Department stores continue to disappear and the crowds in the remaining ones are increasingly poorly behaved. Just about anything you want is available online. I find myself rarely stepping foot in a mall. Yet, there is one category of store that I still enjoy visiting in person. Second-hand book stores get my heart racing. I have difficulty walking away empty-handed.
And what gems I have found! One of my favorite discoveries was a copy of Pink and White Tyranny. While Harriet Beecher Stowe is universally known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she was a prolific author with other volumes to her credit. Pink and White Tyranny tells the tale of a New England man accustomed to competent, intelligent, God-fearing, principled and diligent women such as his sister. On vacation he meets and marries a different type of girl, one whose entire life training has been to catch a husband; she is a bit of mindless pink and white fluff. The book is sad and humorous; depicting his arrival home with his new wife and his slowly growing comprehension that he has made a disastrous choice in his life partner.
The book should be heralded today as a feminist tome. Just as she railed against slavery in her best-seller, in this book Mrs. Stowe makes a passionate case for cultivating women’s minds rather than focusing only on their beauty. Yet I doubt if Pink and White Tyranny is going to enjoy a resurgence of popularity. Unlike the typical hero of today’s fiction, the protagonist doesn’t end up divorcing his unsuitable mate and starting anew. His wife doesn’t end up rebelling against her upbringing and becoming the CEO of her own company while finding true love with a more forward-looking man. Instead, the protagonist acknowledges both his stupidity and his responsibility and concludes that walking away from a commitment would only add another wrong to his life’s reckoning. His wife stays ignorant and self-centered, only realizing that she wasted her life once it is too late.
Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that divorce is one of life’s sad realities. A few lives may indeed improve after a divorce. Nonetheless, divorce is always a tragic reality that causes suffering to both people and God. There is great harm in allowing the idea of divorce to become culturally neutral or normative. The hero of Pink and White Tyranny decides that it would be unmanly and unethical to send away his wife in the hope of salvaging his own chance for happiness, In contrast, today’s novels often deal with divorce as an accepted and even lauded factor of life. In “chick lit” in particular, second marriages tend to provide sunshine and light that was absent from the first.
Our nine-year-old granddaughter is an avid writer. She regularly producing extensive adventure stories for us to read. A few weeks back she expressed her sympathies for her mother who, in her mind, without a computer, clearly wasn’t able to write prolifically when she was a little girl. This younger generation was unable to conceive of writing by hand for hours on end and painstakingly copying the final version as her mother indeed did.
We tend to define “normal” by what we know. I am grateful to be able to read books from a time when society as a whole treated marriage with the respect and seriousness that it deserves. And I am grateful to Harriet Beecher Stowe and numerous other authors who wrote, revised and copied when doing so took an effort that is long-forgotten.