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Begging for disaster

Monday, August 16, 2010

This can't possibly end well:

Matrimonial - A young widow lady, with an unlimited estate, all in her own right, wishes to make a matrimonial engagement with a gentleman, to manage her affairs, both spiritual and temporal, as she has no restraint and is under age.  Address Florence Aster, Union square Post office, for two weeks.

I hope this is a prank - someone trying to catch fortune-hunters by luring them in with the Most Tempting Matrimonial Ever.  Because if it's not a prank, this girl is just asking for trouble.  Let's recap: she's got an "unlimited estate" (i.e., very rich), "all in her own right" (i.e., no trustees, no executors, no father-in-laws doling out an allowance - just hers to do with what she pleases), and she has "no restraint" (could mean many things: probably not "no will power," though that's where my mind went first; more likely she means no restrictions) and is "under age."  I can't possibly imagine how that might go horribly wrong. 

Oh wait, yes I can.  Since women's fortunes automatically went under the control of her husband the moment she married via coverture, he's already going to get a lot of say where her money goes, and it's almost literally unprotected.  Add to that she's "under age," whatever that means (I assume not under the age of consent, which was 13 - yes, I said 13 - at the time) though I don't know what age that would be - if she's a widow, how young can she possibly be?  Regardless, if she's "under age," she has even fewer legal rights than women already did, which weren't many.

I find it almost impossible to believe this is real; it's like someone went through every single possible circumstance that would attract a fortune-hunter and put it in the ad.  Alone in the world (widowed)?  Check.  Extremely wealthy?  Check.  Young and innocent?  Check.  No restrictions on her fortune?  Check!  It's like a thief's dream come true.

Actually it makes me think of The Portrait of a Lady.  Different circumstances (the main character wasn't a widow), but similar outcome.  Very sad.

Much more pleasant to imagine this was a practical joke.  Bounders replied, the advertiser struck up correspondences with them and pretended to be the lady, and then somehow humiliated them, or swindled them out of gifts.  That would be a better ending.

©2010 Pam Epstein


Cari Hislop August 18, 2010 at 2:52 PM  

I see a 19th century woman of means who's decided to turn the table on all the fortune hunters (perhaps she's had several fortune hunting husbands who beat her and wasted her money) so she's decided to lure them in, get them to give gifts and them in? No one linked the crimes because the men didn't admit to any of their friends and relations they'd been answering silly ads in the paper. They just all happened to be found in the river...

Maybe I've been watching too many murder mysteries!

If you enjoy 19th century autobiographies (if you haven't already read it), the one about Francis Hodgson Burnett, Waiting for the Party by Ann Thwaite is really good. It comes to mind because she had a fortune hunter blackmail her into marrying him. Most people think of her as writing a few children's stories but she made a fortune writing romances and novels. She was the J K Roland of her day. Real lives are always more weird and bizarre than anything anyone could make up.

Pam August 19, 2010 at 8:02 AM  

Interestingly, Cari, there WAS a serial killer who more or less did exactly what you described. Her name was Belle Gunness. I write about her briefly in my dissertation.

Thanks for the tip!

Kathy R August 27, 2010 at 3:34 PM  

Just found your blog and love it! But I had to comment on Belle - proof that you didn't have to have any kind of looks to get a man, just money and a farm. I grew up in that area and am very familiar with "the legend of Belle Gunness". So what do you think... did she or did she not die in the fire?

Pam August 28, 2010 at 11:45 AM  

Kathy - thanks! I think Belle set the fire (I mean, the woman was headless?!?!) but was killed herself later, by an accomplice. That's the theory in the Lillian de la Torres book, don't know if you ever ran across that.

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