Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Marrying Dad's Friend

If what I have been saying recently is true – that Anne Dudley and Simon Bradstreet married more for compatibility than love – than on one level, it really stinks. It’s hard for us to bear the idea of a woman – a girl, really – going into marriage with Dad’s Friend, so much her senior, without love.

So in our discomfort we leap at this phrase in Anne’s autobiography and conclude that maybe they really were in love:

But as I grew up to be about 14 or 15, I found my heart more carnal, and sitting loose from God, vanity and the follies of youth take hold of me. About 16, the Lord laid his hand upon me and smote me with the smallpox. . . After a short time I changed my condition and was married, and came into this country . . .

Aha, we say, a carnal heart at 15! And married young (and so soon after a life-threatening disease) at 16 or 17 – that has to mean she had the hots for Simon, and it was mutual, and the family rushed them to the altar to prevent the marriage from being consummated prematurely, if it had not been already.

Sure. Maybe. But, brothers and sisters, we just don’t know. “Carnal” did not necessarily mean sex back in Ye Olde Days. It meant any sin “of the flesh” – greed, living expensively, drunkenness, what have you. Even if the chief of her “follies of youth” was of a romantic nature, Simon may not have been in that picture. Maybe she was flirting with the stable boys, and the family married her off quick before her lustiness got her in trouble.

But that strikes me as such a boring way to tell the story. Another lust story. Does the world really need another lust story? It seems to me that the story can be told in a deeper and more textured way than that, and since the option is open – since we just don’t know the truth of the matter – I propose to tell it in a different way, and as I see fit.

But back to the subject of marrying before falling in love: even though economics and social rank played a large role, everyone knew that the marriage would likely not be successful if the couple was not attracted to each other. As they said back in the 17th century: "Those that marry where they do not affect [have affection], will affect where they do not marry." Given that their marriage became a close and loving one, Anne must have found Simon attractive and likely was quite willing to marry him. I think we can safely dispense with the unpleasant picture of Anne being dragged to the altar, forced to marry her father's friend.

1 comment:

  1. Yay, Joyce! I so agree it will make a much more interesting story if her carnality is something more than simply getting the hots for someone. Plus, her whole notion that God smote her with smallpox as a kind of penance has great possibilities.

    BTW, in the blogosphere, I'm Ms. Hart.