Read To Clarence St. Claire of A Woman of the World, free online book, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, on

Regarding His Sister’s Betrothal

Your request, my dear Clarence, that I try to influence your sister to change her determination in this matter, calls for some very plain statements from me.

I have known you and Elise since you were playing with marbles and rattles, and your mother and I have been very good acquaintances (scarcely intimate enough to be called friends) for more than a score of years.  You are very much like your mother, both in exterior appearance and in mind.  Elise is the image of her father at the time he captured your mother’s romantic fancy, and as I recollect him when he died.

You were five years old, Elise three, at that time.  Your mother lived with your father six years in months, an eternity in experience.  You know that she was unhappy, and that he disillusioned her with love, and almost with life.  He married your mother solely for her fortune.  She was a sweet and beautiful girl, of excellent family, but your father had no qualities of mind or soul which enabled him to appreciate or care for any woman, save as she could be of use to him, socially and financially.

In six years he managed to dispose of all but a mere pittance of her fortune, and humiliated her in a thousand ways besides.  His only decent act was to die and leave her undisturbed for the remainder of her life.  Your uncle assisted in her support and saved the remnant of her property, so that she has, by careful and rigorous economy, been able to educate you and Elise, and keep up a respectable appearance in a quiet way.

Of course it was impossible to retain her place among the associates of her better days, and you know how bitter this fact has always made Elise.  Your sister has the physical beauty and the overwhelming love of money and power which characterized your father.  She has a modicum of your mother’s sense of honour, but has been reared in a way not calculated to develop much strength of character.  Your mother has been a slave to your sister.  Elise is incapable of a deep, intense love for any man, and your mother’s pessimistic ideas of love and marriage have still further acted upon her brain cells and atrophied whatever impulses may have been latent in her nature, to love and be loved.  These qualities might have been developed had Elise been under the tutelage of some one versed in the science of brain building, but your mother, like most mothers, was not aware of the tremendous possibilities within her grasp, or of the effect of the ideas she expressed in the hearing of her children.  Neither did she seem to recognize the father’s traits in Elise, and undertake the work of eliminating them, as she might have done.  She has been an unselfish and devoted mother, and has made too many sacrifices for Elise.  At the same time, she has awakened the mind of your sister to ideals of principle and honour which will help her to be a better woman than her inheritance from your father would otherwise permit.  But now, at the age of twenty-one, it is impossible to hope that she will develop into a self-sacrificing, loving, womanly woman, whose happiness can be found in a peaceful domestic life.  She has seen your mother sad and despondent, under the yoke of genteel poverty, and heard her bemoan her lost privileges of wealth and station.  This, added to her natural craving for money and place, renders a wealthy marriage her only hope of happiness on earth.

Mr. Volney has an enormous fortune.  He is, as you say, a senile old man in his dotage.  As you say again, such a marriage is a travesty.  But Elise is incapable of feeling the love which alone renders marriage a holy institution.  She has undesirable qualities which ought not to be transmitted to children, and she is absolutely devoid of maternal instincts.

I have heard her say she would consider motherhood the greatest disaster which could befall her.  But she is unfitted for a self-supporting career, and she wants a home and position.

She has beauty, kind and generous impulses, and a love of playing Lady Bountiful.  It is not so much that she wants to benefit the needy, as that she likes to place people under obligations and to have them look up to her as a superior being.

Old Mr. Volney is a miser, and his money is doing no one good.  He has only distant relatives, and by taking Elise for a wife (according to law) he will wrong no one, and she will make much better use of his fortune than his heirs would make.

Your mother will be relieved of worry and care.  Many worthy poor people and charities will receive help, and Elise will have her heart’s desire-fine apparel, jewels, a social position, and no one to bother her.  The valet and nurse will look after Mr. Volney, and his simple old heart will bask in the pride of an old man-the possession of a pretty young wife.

Had he full use of his mental faculties, and did he long for love and devotion, I would try and dissuade Elise from the marriage, but solely on his account, not on hers.

The young man you mention, as your choice of a suitor for the hand of your sister, might better go up in a balloon to seek for Eutopia than to expect happiness as her husband.  He has a sweet, gentle, loving nature, a taste for quiet home joys, fondness for children, and he has two thousand a year, with small prospects of more in the near future.

He should marry a modest, domestic girl, with tastes similar to his own, and with no overweening ambitions.  Elise would simply drive him mad in a year’s time, with her restless discontent, her extravagance, and her desire for the expensive pleasures of earth.  It is useless to reason with her, or to expect her to model her ideas to suit her circumstances.  Inheritance and twenty-one years of wrong education must be taken into consideration.  What would mean happiness for many women would mean misery for her.  I can imagine no more dreadful destiny than to be tied to a senile old man by a legal ceremony, even were I given his millions in payment.  But that will mean happiness to Elise.

I think we should let people seek their own ideals of happiness, when they break no law, and injure no other life by it.

I shall congratulate Elise by this post on having made so fortunate an alliance.  I could not congratulate her were she to marry her young suitor.  I shall congratulate your mother on having nothing to worry about, regarding the future of Elise.

And I advise you to take a philosophical view of the situation, and to remember that, in judging the actions of our fellow beings, we must take their temperaments, characteristics, and environment into consideration, not our own.

You have made the very common error of thinking, because Elise is a handsome young girl, that love, and home, and children would mean happiness to her.

Women vary as greatly as do plants and flowers in their needs.  The horticulturist knows that he cannot treat them all alike, and he studies their different requirements.

To some he gives moisture and sun, to some shade, and to some dry, sandy soil.  The thistle pushes forth a gorgeous bloom from an arid bed.  It would die in the pond where the lily thrives.

Too much sentiment is wasted in this world and too much effort expended in trying to make all people happy in some one way.

When I was a little girl, a Sunday-school superintendent presented every girl in the class with a doll, and each doll was exactly the same.  Most little girls like dolls, but I never played with one, as they were always so hopelessly inanimate.  If the good man had given me a sled, or a book, or a picture, I would have been happy.  As it was, his gift was a failure.  You want to present your sister with a devoted young husband, a cottage, and several children, because you think every woman should possess these things.  Your sister happens to be one who prefers a wealthy old invalid.

Let her have what she wants, my dear Clarence, and let her work out her destiny in her own way.  She will do less harm in the world than if you forced her into your way.  Now you must remember that you asked me to help you in this matter, and I could only write you the absolute facts of the situation, as I knew it to be.  I feel fairly confident that you will accept my point of view, and act as best man at your sister’s wedding.