The Thinking 

On the Hard Line in a Woman’s Face

September 5, 2012


Frances Parkinson Keyes

PENNY writes:

Frances Parkinson Keyes, who died in 1970, was a popular author in the early 20th century.  I confess I’ve never read anything by her myself, but I’ve seen her books for years – first in the library and then in used bookstores.

This past weekend I picked up a copy of her Senator Marlowe’s Daughter (c.1933). Have yet to read it, but the plot seems to be that Faith Marlowe, only daughter of a New England senator, leaves America for Europe and has some kind of unhappy romance there. What really interested me while flipping through it, was this passage from the end.  (Yes, I am one of those terrible people who read the ends of books before buying them – though not mysteries, that wouldn’t be fair): 

“You mustn’t forget that a woman who cheats nature, pays the penalty for it.  No matter how much she gains in other ways – and you’ve gained a great deal – she loses something too: Gentleness.  Sweetness.  Bloom. Fecundity.  Almost everything we mean when we say femininity.  She grows hard or she grows bitter; she grows defensive or she grows aggressive.  I haven’t seen you, Faith, in ten years, but I know how much you’ve changed. I know you’re beautiful, and still I know that – I wouldn’t want to paint you now if I could.  Not because you’re older – you ought to be magnificent in maturity!  But because you press your lips together in a hard line, because the outline of your face is sharper, because the softness has gone from your eyes….I want the Eve and the Lorelei I painted back again – and the Mary – and the Faith too!”

This just seemed in line with so much of what you write, that I thought you might enjoy it if you weren’t already familiar with it.

Laura writes:

Thank you. I have never read any of Keyes’ novels. However, I have to laugh at this from the Wikipedia entry about her:

Keyes strongly believed in the virtue of chastity and furthermore believed that it was extremely important for a woman to be a virgin on her wedding night. Her morality of courtship and marriage will seem strange and impractical to many contemporary readers, especially young ones. However, Keyes wrote with great sensitivity about the lives of people trapped in the conventional morality she advocated: women (and men!) trapped in loveless marriages, people unfairly stigmatized by their peers, those who struggle with temptation (successfully and unsuccessfully), young men and women suffocated by the Victorian-era rules of courtship, and, above all, those whose lives were complicated by the fact that they had been born out of wedlock. [emphases added]

What a put-down of everything she believed in.

George writes:

If any of your readers are interested her books, “The Old Gray Homestead” is available in the public domain at Project Gutenberg in several ebook formats.

Joseph L. Ebbecke writes:

I read several of Mrs Keyes’s historical novels as a teenager. A very good one is The Chessplayers, based on the life of the American chess champion and Confederate secret agent Paul Morphy. Chess buffs and fans of 19th century New Orleans will love it.


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