatures had souls, —little ones perhaps, but souls after all, and she did expect to see Pink again some time or other.”
Very few people know how intelligent an animal a pig is; but when one is regarded merely as pork and hams, one's intellect is apt to fall into neglect: a moral sentiment which applies out of Pigdom.
Rose Terry Cooke, Miss Lucinda (1866)
Pix from Top:
Undated (but old) Parker Bros. "Old Maid" game box
Fox Grapes and Peaches: Raphaelle Peale
Rose Terry Cooke
Alice with Pig: John Tenniel
© Eberle Umbach 2007-2009