Introduction to "Adam Floyd".
While Holmes is known best for the thirty-eight novels (2) she published between 1854 and 1907, "Adam Floyd" is useful as a condensed representation of her writing style, her themes, and her character types, especially the male hero. In her well-known 1981 essay "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors," Nina Baym argues that the male hero in canonical American Ficton, who functions separately from domestic life and concerns, sees women as a barrier to his independent life. While this figure is not found in all examples of American fiction, Baym points out that the image of the male as aloof and heroic in his individuality is found more typically in canonical American fiction (132-33).
Certainly Adam Floyd is an example of a protagonist who challenges and revises the representation of the male hero in American fiction; he is the complete opposite of the male protagonist who resents and resists so-called feminizing influences and domestic life. (3) At the beginning of the story, readers learn that Adam is deeply religious, hard working, talented, kind, handsome, devoted to his blind mother, and nearly desperate to marry his fiancee Anna.
Anna is a good match in some ways for Adam; she loves him, and she is intelligent, beautiful, and wants to be faithful to him, but she is also immature and fickle.Holmes tells us that Anna has been away to school where she acquired a second language and studied "Algebras and Euclids." Further, she is one "whom all the village lads coveted, and at whom it was rumored even Herbert Dunallen, the heir of Castlewild ... had cast admiring glances" (336). Adam adores Anna, but fears he does not measure up to her, as he is merely an uneducated carpenter. Unfortunately for Adam, Anna has come to the same conclusion, thanks to Dunallen's attentions.
Of course, Holmes does not agree with Anna or Herbert or Adam: She points out that while Herbert is elegant and graceful with his "hands ... so white" like Anna's, and Adam "could neither dress, nor dance, nor flatter, nor bow as Dunallen," it is Adam who is "tenfold more worthy of Anna's esteem" (338). Adam does not know yet about Herbert, but he senses Anna's waffling affections. He considers offering to end the engagement, but Holmes tells us that "the very idea had made his great, kind heart throb with a pang so keen that he had striven to banish it, for to lose his darling now would be worse than death" (336).
Holmes's solution to Adam's anxieties is not to masculinize him in the tradition of the American male hero (a tradition found in literature, of course, but also in film, television, and popular culture), but to erase his fears about his own worthiness and then to offer him as a prize to her rehabilitated heroine, Anna. Adam requires some fine-tuning, but, ultimately, he reflects Holmes's view that male heroes are those who are committed to white, middle-class domesticity. As Baym points out, the domestic novel "assumes that men as well as women find greatest happiness and fulfillment in domestic relations, by which are meant not simply spouse and parent, but the whole network of human attachments based on love, support, and mutual responsibility. Domesticity is set forth as a value scheme for ordering all of life" (Woman's Fiction 27). In "Adam Floyd," Holmes's message is that men such as Adam exist and deserve women who are committed just as fully to these same values. Holmes delivers this message by showing her readers that Anna needs to change her priorities; Herbert must see that his aristocratic attitudes are immoral and personally destructive; and Adam ought to recognize that domestic worthiness has little to do with sophistication or wealth.
The following excerpt from "Adam Floyd" begins with Adam's visit to Anna's home. Their marriage is one week away, but Anna has not yet told Adam about her feelings for Herbert. This is partly because she has not yet decided whom she loves the most. When she is with Adam, she vows to stay faithful to their engagement, but when she is with the villain Herbert, she forgets her promises to Adam and agrees to run off with Herbert. Like many of Holmes's novels, the heroine must confront her weaknesses and either overcome them or lose the domestic happiness she craves.
Anna matches Jane Tompkins's description of the heroine of domestic fiction as a young girl who overcomes difficult financial, educational, and emotional circumstances with the support of other women (38-39). In "Adam Floyd," Herbert's fiancee Mildred serves as Anna's moral compass. In the excerpt included here, we see Anna s guilt at deceiving Adam and her disgust at Herbert's cruelty, but we do not see, in either case, her being able to choose firmly to stay with Adam or go with Herbert. It is Mildred's presence and guidance that resets Anna's moral compass toward Adam.
The excerpt ends after Anna vows to meet Herbert when the village clock strikes one The story continues with a coincidence very typical of Holmes's fiction: Mildred's carriage has an accident in front of Adam's house, and he assists Mildred, the injured woman, into his home. To ensure that Anna meets Mildred, Holmes has Adam run to Anna's house to ask her assistance in caring for "a lady's ankle" (349). Anna agrees and soon discovers that this lady is actually Herbert's finance. Mildred's piety and goodness allow that this lady is actually Herbert's finance Mildred's piety and goodness allow her to see her own situation clearly. However, Anna is so guilt-ridden by her deceitfulness that, after writing a letter to Herbert cutting off their relationship, she falls ill. Adam sees the letter, but does not know its contents. He assumes, however, that Anna is confessing her true love for Herbert and begins the process of mourning the end of his relationship with her. When Anna recovers from her long illness, she begs Adam's forgiveness for her unfaithfulness and announces that she wants to be with him. Adam is surprised by this news, as he has already begun to think of Anna as an "errant child" rather than as his fiancee. At this point, Mildred steps in and suggests that Anna go away for awhile in order to see if she can be true to Adam when she is not with him. All agree to this arrangement, and this portion of the story ends.
The excerpt picks up at the conclusion of "Adam Floyd"--it is eight years later and we learn that Anna has matured in her absence from both men and has finally married Adam. After their marriage, Adam goes to war and loses an arm in battle. His loss is Anna's opportunity to show her new-found maturity; when he returns from war, she vows to be his right arm, "to work for him if necessary, even to building houses, if he would teach her how" (363). At this point in the story, we are a long way from the beginning when Herbert worried that he was not sophisticated enough for Anna and begged her to marry him, telling her, "I know I am not your equal, I feel it painfully, but I can learn with you as my teacher, and, my precious Anna, whatever I may lack in polish, I will, I will make up in kindness!" (343). While her offer to be his student, rather than vice-versa, could be read as her choice
to embrace submission and obedience, we understand in the context of the plot that she is committing herself fully to him and is even willing to take the masculine role of provider should it be required. Of course, Herbert's gift of Castlewild has eliminated that need, and since both Herbert and Anna have embraced domestic values, they are ready for a rich and fulfilling partnership--a reward that Holmes offers for all her worthy characters.
(1.) Jacob Blanck lists the short story as a reprint but does not provide a source for it in his Bibliography of American Literature (230).
(2.) This figure is disputed. Blanck locates thirty-eight titles that can be attributed to Mary Jane Holmes (219-30), while a 1907 obituary in the Nation credits her with thirty-nine novels ("The Week"). Nina Baym argues in Woman's Fiction that both of those figures are highly inflated and that fewer than twenty-five titles can be accurately attribute to Holmes (Woman's Fiction 176).
(3.) Holmes's interest in the American male hero can be found in her other texts with titular male protagonists, beginning with her misogynist-turned-domestic-hero main character in Hugh Worthington and continuing well into her literary career with her uncritical-lover-of-all-women main character in Paul Ralston. While these male heroes face opposite challenges--one hates women and must learn to love them; the other loves all women and must learn to discriminate among good partners and bad ones--both figures represent Holmes's view that everyone's greatest happiness comes from acquiring domestic values.
Baym, Nina. "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction
Exclude Women Authors." American Quarterly 33 (1981): 123-39.
--. Women's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America 1820-1870. 1978. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1993.
Blanck, Jacob. "Mary Jane Holmes." Bibliography of American Literature. Vol. 4. New Haven: Yale UP, 1963. 219-30. 9 vols..
Holloway, Laura C. "Mary J. Holmes." Holloway, The Woman's Story 333-34.
--. Preface. Holloway, The Woman's Storyv.
--. ed. The Woman's Story: As Told by Twenty American Women with Portraits, and Sketches of the Authors. 1889. New York: John B. Alden, 1892.
Holmes, Mary Jane. "Adam Floyd." [1889?] Holloway, The Woman's Story 335-63.
Tompkins, Jane. West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992
"The Week." Nation Oct. 1907: 316.
Excerpt from "Adam Floyd" (1892)
"If he were not so good," she thought, as with a shudder she turned away from the pretty little workbox he had brought her; "if he had ever given me an unkind word, or suspected how treacherous I am, it would not seem so bad, but he trusts me so much! Oh, Adam, I wish we had never met!" and hiding her face in her hands, poor Anna weeps passionately.
There was a hand upon the gate, and Anna knew whose step it was coming so cheerfully up the walk, and wondered if it would be as light and buoyant when she was gone. She heard him in their little parlor, talking to her mother, and, as she listened, the tones of his voice fell soothingly upon her ear, for there was music in the voice of Adam Floyd, and more than Anna had felt its quieting influence. It seemed cruel to deceive him so dreadfully, and in her sorrow Anna sobbed out,
"Oh, what must I do?" Once she thought to pray, but she could not do that now. She had not prayed aright since that first June night when she met young Herbert down in the beech grove, and heard him speak jestingly of her lover, saying "she was far too pretty and refined for such an odd old cove." It had struck her then that this cognomen was not exactly refined, that Adam Floyd would never have called Dunallen thus, but Herbert's arm was round her waist, where only Adam's had a right to rest. Herbert's eyes were bent fondly upon her, and so she forgave the insult to her affianced husband, and tried to laugh at the joke. That was the first open act, but since then she had strayed very far from the path of duty, until now she had half promised to forsake Adam Floyd and be Dunallen's bride. That very day, just after sunset, he would be waiting in the beech wood grove for her final decision. No wonder that with this upon her mind she shrank from meeting her lover, whom she knew to be the soul of truth and honor. And yet she must school herself to go with him over the house he had prepared for her with so much pride and care. Once there she would tell him, she thought, how the love she once bore him had died out from her heart. She would not speak of Herbert Dunallen but she would ask to be released, and he, the generous, unselfish man, would do her bidding.
Her manner troubled [Adam], but he made no comment until they were out upon the highway, when he said to her timidly, "If you are tired, perhaps you would not mind taking my arm. Folks will not talk about it, now we are so near being one."
Anna could not take his arm, so she replied: "Somebody might gossip; I'd better walk alone," and coquettishly swinging the hat she carried instead of wore, she walked by his side silently, save when he addressed her directly. Poor Adam! There were clouds gathering around his heart, blacker far than the dark rift rising so rapidly in the western sky. There was something the matter with Anna more than weariness or heat, but he would not question her there, and so a dead silence fell between them until the cottage was reached, and standing with her on the threshold of the door.
"I'm glad you like our home. I think myself it is pleasant, and so does everyone. Even Dunallen complimented it very highly."
"Dunallen; has he been here?" and Anna blushed painfully.
But Adam was not looking at her. He had never associated the heir of Castlewild with Anna's changed demeanor, and wholly unconscious of the pain he was inflicting, he went on.
"He went all over the house this morning. ... Did I tell you that he had hired me for a long and profitable job? He is going to make some repairs at Castlewild before he brings home his bride. You know he is engaged to a young heiress, Mildred Atherton."
It was well for Anna that her face was turned from Adam as she replied,
"Yes, I've heard something of an engagement made by the family when he was a mere boy. I thought perhaps he had tired of it."
"Oh, no; he told me only to-day that he expected to bring his wife to Castlewild as early as Christmas. We were speaking of you and our marriage."
"Of me?" and Anna looked up quickly, but poor, deluded Adam, mistook her guilty flush for a kind of grateful pride that Dunallen should talk of her.
"He said you were the prettiest girl he ever saw, and when I suggested, 'except Miss Atherton,' he added, 'I will not except anyone; Milly is pretty, but not like your fiancee.'"
Anna had not fallen so low that she could not see how mean and dastardly it was for Herbert Dunallen to talk thus of her to the very man he was intending to wrong so cruelly; and for a moment a life with Adam Floyd looked more desirable than a life with Herbert Dunallen, even though it were spent in the midst of elegance of which she had never dreamed. Anna's good angel was fast gaining the ascendency, and might have triumphed had not the sound of horses' feet just then met her ear, and looking from the window she saw Herbert Dunallen riding by, his dark curls floating in the wind and his cheek flushing with exercise. He saw her, too, and quickly touching his cap, pointed adroitly towards the beechwood grove. With his disappearance over the hill her good angel flew away, and on her face there settled the same cold, unhappy look, which had troubled Adam so much.
"Darling," he said, when he spoke again, "there is something on your mind which I do not understand. If you are to be my wife, there should be no secrets between us. Will you then tell me what it is, and if I can help you I will, even thought--though--"
"Adam," Anna began at last, so low that he scarcely could hear her. "Adam, forgive me all that is past. I have been cold and indifferent, have treated you as I ought not, but I am young and foolish, I--I--oh! Adam, I mean to do better. I--"
She could not say, "will banish Dunallen from my mind"--it was not necessary to mention him, she thought; but some explanation must be made, and so, steadying her voice, she told him how dearly she had loved him once, thinking there was not in all the world his equal, but that during the year at a city school she had acquired some foolish notions and had sometimes wished her lover different.
"Not better at heart. You could not be that," she said, looking him now fully in the face, for she was conscious of meaning what she said, "but--but--"
"You need not finish it, darling; I know what you mean," Adam said, the cloud lifting in a measure from his brow. "I am not refined one bit, but my Blossom is, and she shall teach me. I will try hard to learn. I will not often make her ashamed. I will even imitate Dunallen if that will gratify my darling."
"As a proof that you trust me fully," she said, as the twilight shadows deepened around them, "you must let me go home alone, I wish it for a special reason. You must not tell me no," and the pretty lips touched his bearded cheek.
Herbert Dunallen had waited there a long time, as he thought, and he began to grow impatient. What business had Anna to stay with that old fellow, if she did not mean to have him, and of course she did not. It would be a most preposterous piece of business for a girl like Anna to throw herself away upon such as Adam Floyd, carpenter by trade, and general repairer of things at Castlewild. Whew-ew! and Herbert whistled contemptuously, adding in a low voice, "and yet my lady mother would raise a beautiful rumpus if she knew I was about to make this little village rustic her daughter-in-law. For I am; if there's one redeeming trait in my character, it's being honorable in my intentions toward Anna. Most men in my position would only trifle with her, particularly when there was in the background a Mildred Atherton, dreadfully in love with them. I wonder what makes all the girls admire me so?" and the vain young man stroked his mustache complacently, just as a rapid footstep sounded near.
It was Anna's, and the next moment he held her in his arms. But she would not suffer him to keep her there, and with a quiet dignity which for an instant startled him beyond the power to speak or act, she put his arm away, and standing apart from him, told him of her resolution, and reproached him with his duplicity, asking him how he could tell Adam that he was about to be married.
"Because I am," he replied. "I am not to blame for his believing silly little Milly to be the bride elect. Won't it be famous, though, for you to order round your former lover? I've engaged him for a long job, and you ought to have seen how glad he was of the work, thinking, of course, how much he should earn for you. I came near laughing in his face when he hoped I should be as happy with Miss Mildred as he expected to be with you."
"You shan't speak so of Adam Floyd!" and Anna's little foot beat the ground impatiently, while indignant tears glittered in her blue eyes as she again reiterated that Adam Floyd should be her husband.
"Not while I live!" Herbert responded almost fiercely, for he saw in her manner a determination he had never witnessed before.
As well as he was capable of doing he loved Anna Burroughs, and the fact that she was pledged to another added fuel to the flame.
"What new freak has taken my fickle goddess?" he asked, looking down upon her with a mocking sneer about his mouth as she told him why she could not go with him.
"It seems terrible to wrong Adam," she said, and by the tone of her voice, Herbert knew the victory was two thirds won.
"Adam will do well enough," he replied. "People like him never die of broken hearts! He's a good fellow, but not the one for you; besides, you know, he's what they call pious, just like Milly; and, I presume, he'll say it was not so wicked for you to cheat him as to perjure yourself, as you surely would, by promising to love and honor and all that when you didn't feel a bit of it!"
"What was that you said of Miss Atherton?" Anna asked eagerly, for she had caught the word pious, and it made her heart throb with pain, for she knew that Herbert Dunallen could not say as much of her!
Tightly her hands clenched each other as Herbert answered jestingly.
"She's one of the religious ones, Milly is; writes me such good letters. I've one of them in my pocket now. She's coming to see me; is actually on the way, so tomorrow night, or never, my bride you must be."
"Miss Atherton coming here! What do you mean?" Anna asked, and Herbert replied,
"I mean, Mildred has always been in a fever to see Castlewild, and as she is intimate with Mrs. Judge Harcourt's family, she is coming there on a visit. Will arrive to-morrow, her note said; and will expect to see me immediately after her arrival."
Herbert's influence over Anna was too great for her to attempt to stop him, so she offered no remonstrance, when he continued:
"I suppose Milly will cry a little, for I do believe she likes me, and always has; but I can't help it.
The match was agreed upon by our families when she was twelve and I fifteen. Of course I'm awfully sick of it, and have been ever since I knew you," and Herbert's lips touched the white brow where only half an hour before Adam Floyd's had been.
Mildred in the neighborhood would be as formidable an obstacle to him as Adam was to Anna, while he feared the result of another interview between the affianced pair. With all his love for Anna he was not blind to the fact that the last one with whom she talked had the better chance of eventually winning. He could not lose her now, and he redoubled his powers of persuasion, until, forgetting everything, save the handsome youth beside her, the wealthy heir of Castlewild, Anna said to him,
"I will meet you at our gate when the village clock strikes one!" and as she said the words the woods were lighted up by a flash of lightning so fearfully bright and blinding that with a scream of terror she hid her face in her lap and stopped her ears to shut out the deafening roll of the thunder. The storm had burst in all its fury, and hurrying from the woods, Herbert half carried, half led the frightened Anna across the fields in the direction of her father's door. Depositing her at the gate, he paused for an instant to whisper his parting words and then hastened rapidly on.
Eight years have passed away and on the broad piazza of Castlewild a sweet-faced woman stands, waiting impatiently the arrival of the carriage winding slowly up the hill, and which stops, at last, while Mildred Atherton alights from it and ascends the steps to where Anna stands waiting for her. And Mildred who for years has been abroad, and has but recently returned to America, has come to be for a few weeks her guest, and to see how Anna deports herself as the wife of Adam Floyd, and mistress of beautiful Castlewild.
There is a sad story connected with Anna's being there at Castlewild, a story which only Mildred can tell, and in the dusky twilight of that first evening when Adam was away and the baby Milly asleep in its crib, she takes Anna's hand inhers and tells her what Anna indeed knew before, but which seems far more real as it comes from Mildred's lips, making the tears fall fast as she listens to it. Tells her how Providence directed her to the room in a Paris hotel, where a fellow-countryman lay dying, alone and unattended save by a hired nurse. The sick room was on the same hall with her own, and in passing the door, which was ajar, she was startled to hear a voice once familiar to her and which seemed to call her name. Five minutes later and she was sitting by Herbert Dunallen's bedside and holding his burning hand in hers, while he told her how long he had lain there with the fever contracted in the south of France, and how at the moment she passed his door he was crying out in his anguish and desolation for the friends so far away, and had spoken her name, not knowing she was so near.
After that Milly was his constant attendant, and once when she sat by him he talked to her of the past and of Anna, who had been three years the wife of Adam Floyd.
"I am glad of it," he said. "She is happier with him than she could have been with me. I am sorry that I ever came between them, it was more my fault than hers, and I have told Adam so. I wrote him from Algiers and asked his forgiveness, and he answered my letter like the noble man he is. There is peace between us now, and I am glad. I have heard from him, or rather of him since in a roundabout way. He lost his right arm in the war, and that will incapacitate him from his work. He can never use the hammer again. I do not suppose he has so very much money. Anna liked Castlewild. In fact I believe she cared more for that than for me, and I have given it to her;--have made my will to that effect. It is with my other papers, and Milly, when I am dead, you will see that Anna has her own. I did not think it would come quite so soon, for I am young to die. Not thirty yet, but it is better so, perhaps. You told me that you prayed for me every day, and the memory of that has stuck to me like a burr, till I have prayed for myself, more than once, when I was well, and often since shut up in this room which I shall never leave alive. Stay by me, Milly, to the last; it will not be long, and pray that if I am not right, God will make me so. Show me the way, Milly, I want to be good, I am sorry, oh, so sorry for it all."
For a few days longer he lingered, and then one lovely autumnal morning, when Paris was looking her brightest, he died, with Milly's hand in his, and Milly's tears upon his brow.
And so Castlewild came to Anna, who had been three years its mistress when Milly came to visit her, and on whose married life no shadow however small had fallen, except, indeed, the shadows which are common to the lives of all. When her husband came home from the war a cripple, as he told her with quivering lips, her tears fell like rain for him, because he was sorry, but for her-self she did not care; he was left to her, and kissing him lovingly she promised to be his right arm and to work for him if necessary, even to building houses, if he would teach her how. But poverty never came to Adam Floyd and Anna, and probably never would have come, even if there had been no will which left them Castlewild. That was a great surprise, and at first Adam hesitated about going there. But Anna persuaded him at last, and there we leave them perfectly happy in each other's love, and both the better, perhaps, for the grief and pain which came to them in their youth.
LEE ANN ELLIOTT WESTMAN
University of Texas, El Paso
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|Title Annotation:||LEGACY REPRINT|
|Author:||Westman, Lee Ann Elliott|
|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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