The fainting bride

Concerning Delicate Women (1869)

One beneficial effect which I hope and expect to see as a result of the right education and ultimate enfranchisement of women is that it shall cease to be fashionable to be “delicate.”

Ill health is doubtless a wide-spread curse of American women, and those who suffer from it are entitled to our most tender sympathy. The heavy burden of pain and suffering borne constantly, and often uncomplainingly, by women wrings the heart with sorrow when the fact is contemplated. Nevertheless it is true that many women, especially sentimental young women, rather enjoy the distinction of being physically frail and easily overcome by any little extra exertion. Indeed! they often feign an exhaustion and delicacy that they do not feel.

That miserable misanthrope; Lord Byron, wrote “there is a sweetness in woman’s decay,” and who can tell the amount of sentimental, sickly young ladyism that has resulted from it. A school of novelists, that, happily, is fast passing away, always represent the angelic young woman who is heroine of the tale, as slender, fragile, pale, fainting away upon the slightest provocation, exhausted by the smallest exertion. It seems to be the aim of many young women of the present day to imitate her.

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There are a few considerations that might effect a reformation in the manners and complaints of some of these delicate ladies, could they but appreciate them. The advance in physical and medical science enables us often to assign immediate causes for effects. The young lady who has “such a dreadful headache,” and who attracts every one’s attention to it by her sighs and complaints, may be simply informing on herself as having eaten to excess. The pain in her back which she so freely describes reveal secrets to the intelligent listener that she might prefer to keep to herself. That fatigue of which she complains, and which causes her to recline so gracefully upon the sofa, may either be constitutional laziness, or it may be a feminine stratagem for securing an expression of sympathy from some person of the other sex.

It should be borne in mind that disease and imperfection are essentially repulsive. A person who should continually exhibit to all around him an ugly wound, would soon be shunned. Friends might sympathize, yet a continual demand for sympathy would inevitably exhaust it. A person who is a cripple or deformed cannot but affect disagreeably every one except those whose natural affection is sufficient to overbalance such feelings. Yet many persons who would assent to the truth of these assertions will yet exhibit their weakness, disagreeable feelings, pains and aches to all with whom they come in contact, with an apparent unconsciousness that they can only excite disagreeable sensations in the persons upon whom they inflict the description of their infirmities.

A short time since I passed a couple of weeks with a family who exhibited a remarkable degree of obtuseness on this point. The family consisted of father, mother and three daughters— all “delicate.” The assembling of the family, especially at the breakfast table, was the grand, opportunity for all to display their distinguishing infirmities. The father would declare as he sipped his coffee that he hadn’t slept half an hour during the night and that he felt “wretchedly.” The mother would remark that she was unusually nervous and direct the attention of every one to the way in which her hand trembled when she poured the coffee. The eldest daughter would say her stomach was bad and that she had a bad taste in her mouth, while the others had each some special ail to exhibit and describe. Sometimes as a substitute, we had coughs, sighs, exclamations, grimaces, sudden clasping of the hand to side or head, intended to imply pain. Before I had been there a week I learned to dread to encounter any of the family alone, knowing that I would immediately be served to some complaint. I could but wish they could read what Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “If you sleep or if you do not, if you have the headache, or the sciatica, or if your digestion is impaired, by all means keep it to yourself, especially in the pleasant morning hours.”

Contrasted with this fondness for and pride in complaining, how cheering and charming is the young girl, full of life and energy, with rosy cheek, pearly teeth and sparkling eye. It does not lay her upon the sofa for a day to take a morning’s ramble. Her complexion tells of wholesome, nutritious food, and you know by the rosy redness of her lips that her breath is as sweet as new mown hay.

That invalid wives very often lose all influence with their husbands is a notorious, yet not a singular fact. Nothing will so soon outweary patience or cool the warmth of affection, as the complainings and disagreeable accompaniments of ill health. Girls, if you would be valued, cherished, beloved, attractive and useful wives, cherish GOOD HEALTH.

By Helen Ekin Starrett

Source: The Revolution, September 9, 1869
Top Image:  The fainting bride

 

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