Montgomery’s “Aunt Olivia’s Beau” and Wilkins’s “A New England Nun”

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Social roles and agency of women used to be perceived from an exceptionally shallow perspective by society. However, even in the era when the concept of female agency was virtually non-existent, female writers struggled to shift the paradigm. Although Montgomery’s “Aunt Olivia’s Beau” and Wilkins’s “A New England Nun” feature quite different plots, the theme of subverting the perception of an unmarried woman is dominant in both, introducing leading characters to independence.

The similarity in the messages of the stories, as well as their key themes, is quite striking. Specifically, “Aunt Olivia’s Beau” addresses the concept of being single for a woman at the time and the society’s superficial and condescending perception of her status quite straightforwardly: “Had I caught Peggy’s eye when Aunt Olivia said “Mr. Malcolm MacPherson” in that tone I must have laughed, willy-nilly” (Montgomery).

In a similar fashion, the phenomenon of the so-called “spinster” is rendered in Wilkins’s story; however, Wilkins is even more prominent in insisting on a new vision of an independent woman: “Serenity and placid narrowness had become to her as the birthright itself” (Wilkins). The described perspectives reflect the urge to change the status quo in the perception of women in society, which began to surface at the end of the 19th century (Cruea 188). Thus, both novels blaze the trail for viewing a single life as independence for a woman, which was drastically needed in the era when women’s suffrage as seen as a negative force (Ward 355).

Though Wilkins’s and Montgomery’s short stories feature different plots, the themes and characters are strikingly similar. Emphasizing women’s plight for independence, they subvert the stereotypical perceptions of being single for a woman. Thus, the two stories share a crucial similarity that connects them thematically.

Works Cited

Cruea, Susan M. “Changing Ideals of Womanhood during the Nineteenth-Century Woman Movement.” ATQ, vol. 9, no. 3, 2005, pp. 187-204.

Wilkins, M. E. A New England Nun. WVCU.edu, 1891.

Montgomery, Lucy Mod. Aunt Olivia’s Beau.PageByPageBooks.com, 1912.

Ward, Mrs Humphry. “An Appeal against Female Suffrage June 1889.” Before the Vote was Won. Routledge, 2013. 409-417.