HST 326: Women in America
November 14, 2011
Not To Live in Vain:
Faith and Ideals of Catherine Sedgwick
Love, involuntary and mysterious, holds a tight grip on the imagination. As young women, we ponder questions of marriage, careers and the ideals of love in our future. Ideals, such as these, were vital to the nineteenth century moralities. The principles of love and marriage provided models for women’s goals, as well as the opportunity to speak of their experience. Both of these ideals and the value of character represented the standards of perfection, which were essential to the sphere of life. Catharine Sedgwick, a fiction writer, subscribed to these high standards and refused to compromise. Her writings repeatedly emphasized the political and personal need for liberty and independence. The behavior of unmarried women in the nineteenth century provided an answer to their highly charged moral pursuit concerning duty, usefulness and love rather than the cultural elements concerning self-fulfillment.
In order to find out who we are, we must understand where we come from. The seventeenth century Puritans first declared the importance of affection in marriage believing that to love one’s spouse was a duty. Young men and women were to choose someone they could learn to love but being in love was not necessary. It was companionship and respect, which shaped the solid foundations of a successful marriage. However, by the first decades of the nineteenth century, those stipulations were no longer seen as sufficient when it came to building a foundation. Matrimonies were now based on a strong and spiritual personal attraction.  Rather than marry someone they could learn to love, the men and women of this generation were now expected to marry someone they did love.  The evolution of human love can be associated with the exposure to revivalist Evangelicalism. It was Evangelicals who linked spontaneity of feeling with faith.  The Puritan view was reversed; it was now love that came first while sympathy and appreciation followed.
This new understanding of spiritualization linked love with marriage, which allowed couples to focus on their happiness. By the nineteenth century the ideal of marriage based on love was widely accepted. The notion that marriage was to be based on romance rather than rational love indicated the understanding of human feelings. Catharine Sedgwick's reasons for breaking off her first engagement show the changing understanding of love and marriage. She explains to her brother Robert that her fiancé "has been so generous as to relinquish the promise I then gave him and all is now ended forever. He is very unhappy...I am degraded in my own opinion but I cannot help it. It is strange but it is impossible for me to create a sentiment of tenderness by any process of reasoning, or any effort of gratitude."  Sedgwick refers to the earlier understanding of love as friendship. However, she already believes in the new standard of natural love. A later journal entry brings this new understanding into sight. Sedgwick pondered her feelings toward a former admirer confessing, "I liked him, and not knowing quite as much of the heart (or of my heart) as I do I fancied that liking might ripen into something warmer."  Once Sedgwick became familiar with the imaginable sensations her heart could create; she came to realize that love is not just an increase in liking but a separate emotion completely.
The new values of love and marriage came together with high standards of character allowing it to be both socially and personally acceptable not to marry if it risked one’s moral standards. This lead to a new concept regarding women’s love and responsibility allowing a clearer understanding of women’s usefulness. Although every realization has its consequences, with the new developments of love and marriage it was single women and their image in society that were being…