Steven Spielberg would never film this novel since it features an unfulfilled feminist, so Mel Gibson will have to do it.
Pro-abortion feminists in this twenty-first century may think of Ellen Glasgow as just another dead white female writer, but pro-life feminists will delight in and learn much from this quasi-autobiographical and thorough narrative of Dorinda, a late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century woman who thinks that her life is a failure.
Maybe it’s a failure because Dorinda has been restricted by Presbyterian Christianity and therefore beyond the two-millennia tradition of orthodox Catholic Christianity and all that the religion has to say about love, marriage, and sex.
Maybe Dorinda is an unfulfilled woman because she (or the author) confuses the terms “love”, “marriage”, and “sex” throughout the novel. These three terms seem to be used interchangeably when they obviously denote different things, as anybody steeped in Judaism and Christianity knows. Dorinda’s comments on love and sex lead to the conclusion that she would have benefited from understanding the Theology of the Body as discussed by St. John Paul II, especially since the characters are Protestant. Although the setting is decades before the saint first enunciated his ideas about the importance of sex and the human body, this claim is not anachronistic, of course, since Catholic Christianity has consistently taught that sex, instituted by the Creator, is so beautiful as the union of two bodies that it must be honored within marriage. Dorinda utterly fails to understand that.
In fact, the terms and phrases which Dorinda uses to refer to the triad of love, marriage, and sex demonstrate the unfortunate ambiguity of her Protestant Christian heritage, becoming more nominal as she progresses through the decades of the plot. Dorinda mentions the three terms in often obscured language, as when she talks about “this hidden knowledge of life” (27) or that she “became aware of her body” (63). This hesitancy cannot be attributed to authorial fear of not being published. After all, the novel was written in 1925, when Freud’s ideas about sex were emerging as popular topics; the author herself was as bold as most early feminists of that time were known to be.
Dorinda’s attitude toward life in general shows how pessimistic someone can become who distances him- or herself from the life-affirming Judeo-Christian ethos. Dorinda equates life with “barren ground” (196), and she thinks the “will to love” is a “destructive process” (233). It doesn’t help, either, that Dorinda was unwanted: “Dorinda and [her brother] Rufus both came while [their mother] was looking ahead, as she told herself, to a peaceful middle age unhampered by child-bearing” (39).
Closely related to sex, maybe Dorinda is such a lonely and unfulfilled character because she has a negative view of men. Even though she encountered some men who were faithful and loving, Dorinda (like a typical teenaged girl) cannot get over her “first love”, who is more a disgrace to the male gender than a possible husband and father of Dorinda’s child. This episode of fornication with a man who just wanted to get into her pants is the cause of her enduring negative views on men. While asserting that she could live without any man is innocuous enough (106), agreeing with her mother in being secretive with men (124) and saying that “No good had ever come […] of putting questions to a man” (318) illustrate her inability to work with the male half of humanity—a fatal flaw in a person who should be a fully-developed feminist.
Overall, Glasgow paints a depressing portrait of an aging feminist, but it is a portrait which can not only educate us in the twenty-first century, but also force us to support traditional sexual norms in a twenty-first century culture which accepts the leftist idiocy of a distorted gender ideology and the mental illness of transgenderism as alternative lifestyles. While Dorinda hopes for “something in life besides love” (198), contemporary readers must counter that love is the essence of life. While Dorinda reduces love, marriage, and sex with the demeaning phrase “all that” (252) and babbles about “sex vanity” (292), contemporary readers, again, must reaffirm what the Creator originally intended: love leads to marriage, which enables a man and a woman to engage in the rapturous physical activity of sex. Pity the man who marries a woman like Dorinda, who has “a distaste for physical love” (471)!
A final comment is necessary about the denouement. Although she is a warped feminist, Dorinda is a successful businesswoman. Moreover, she overcame her first experience of fornication and married another successful businessman in her home town. Why, then, at age thirty-three, doesn’t she feel “complete” (355)? Similarly, even though she has overcome major obstacles to her financial and social success, why does she still assert a hundred pages towards novel’s end, “Three months of love, and you pay for it with all the rest of your life” (412)? Finally, near the end of the novel—a mere four pages away from the ending—why does Dorinda regret “the love that she had never known and the happiness that she had missed” (522)? While she does claim “better by far the drab freedom” of simple women than the life of married women (88), the adjective clearly indicates that Dorinda disparages the single as much as she denigrates the married state. Does she not know that being a single woman is a fulfilling vocation like being a married woman, or a woman devoting herself to a religious order? Apparently, not. Remember: Dorinda hails from a Presbyterian form of Christianity in a rural Virginia area, so religious diversity and the two-thousand year history of Catholic Christianity are closed to her.
Hopefully, some of the above conjectures and ideas may help students working on literature essays for their secondary or college courses. The rest of us can simply delight in reading an early twentieth-century novel which functions as evidence that, even then, feminist writers were aware that a woman who closed herself to love led to an eventual unfulfilled life.