Flanders, G. M

views updated

FLANDERS, G. M.

Born no information found; died date unknown

No information about G. M. Flanders' life, background, or views has survived; only one novel, The Ebony Idol (1860, reprinted 1969), remains of her work. The combination of sentimental romance with biting social satire, however, makes the novel of special interest as a literary and cultural document.

Set in a small New England town, The Ebony Idol shows how the Reverend Mr. Carey divides his congregation and his community by preaching militant abolitionism. His followers, mostly women, are either impractical do-gooders or swinish Jacksonian egalitarians. Chief among Mr. Carey's supporters are Miss Dickey, an elderly feminist schoolmarm, and Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, a loutish farm couple. Flanders characterizes the abolitionist position as hysterical, impractical, and uncharitable.

Mr. Carey's pro-slavery opponents, on the other hand, are sensible, practical, and discerning in their concern for others. Represented by Squire Bryan, a wealthy lawyer and landholder, the pro-slavery faction supports both a Jeffersonian democracy and the orderly relations, advocated by St. Paul, between slave and master, man and woman, husband and wife. Like Squire Bryan, the pro-slavery supporters argue the South, which is, after all, run by gentlemen and Christians, is entitled to its own customs and economy. Into this turbulent controversy comes Caesar, a runaway slave who is at first idolized by Mr. Carey's abolitionists. Caesar's huge size and appetite and his laziness, vanity, and dishonesty lead to a series of comic episodes which illustrate that abolitionists hypocritically fear and despise the blacks with whom they profess equality. A sentimental subplot revolves around Frank Stanton, a Southern dandy who is studying law with Squire Bryan, and Mary, the beautiful, gentle, and ladylike adopted daughter of the loutish Mr. and Mrs. Hicks.

As The Ebony Idol ends, the lovers are united, the North is reconciled with the South, the town's pro-slavery status quo is restored, Caesar gratefully returns to his master, and a sadder but wiser minister learns to leave politics out of the pulpit in the interests of peace and social order.

While Flanders' unflattering characterizations of feminists, abolitionists, and blacks may be offensive to a modern reader, they illustrate an important issue in women's literature of the period: woman's role as a submissive Christian allowed her spiritual beauty and transcendence, hence also spiritual authority and superiority. If women (temperamentally inferior to men) could and should accept their lot in order to create domestic harmony, slaves (temperamentally inferior to whites) could and should accept their lot in order to create social harmony in the South. Similar pro-slavery and antifeminist arguments appear in contemporary works by Caroline Lee Hentz, Mary Eastman, and Caroline Rush.

—KATHERINE STAPLES

About this article

Flanders, G. M

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article