"Dreams never to be realized": emotional culture and the phenomenology of emotion.
Historians and social scientists in recent years have begun to write histories of emotions. Important works on anger, love, grief, and jealousy show that white, middle-class Americans held common values about the appropriate expression of emotions.(3) While social and cultural norms clearly affected how individuals experienced their emotions, the historical literature has had less to say about individual experience than social constraints and demands on emotional expression.(4) To explore the relationships between emotional culture and emotional experience, we have studied the early adult years of one woman in western Pennsylvania from the perspectives of social history and of phenomenological psychology. Gladys Bell's extensive diaries from her early adult years show us that she actively appropriated cultural materials to help her shape her emotional life in a way that would be socially acceptable and personally satisfying. However, the demands and possibilities of her world contrasted with the world that appeared in cultural materials and formed a horizon against which cultural messages found their particular meaning for Bell.(5)
New emotional standards and expectations distinguish the 20th century from the Victorian period. By the 1920s, some of the changes in emotional culture were well advanced while others had only begun to appear.(6) Many areas of Gladys Bell's emotional life seem more Victorian than jazz era. Her desire to become inwardly beautiful echoes the 19th-century concern for an inward and genuine self. But Gladys Bell never took her inward self for granted, as Victorian Americans presumably could. The lengthy entries she wrote, often daily, seem to have been a strategy of introspection to discover or affirm an inner self that eluded Bell. Her tentativeness resonated more with contemporary cultural messages in spite of her nostalgia for Victorian standards. Two elements of 20th century emotional culture--emotional control and romantic love--played important roles in Gladys Bell's life.
The decline of Victorianism had multiple causes--developments within capitalism, growing diversity and pluralism, and the world war. Historian John Kasson has emphasized both the tensions within the class and gender ideals of the 19th century and the growth of consumer culture with its proliferation of choices and "fragmentation of needs." These transitions tended to undermine the Victorian belief in an ideal self that was both stable and cohesive.(7) This went hand in hand with, and perhaps helps explain, the growing suspicion of all kinds of emotional intensity that grew during the early 20th century. Without a reliable self, emotional intensity may have seemed unwarranted for individuals. As a complementary development, some emotions were condemned as dangerous to the self. Peter Stearns has shown that both anger and jealousy "became thoroughly bad, with no redeeming qualities." These, and other negative emotions such as fear and disgust, became targets of new forms of suppression. While the negative judgements and suppression strategies were fully articulated only by the middle of the century, the 1920s already saw the beginning of emotional management in the workplace and in advice literature.(8)
Just as the jazz age had begun to lose reliance in a unified self, it also lost the "romantic self" that Karen Lystra has shown was the subject of 19th century romantic love. Americans continued to idealize love in the 20th century, and this idealization formed part of the invidious comparison with unpleasant emotions.(9) Men and women still looked to romantic ideals in courtship and marriage. "We do not intend or wish," wrote a contemporary educator, "that any considerations but mutual irresistible attraction should enter into the marriage alliance between two persons."(10) But even romantic intensity became suspect in the 20th century. Instead of a courtship in which a young couple progressively revealed their romantic selves to one another and tested the genuineness of their feelings, Americans by the 1920s had embraced consumer choice. Since socializing among young people in mixed groups and as couples on private dates had become acceptable in most social circles, young men and women of the 1920s expected to discover their true love in the course of frequent dating during high school and college. Women, especially, learned from advertisers that they must strive for personal attractiveness so that the right man would notice and be drawn to them. The common sense of Muncie, Indiana, seems to have been the same as that of Indiana, Pennsylvania--"You'll know when the right one comes along...."(11) Love was still to be the great experience of the individual's life, but it was becoming an experience that demanded less intensity of feeling and less soul-searching, at least for men. The American youth expected marriage to follow after a period of serious courting that more and more frequently included sexual intimacy. The ideal marriage was to be a lifetime of companionship and satisfying intimacy.(12)
For women, the decline of Victorian romantic love accompanied new prospects for employment. Lystra has shown that Victorian courtship remained relatively fixed in its general form during most of the 19th century because middle-class women had few prospects for employment. They would enter marriages in which they depended on their husbands' earnings. Since by the 1920s it was far more common for women to work during early adulthood, the pull of career could become a strong force in altering the calculus of love.(13)
Gladys Bell accepted contemporary emotional standards and struggled to realize experiences in her life that she found approved in her culture. Gladys Bell was born in 1901, near Elderton, Pennsylvania, the oldest of five children. She grew up on her parents' farm, earned a teaching certificate, and from 1919 until her marriage in 1925 taught at schools in small communities in western Pennsylvania. In 1922 her lighthearted romances came to an end when she became engaged to one man and, at the same time, informally promised to another. She ended both engagements later that year, in time for her to begin courses at Grove City College. More than a year later, after the end of a romance with a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh, Gladys Bell again promised to marry the man that she had first been engaged to in 1922. But she approached marriage with doubt and confusion over her feelings. Even after the wedding she wondered if she had made the right choice.
Complicating Bell's search for earthly happiness was her hope for divine favor that would transform her life. Gladys Bell's religion was popular, modern, and evangelical, all at once. She taught Sunday school from age 15 or 16 and prayed that her Creator would make her an instrument of His will. In her early adult years she earnestly discussed plans for a life of missionary work.(14) Later she reconceptualized her religious mission as one of becoming a model of womanly virtue. "Surely God is arraying me for an ordained messenger of truth, love, purity and honor."(15) Her spiritual life and emotional life can hardly be separated. "I examined my emotional faculties by going to S.S. & Church ...," she wrote in 1924. Her diaries include notes of sermons, discussions of the condition of her soul, and one pivotal account of a revival at which she recommitted her life to Christ. At moments of crisis verses of scripture or the words of a sermon could give her courage and peace of mind.(16) She often called for divine help in moments of doubt or despair. In 1922 she prayed for guidance and "strength to conquer myself once more....".(17) Divine help in controlling her doubt and tempestuous emotions would help her to achieve her personal goals. "Even now I feel secure--the tumult of rebellion is fading from my heart...."(18) The necessity of overcoming emotional crisis was the point that Gladys Bell underlined in red from a magazine article by the popular New York preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick: "noble characters do not alone bear trouble.... They make it the minister of character ... to build in them ... patience, courage, sympathy, and power."(19)
Both the books she read and the movies she saw also offered Bell important models for her emotional life. Like 17 million young people in her day, she regularly attended motion pictures where the most frequent theme was a love relationship formed at first (or second or third) sight.(20) The books that she read from 1919 through 1925 pictured love as the central experience of life. Protagonists who faced severe problems in their lives could usually blame a miscarriage of love due to social pressures or other misunderstandings. Even such teasingly naughty works as Flaming Youth preached a modern morality that allowed young people to act foolishly as long as they recognized true character and worth before they committed any serious social wrong.(21) Just as she reflected on sermons and religious literature, Gladys Bell also expected films and novels to offer lessons for her life. During her double engagement in 1922 she watched the movie Island Wives with the feeling that fate had offered her this story containing the very conflicts she felt in her own decision about marriage--"labor, sacrifice poverty--and love, against riches, ease luxury and indifference. Seems as tho' twas meant to help me decide my destiny." Several months before her marriage she wrote, "I am trying to find the answer to the greatest question of my life from 'The Beloved Woman,"' a novel that portrayed a woman drawn into high society but still loved by a decent middle-class man she had known all her life.(22)
Religion and popular culture reinforced each other in setting standards for Bell's emotional life. Both demanded that she manipulate her emotional life by suppressing bad emotions and cultivating appropriate responses and feelings. Most frequently Gladys attempted cognitive management--concentrating on good things, looking on the bright side, considering her advantages and the disadvantages of others, and relying on her religious faith.(23) Yet Bell believed that the most important goal for her life, and the key to emotional fulfillment, was to be consumed by a love relationship outside her conscious control. While Bell actively sought to develop a life around these standards, she encountered almost constant doubt and frustration in her attempts.
Bell frequently reflected on emotional standards. After an argument with one of her instructors at Grove City College she lamented that "my moods are as uncertain as the weather in March."(24) In spite of this negative self-judgement, Bell assumed that she could control her emotions through acts of will. Like the heroine of Marie Corelli's mystical romance, Life Everlasting, she believed that we ruin our lives through our "sad and morbid fancies, and think of illness when you might just as well-think of health."(25) Inspired by the novel, Bell wrote that by "asserting my will power I shall in the future enjoy the exhiliration (sic) of strength and brightness in spite of dark clouds. I shall try my power over others and forget to be sad and moody."(26) Although she continued to suffer from periodic poor health, Bell persisted in filling her thoughts with uplifting images and goals. About a month earlier she had commented, "My life seemingly is full of beautiful and soul-satisfying service, light pleasure and usefulness. Even in my daily pleasure I find a glorious opportunity to help some weaker creature."(27) In her New Year's resolutions a few months later she included, "Smile at least 20 times a day." "Abstain from fretting or worry, regardless of circumstances." A year later she reflected that "Happiness is a Habit to be cultivated or discouraged at will."(28) During a trying time early in her marriage she encouraged herself: "Self-pity is deathly and self-analysis is as good as medicine so let us have more of the latter my little woman, and see if we can't feel better, have a better time, look prettier and give the world a smile and lots of dimples full of sunshine."(29)
Thinking positively worked only up to a point. Sometimes it didn't work at all. "I'm losing my grip on myself," she wrote in 1924. "I can control my mental state if I assert all my will to that point but still I lose my temper."(30) During a problem with her mother-in-law she tried, but failed, to maintain a sunny disposition. "Three times I resolved to keep my tho'ts on agreeable subjects and as often I soon found myself on the old theme mother-in-law."(31)
Keeping her thoughts positive shaded into another strategy--looking on the bright side. "I won't let myself feel sad," says the heroine of one of the novels that Bell read. "And then when you have beautiful things ... why those things I just hold up in the light all the time." "Hold fast to that," her friend replies, "Let all the light in that you can upon your blessings, and as to other things, why, don't acknowledge them!"(32) Bell tried to follow that advice, whether she found it there first or not. To pull herself out of sad thoughts or frustration she would enumerate her advantages. "Of course I am lucky--so many ways that I must pass by my moments of unhappiness."(33) During a period of doubt about her future she made explicit her advantages: "Mother! Daddy! Sisters! Brothers! Beautiful Home! Art, Music, Literature! Position! Friends! What more could a girl want?"(34)
Even as she asked what more she could want, Bell knew that she could only attain happiness by adding love and marriage to her list. Yet she viewed both with as much anxiety as hope. Both the films that Bell attended so frequently, and the fiction that she favored, resolved romantic longings with happy marriages.(35) Yet marriage almost inevitably meant the end of her teaching, and like many women in the 1920s Bell agonized over choosing between love and career.(36) As important as these conflicts was Bell's personal history--the unique interaction of her family life, relationships, memories, and other circumstances with her acculturation. Her personal history undermined her ability to trust in the transformative power of love or in her ability to experience such a transformation.
In 1922, and again in 1924 and 1925, Bell used the contemporary wide-ranging discussions of sex to attempt to frame her own experiences of romance, engagement, and marriage. New forms of sexual conduct fascinated Bell, like many Americans in the 1920s.(37) She dated many men and frequently tried to "vamp" men, even when she had no serious interest in them. She never considered herself a flapper, yet she consciously measured herself against the flapper image. "Men do want a girl to be joyous but not immoral," she declared after seeing the movie, The Perfect Flapper; "they want her to be virtuous but not old fashioned."(38) As it did for many young women of the time, sex--necking and petting--assumed a large importance in Bell's thoughts and in her relationships with men. She discussed the "sex question" with a friend at college and only years later regretted the "error I made in permitting so much love-making."(39)
Lovemaking, however, held no meaning unless it led to the right person. "The chief want in life," she wrote in 1922, "is someone who shall make us do the best we can."(40) Unfortunately, few men were capable of meeting her high standards. "When you rise to the level of my ideal," she told her steady boyfriend in 1921, "then I will try to decide in your favor."(41) She imagined her perfect mate like the hero of a Victorian novelette, a successful physician of humble origins, inner strength, and virtue. "Is there such a man in this world for me[?]" she wondered. She compared the two men in her life to the ideal--"clean bodily & spiritually, whose goal is high, tho'ts pure, and who have never loved or touched a woman save myself"--but both of them fell short in some respect.(42) When she became engaged to one of them again two years later she still lamented his lack of education and refinement. "Funniest thing of my life is that I never 'fell in love.'" "If he never developes (sic) to the point of my dual expectation," she reflected before marrying Marlin W. Penrod, "I know I'll not be happy very long."(43)
Bell assumed that she would know when she had found the right man because he would inspire an overpowering experience of love. Her reading offered abundant images and support for this. Marie Corelli's heroine hears a spirit voice that tells her, "In Life's great choral symphony ... the keynote of the dominant melody is Love."(44) The heroine of another novel found after an unhappy marriage and social disgrace the redeeming value of a "love that controlled and uplifted." In picturing a successful physician growing sentimental over a flower, the author of yet another work discloses that this comes from "the strongest power on earth,--the power of love."(45)
Bell needed little encouragement to accept these images as accurate reflections of the experience of love. A month after reading Marie Corelli she reflected, with almost Corellian mysticism, "A mighty, unconquerable, force born of Heaven, which peoples the world, makes happiness, creates harmony, instills higher motives, and--what doesn't love do?" She added, "Where there is love there is happiness.... after all what is life but a fulfillment of love's demand[?]"(46) With love she would fulfill her aspirations for true womanhood and religious service.
"Love ... will open the rosebud and disclose the full-blown beauty of what lies within," she wrote, but went on to express her fear. "If it fails the flower will surely wither and die...."(47) The transformative power of love was not something she could command. Whenever she spoke of love, she did so in language that placed it outside her control, "like a great whirlpool drawing me gradually to the center of its passion."(48) Like the Victorians she admired, Gladys Bell could displace her devotion to God onto something else--the man she longed for or love itself. Love, in fact, seemed to take the place of God in many of Bell's entries by 1924, as when she wrote that only her "Rock of Ages" could save her. This was not the Christian Redeemer but "the great force which rules human passions. Love in some form or other has taken possession of me, but I am like a floating vessel without a commander, I seem to have lost a part of myself."(49)
Just as willing herself to joyousness never worked very well for Gladys, neither did surrendering her will to an all-consuming love. In 1924 she ended a romance with Daniel Webster that she had hoped might bring her all the joy and personal development of true love. Within a few months she promised to marry Marlin Wilson Penrod, a driver for Sterling Oil. Two years previously she had been engaged to him for several months. "Well I mean it this time," she wrote the day after sealing her second engagement.(50) Beyond her commitment to fulfill her promise, being engaged to Penrod carried little of the meaning that Bell expected from betrothal. Gladys Bell described her relationship with Penrod as a progression from scorn, to passive interest, to deep appreciation of his many fine qualities.(51) Throughout this transition she remained strikingly ambivalent about her relationship with him. She even considered alternatives to a traditional marriage, like Judge Ben Lindsey's description of marriage as the "love of one man for one woman.... If it shall later cease to exist I see no clear reason why Society should keep up the fiction that it does."(52) Bell went so far as to suggest to her fiance that they consider their marriage on a trial basis, so that if it didn't work out Bell could divorce Penrod and live on her earnings as a teacher.(53)
As we look more closely at Gladys Bell's reflections on her experience of love for M. W. Penrod, it becomes clear that cultural materials helped shape Bell's relationship with Penrod and her experience of love for him, but so did her lack of faith in herself and in the promises of love held out by her culture. A phenomenological reading of two passages will show the tentative development of Bell's feelings for Penrod.(54) The passage that follows was written four days after she agreed, for the second time, to marry Penrod.
For Goodness Sake! I'm in an awful stew--I don't want to be married, yet I don't know whether it is good for me to be single under the circumstances. His great love may turn to something harmful if I keep holding him off, as well as myself. I wish someone would decide for me. Because it is such an uncertain step, I hesitate. I must finish my schooling or never be content that I did my duty. I believe that it might be safe to risk a disagreement. Few men would wish to enter into marriage upon the agreement of short duration, possibly only for a few years. Better that, than never to have lived at all in the conjugal state. He agrees with me; that he should prefer short-lived happiness to lifelong bitterness. I am not surprised. He wants to make me happy. Whether I'd be happier than I am at present is hard to guess. I really am tired teaching because my patience is wearing to a thread. It's a nice profession but I think I'd like a rest from the routine of five years.
I'm not much nearer a decision now than I was last night. Mother St. Clair received my confidence and advises me that there isn't much use waiting since I mean to have it done sometime. Of course I am very young yet but I like the idea of being petted and protected. I've gone my own way for many years ... If he wants to kidnap me inside of four weeks, I guess I'll capitulate.(55)
This passage shows the conflict that Bell felt between what she had learned to expect and the situation she found herself in. She struggled with the emotional standards she had learned from her culture because they demanded a degree of surrender that she was incapable of enacting. In the face of an uncertain future, Gladys Bell experienced herself as unable to choose between two mutually exclusive options, marrying or not marrying Penrod. She did not, however, acknowledge that the possibility of future unhappiness made it difficult for her to make up her mind about marrying. Instead she felt caught in a tide that was moving her toward marriage against her will. She lived her ambivalence as a lack of autonomy. Gladys Bell maintained her perception of herself as one who was not acting of her own accord in three ways: 1) she emphasized the role of others in creating her situation while ignoring her own actions; 2) she understood love as a condition which was visited upon lovers through the will of God or through its own force but not through the willing engagement of those involved; and 3) she rejected the emotion of desire, either as a basis for meaningful decision making or as a factor that motivated her behavior.
Bell did not acknowledge her role in maintaining her attachment with Penrod. She remarked on the intensity of his feeling for her, the urgency of those feelings, and her efforts to keep him at bay. In fact, she wrote" ... I keep holding him off," implying that she had been doing this for some time. However, "holding him off" suggests that she was holding Penrod in a relationship, that is, not releasing him from it, merely maintaining him at a distance that was more comfortable for her than for him. Thus, Gladys Bell's experience of herself as resisting a man who was willing to risk eventual divorce or consider "kidnapping" in order to have her for his wife, was peculiarly one-sided. While clearly playing an active role, she perceived herself as passive.
Paradoxically, at the same time that she was holding Penrod in a relationship, but disavowing it, Gladys Bell was holding herself off from the inclination to become more deeply attached to him. She did this even as she took those steps toward marriage that would hold her in the relationship. Bell's disavowal of her active role in initiating her engagement supported her view of love as a conquering emotion which overwhelms the will of its victim. She feared that her fiance's love would "turn to something harmful" if she continued to hold him back, and she affirmed the power of love to rule as it would, despite the intentions of those experiencing it. Thus Bell did not hold herself responsible either for loving or failing to love Penrod. While Gladys Bell took for granted the understanding of love available in her culture, she toyed with love rather than embraced it.
Bell maintained her belief that she was not freely choosing to marry her fiance by justifying her engagement to him in terms other than the desire to be his wife. She considered the material benefits of marriage ("I really am tired teaching ..." "... I like the idea of being petted and protected.") This is only one instance of her general style of understanding her decisions as dictated by constraints imposed from outside herself. In line with this, she emphasized duty as the guiding principle for her behavior. About six weeks after agreeing to marry Penrod, she wrote, "I believe it is woman's duty to use her God given impulse of Motherhood."(56) She cited some of the racial purity doctrines then current in rural western Pennsylvania These ideas had slight interest for Bell outside of her doubts about marriage. When Gladys Bell perceived herself as fulfilling her duty, she felt more content and less ambivalent than when she experienced herself as making choices out of self interest.
Focusing on duty and other external constraints allowed Bell to experience herself as devoid of the compelling emotions that might otherwise serve as the basis for a decision to marry. Years before, just prior to her first engagement to Penrod, she longed "for someone to crush me to his breast and whisper 'My own--my Star--my Wild Rose.' Can it be possible that I'm in love? No--I don't think I am."(57) During her later engagement to Penrod, Bell refused to recognize desire as a sign of love. In her entry of November 11, 1924 she did not mention her feelings for Penrod when discussing whether to marry him. In other entries during her engagement she wrote that she did not love him, and she restated this several months after her marriage. "I don't love--because I cannot love. Why, I am not wise enough to say."(58) While proceeding with plans to marry Penrod, she attributed that decision to forces beyond herself and found within herself no capacity for an emotional attachment.
Bell's engagement to Penrod contrasts with the experience of romantic couples in the Victorian period. Karen Lystra has shown that women frequently set obstacles for their beaux, to test the depth of their love and commitment. Typically, these tests strengthened the passion of the men who overcame them.(59) Gladys Bell's objections to marriage might appear in the same light--Penrod repeatedly accepted conditions, such as the possibility of divorce, to show Bell his uninterested love. Yet the economic condition--dependence on a male breadwinner--that motivated Victorian women to set tests for their fiances, never applied to Bell. She knew that she could continue to teach if she remained single or eventually divorced.(60) More importantly, Bell never seems to have doubted Penrod's devoted love. In fact, his love repeatedly impressed her. It was her own ability to love that Bell doubted.
Gladys Bell did not experience herself as acting freely as she accepted Penrod's proposal and planned to marry him. Rather, she was motivated to maintain a perception of herself as compelled to marry him. This perception effectively absolved her of the responsibility for choosing against other possible futures and the responsibility for having chosen poorly in case their marriage caused suffering to either of them. We can understand Bell's inability to live her engagement whole-heartedly as a reasonable outcome of the discrepancy between her experiences as a woman and her inflated expectations of romance. Months before her engagement she wrote, "Women may seek for peace and joy and happiness but after all the most blissfully peaceful and restful moments of a woman's life are those in the arms of him who loves her," and she later described love as "the one great thing of life, however great the sacrifice."(61) When her relationship with Penrod fell short of her expectations, Bell constituted her feelings for him as something other than love, thereby preserving her vision of romance. Bell realized, by the time of her engagement, that her feelings for Penrod would not transform her the way she had hoped when she wrote, "To draw my personality to its height and beauty, the love of a woman for her mate may act as a stimulus...."(62) This disillusionment challenged her belief that loving and being loved by a good man would perfect and fulfill her. She had counted on that power of love to complete her life, so that no further struggles were necessary. Now she was finding that the love which she regarded as the "Rock of Ages" might not save her.(63)
Much of Gladys Bell's ambivalence had more to do with her personal development than with the discrepancy between cultural messages and her courtship experiences. Her family discouraged emotional expressiveness. In 1924 she wrote that she had been tempted to "take advantage of an emotional moment" with her mother, but then drew back. "Perhaps Mother does not like a display of affection. It would seem unlike her, for we are all so cold and distant." When emotions did erupt they were often violent or painful ones, as when her parents quarreled or her mother suffered because of her father's temper and drinking. Because her family failed to nurture emotional self-awareness, Bell frequently wondered about her own feelings and looked to others to reveal who she was and how she felt. She compared herself to women in popular media, whether flappers or Victorian heroines, to evaluate her own worth. More importantly, she relied on friends and beaux to serve as mirrors, reflecting her shortcomings and virtues. The admiration of her closest friend, Elsie, soothed and reassured her. "She's a wonderful 'Pal,'" wrote Bell, "and her perfect frankness is balm to a troubled soul." Regreting the coldness of her family in the same entry, Bell reflected on her need to find emotional reassurance. "Only the love of others lavished upon me has bridged the chasm of my icy nature." Even in her religion Bell appeased her desire to see herself through the eyes of a more powerful other, thereby confirming her worth. While yearning for her "wonderful dream lover" in 1923 she prayed, "God help me to be better, truer, nobler, beautiful in Thy sight that I may be in his." Bell's self doubts, apparently originating in her family's emotional style, robbed her of the ability to accept her desire for Penrod as genuine love.(64)
Gladys Bell had other motives for prefering a dream lover over one of flesh and blood. While she considered necking and petting an ordinary part of her dates, and though she longed for "someone to crush me to his breast," Bell viewed the prospect of physical love with anxiety. In the summer of 1922, during a trip to Michigan, she had flirted with the husband of the cousin she was visiting. When the man took advantage of his wife's absence to respond to her flirtation, Bell reacted with shock and disgust at how little men could control their passions. She left the home the next day, her honor still intact but her understanding of the world shaken.(65) She may have been reflecting on this incident in December 1924 when she wrote: "... man roused the first bitter sarcasm of disgust and disdain--man impregnated my soul with suspicion and man deadened ... the power to love." As she wrote this she was concerned about her engagement and about the prospect of intercourse. Two days before she had written that, "A woman is surely blessed if her mate finds his will sufficiently strong to conquer the animal passions of his nature."(66) Her fear of sex made physical passion a torment even on her wedding night. Trembling from fright, scarcely breathing, she convinced Penrod to forego intercourse on their first night together.(67) Only slowly would Bell accept that she could find love in a physical act.
In spite of her doubts, Gladys Bell married Marlin W. Penrod on April 25, 1925 at the county courthouse in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Without telling her family about the marriage, Bell continued to live at home for several weeks and to teach at a nearby grammar school from Monday through Friday, but stayed with Penrod and his mother in Indiana during the weekends. She still struggled with her ambivalent feelings towards Penrod, even weeks after the wedding: "I've simply got to overcome my pessimism or ruin my plans by allowing this moody shadow to overcome me. I must be cheerful if I have to work my brain to a shred...."(68) Months later she still worried: "Surely my boasted self control is playing truant or I'd be able to adopt the things I know would make me strong and bright and alert."(69)
Paradoxically, Bell's attempts at managing her emotions seem to have failed in two directions. She couldn't will herself to happiness or find the overpowering love she wanted, but she also discovered an unanticipated affection for the man she claimed to not love. Several weeks after her wedding she recorded these thoughts while apart from him.
If the truth be known, I'll wager he's just pretty weary of this long week. What makes it seem so long? Surely I'm not "falling in love." Of course not, I feel no differently except that I long for him sometimes, yet not alarmingly as wives should who are very fond of their husbands.
He asked me what caused the great chasm between his past and the present. It's somewhat difficult for me to say yet I believe that there was a dormant personality lying in wait for the elements that bring forth the best that is in man's soul. Love roused that sleeping complex and faith kept the flame alive until hope crowned it with victory and now the flames are leaping high in the ecstasy of possession. What man is there who would not thrill to the pulsations of success won from the very jaws of failure. Five years ago, I never suspected that I'd meet my future husband back there in the tangled clearings at a barn-dance. Meantime it never dawned on me what a wonderful gift I was ignoring, spurning with disdain and tossing aside scornfully. Even laughing indifferently as that gift was offered again and again, with a tender plea for acceptance. Virtually, the man humbled himself at the command of a love which he could not conquer, Tho' I was passively interested and perhaps selfishly so, yet I did not overestimate myself. In a sense I've always under rated myself and as a result I cannot have the assurance that one should possess in order to command due reverence and respect. Surely I can so command my future, that I shall have no fear of inattention from either my husband or from others.(70)
Despite her growing affection for her husband, Gladys Bell was reluctant to admit to herself that she loved him on May 15, 1925. She recognized that she longed for him during their weeks apart, but, after comparing the mildness of her feelings with the intensity she imagined other wives felt, she concluded that her feelings were not strong enough to qualify as love. Still, her denial acknowledged a growing possibility of love for her husband. Bell experienced that possibility of love as threatening. Love might conquer, embarrass, unsettle and then forsake her. She conceived of love as a commanding power which could lead lovers to humble themselves, even in the face of scornful rejection. Love threatened to unsettle her by causing her to long for her husband alarmingly. Most of all, love threatened the pain of loss, which she imagined as the inattentiveness of the loved one.
At the same time that she was sensitive to the threatening facets of love, Gladys Bell appreciated its power to transform lives by bringing forth latent goodness. She understood that her role was to allow her husband to win, love, and possess her, thereby providing him the opportunity to discover his best qualities. Through loving her he would be transformed. However, because she found herself unable to love him, she did not expect a similar transformation in her own life. Bell experienced love tentatively, neither engaging freely nor withdrawing from the possibility of intense emotional attachment to her husband. Although she was willing to receive his love, she did not believe that she reciprocated those feelings. She was passively available to be moved by a force beyond her control, but she was not confident enough of love's outcome to actively engage the threats it posed.
In the weeks following her wedding, Bell began to love her husband, though it was not the "irresistible attraction" she had expected. As she learned to respond to her husband sexually, Bell found physical love a path to romantic love.(71) She also began to question her high standards, realizing that "nothing less than an impossible Apollo could arouse me to more than passing interest."(72) Loneliness while away from Penrod, his support during her arguments with his mother, and romantic walks nurtured the passion she was finding in physical expressiveness. Bell managed to resolve many of her religious doubts in the late summer of 1925 by recommiting her life to Christ at a revival meeting. During that same revival Penrod also walked forward to commit his life to Christ. This shared spiritual awakening must have complemented their growing harmony in married life. Gladys Bell's movement toward loving devotion to Penrod included many moments of doubt and what seemed like backsliding, but by October she was able to write that "every day my husband becomes dearer to me."(73) Months after her wedding, Bell seemed to be finding a love that was different from what she had envisioned.
At the same time that Gladys Bell's diaries show us the strength and pervasiveness of emotional culture, they also show us the limits of emotional culture in shaping her emotional experience. She accepted the models for emotion available to her in literature, on the screen, and from the pulpit, and she worked to conform to them. Yet, even though she never despaired of it, she could never achieve the emotional control she aspired to. And, even though she believed that it would make her life complete, love seemed a chimera to Gladys Bell until months after her marriage. Bell's personal history--admittedly situated within her culture--shaped her emotions more decisively than did the models of emotional experience promoted by her culture. In particular, her family's emotional style taught her an approach to emotional experience that prevented her from giving herself over to her desire in the absence of guarantees that she would receive what she hoped for: a transformed life, a transformed and completed self, and permanent contentment.(74) When she wrote in November 1924, "I believe the fairies have forsaken me ... My Girlhood dreams are but dreams never to be realized,"(75) Bell was mourning the discrepancy between the emotions she had been taught to expect and those she realized. It was not the fairies who had forsaken her, though. It was Bell who saw to it that her dreams would remain just that.
Department of History Department of Psychology Greensburg, PA 15601
We wish to thank Peter N. Stearns for his encouragement and comments during the research and writing of this article, and Ivan McGee, Director of the Indiana County Historical Society for his help in making the papers of Gladys Bell Penrod available to us. We also benefited from the comments and advice of Jill Kelly, David Mente, and Gloria Myers.
1. Diaries of Gladys Bell Penrod, Indiana County Historical Society, Indiana, PA [hereafter GBP], July 29, 1925. To avoid confusion we refer to Gladys Bell by her maiden name throughout, even when we refer to her after she married M.W. Penrod. William James, Writings 1878-1899 (New York, 1992), pp. 144-146 formulated the importance of habit in much the same way that Gladys Bell viewed it; John F. Kasson, Rudeness & Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1990), pp. 151-156 discusses emotional control in the nineteenth century and the importance of habit.
2. GBP, Jan. 12, 1924.
3. Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns. Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History (Chicago, 1986); Peter N. Stearns, Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History (New York, 1987); Francesca M. Cancian, Love in America: Gender and Self-Development (Cambridge, 1987); Karen Lystra, Searching the Heart: Women, Men and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1989); Steven Seidman, Romantic Longings: Love in America, 1830-1980 (New York, 1991); Paul C. Rosenblatt, Bitter, Bitter Tears: Nineteenth-Century Diarists and Twentieth-Century Grief Theories (Minneapolis, 1983).
4. Claire Armon-Jones, "The Thesis of Constructionism," in Rom Harre, ed., The Social Construction of Emotions (Oxford, 1986), pp. 32-34. Armon-Jones includes the "systems of cultural belief, value and moral value of particular communities" as determinants of emotional experience. Peter N. Stearns and Carol Z. Stearns, "Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards," American Historical Review 90 (October 1985): 833-834, raise the issue of the relation between emotionology and the experience of emotion. Since emotion contains cognitive elements, there clearly must be links between cultural norms and emotional experience. In a forthcoming article, Peter N. Stearns and Deborah C. Stearns ("Historical Issues in Emotions Research: Causation and Timing," Sociological Perspectives on Emotions [forthcoming]) again address this issue and include the cautionary understatement, "Historical research here is beset with difficulties." We are grateful to Professor Stearns for use of a manuscript of this article. Page numbers in references to this article that follow are the manuscript pages.
5. What we perceive is constituted by our personal history, expectations, relations. Our perceptions cohere in relation to horizons of meaning. See E. Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Evanston, IL, 1970).
6. Stearns and Stearns, "Historical Issues in Emotions Research," treat this issue in detail.
7. Kasson, p. 258.
8. Peter N. Stearns, "Suppressing Unpleasant Emotions: The Development of a Twentieth-Century American Style," in Andrew E. Barnes and Peter N. Stearns, eds., Social History and Issues in Human Consciousness (New York, 1989), p. 246; Stearns and Stearns, "Historical Issues in Emotions Research," pp, 26, 39.
9. Stearns, "Suppressing,", p. 249; Stearns and Stearns, "Historical Issues in Emotions Research," p. 39; Lystra, pp. 7, 10, 29-30, 42, 46, 157-58, 186.
10. M.V. O'Shea, The Trend of the Teens (Chicago, 1920), p. 122.
11. Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture (New York, 1929), p. 115; John Modell, Into One's Own: From Youth to Adulthood in the United States, 1920-1975 (Berkeley, 1989), pp. 88-89; Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America (Baltimore, 1988) discusses the transition in courtship in the teens and twenties from calling to dating.
12. Peter N. Stearns and Mark Knapp, "Men and Romantic Love: Pinpointing a 20th-Century Change," Journal of Social History 27 (Summer 1993): 769-795; Modell, pp. 70-71, 97; Chafe, pp. 104-105; Cancian, p. 34.
13. Lystra, pp. 7-8; William H. Chafe, The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century (New York, 1991), p. 109.
14. GBP, Nov. 11, 1919.
15. GBP, Oct. 9, 1922.
16. GBP, June 1, 1924; July 26, 1925; Feb. 13, 1922.
17. GBP, July 27, 1925.
18. GBP, Dec. 16, 1924.
19. The clipping was included in GBP, April 20, 1924.
20. Edgar Dale, The Content of Motion Pictures (New York, 1935), pp. 17, 43, 89; Modell, pp. 73-74.
21. Samuel Hopkins Adams, Flaming Youth (New York, 1923).
22. GBP, June 17, 1922; Dec. 14, 1924; Kathleen Norris, The Beloved Woman (Garden City, NY, 1921).
23. Arlie Russell Hochschild, "Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure," American Journal of Sociology (1979): 561.
24. GBP, March 2, 1923.
25. Marie Corelli, The Life Everlasting: A Reality of Romance (New York, 1911), p. 96.
26. GBP, June 20, 1922.
27. GBP, May 30, 1922.
28. GBP, Jan.-Feb. 1924 notebook, first page.
29. GBP, Oct. 27, 1925.
30. GBP, May 19, 1924.
31. GBP, Sept. 25, 1925.
32. Harriet T. Comstock, Joyce of the North Woods (Garden City, NY, 1911), p. 124.
33. GBP, Nov. 20, 1925.
34. GBP, Aug. 6, 1924.
35. Lary May, Screening Out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (New York, 1980), p. 109-146.
36. Chafe, p. 109.
37. Ibid. 105.
38. GBP, Nov. ?, 1923.
39. GBP, Oct. 1, 1922; April 19, 1925.
40. GBP, beginning of March 1922.
41. GBP, Jan. 11, 1921 [hardbound typescript].
42. GBP, June 21, 1922. The Victorian ideal appeared in Evelyn Whitaker, Laddie and Miss Toosey's Mission (Philadelphia, 1897).
43. GBP, April 1, 1925; Jan. 16, 1925.
44. Corelli, p. 73.
45. Comstock, p. 389; Whitaker, p. 26.
46. GBP, July 13, 1922.
47. GBP, Dec. 1, 1924. Bell often referred to herself or signed her letters Rose.
48. GBP, March 26, 1922.
49. GBP, Jan. 13, 1924; Lystra, p. 254.
50. GBP, Nov. 16, 1924.
51. GBP, May 15, 1925.
52. Ben B. Lindsey and Wainwright Evans, The Revolt of Modern Youth (New York, 1925) p. 137; quoted verbatim in GBP, April 3, 1925.
53. GBP, Jan. 13, 1925; Feb. 20, 1925.
54. The meaning of Bell's experiences were elucidated through a process of meaning-unit analysis. See A. Giorgi, Phenomenology and Psychological Research (Pittsburgh, PA, 1985); William F. Fischer, "An Empirical Phenomenological Investigation of Being Anxious: An Example of the Phenomenological Approach to Emotion," Existential Phenomenological Perspectives in Psychology, ed. Ronald S. Valle and Steen Halling (New York, 1989), pp. 127-136.
55. GBP, Nov. 20, 1924.
56. GBP, Dec. 30, 1924.
57. GBP, May 16, 1922.
58. GBP, Nov. 21, 1924; April 24, 1925; Aug. 13, 1925.
59. Lystra, pp. 10, 157-158.
60. GBP, Jan. 13, 1925.
61. GBP, Feb. 18, 1924; July 26, 1924.
62. GBP, March 18, 1925.
63. GBP, Jan. 13, 1924.
64. GBP, Jan. 12, 1924; July 19, 1923; Gladys Bell looked for the wishes and fantasies of her earliest years to be fulfilled in her romantic relationships but she doubted the possibility since those wishes had found so little fulfillment in her family. She anticipated devastation if her romance failed. Ethel Spector Person, Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters: The Power of Romantic Passion (New York, 1988), p. 291.
65. GBP, July 18-20, 1922; Penrod later proved the strength of his will during an evening when he never touched Bell. GBP, July 6, 1923.
66. GBP, Dec. 12, 1924; Dec. 10, 1924.
67. GBP, April 25, 1924.
68. GBP, May 12, 1925.
69. GBP, Sept. 4, 1925.
70. GBP, May 15, 1925.
71. GBP, May 23, 1925; July 24, 1925.
72. GBP, June 16, 1925.
73. GBP, Oct. 27, 1925.
74. Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley, 1983), ch. 8.
75. GBP, Nov. 22, 1924.
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|Author:||Magistro, Cynthia A.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1994|
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