March 31, 2013

Two Old Lovers: Maria and David's courting

Mary Eleanor Wilkins (later Mrs. Freeman) turned to writing as a source of income. In her teen years, she had written a few works for children but her first major success came when, on March 31, 1883, Harper's Bazaar printed her first mature short story, "Two Old Lovers."

"Two Old Lovers" takes place in a suburban neighborhood with very little variation among homes and gardens. The town, Leyden, is dominated by shoe factories and its people are cheerful, prosperous, and easy-going. Martha and Maria Brewster are mother and daughter (father having died 15 years earlier), aged 80 and 60, respectively. A slow-moving neighbor named David Emmons, two years older than Maria, is seen visiting the household every week with an offering of his homegrown vegetables. Maria, in return, offered him her baking skills on Saturdays. Though the townspeople talked of the presumed marriage between David and Maria, no arrangement was made between the two.They had been courting this way for 25 years:

There was something laughable, and at the same time rather pathetic, about Maria and David's courting. All the outward appurtenances of '' keeping company" were as rigidly observed as they had been twenty-five years ago, when David Emmons first cast his mild blue eyes shyly and lovingly on red-cheeked, quick-spoken Maria Brewster. Every Sunday evening, in the winter, there was a fire kindled in the parlour, the parlour lamp was lit at dusk all the year round, and Maria's mother retired early, that the young people might "sit up." The "sitting up" was no very formidable affair now, whatever it might have been in the first stages of the courtship. The need of sleep overbalanced sentiment in those old lovers, and by ten o'clock at the latest Maria's lamp was out, and David had wended his solitary way to his own home.

The more later revealed that David had never proposed but they assumed it would come eventually. Maria did not concern herself about his timing. "There was never at any time much of the sentimental element in her composition," according to the story, "and her feeling for David was eminently practical in its nature." Still, she was happy at the prospect and even bought herself fine silk to wear on what she presumed would be the inevitable wedding day. She soon gives away her beautiful silk. When David is on his deathbed, however, he calls her to his side...

The same year "Two Old Lovers" was published, Freeman moved from Brattleboro, Vermont to her home town Randolph, Massachusetts. There, she moved in with a friend named Mary John Wales. The two women remained close companions for years, living together for nearly twenty years before Wilkins married Dr. Charles Freeman. The marriage proved disastrous.

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