You don’t hear much about May-December romances these days. But history is full couples made of young women with older men, especially in centuries when so many women died in childbirth.
That was the case in the family of Anna Osborn. Her father was twice a widower, and his third wife (Annie’s stepmother) was 13 years younger than he. Each wife bore him several children, bringing the total number of Osborn offspring to eleven.
Varying Explanations for Women’s Choices
According to an article in The Guardian, women are genetically programmed to recognize a man with genes strong enough to be attractive and display wealth at an advanced age. According to this theory, evolution favors a strong older man over a younger one.
Or is it more than that? Perhaps it is because older men have more sophisticated tastes, seem more sure of themselves, and are looking for serious relationships, as this more recent article suggests.
In the chapters of The Truth About Daniel concerning Annie Osborn’s courtship, she evades the clumsy pursuits of Richie, a man her age. Richie doesn’t know enough to douse his cigar in a lady’s presence and still appears boyishly lanky. He dances badly, works for his father, and has done nothing heroic. How can he measure up to Daniel Read Anthony with his war-hardened physique, strong profile, and willingness to save people in a burning building?
When Annie learns that Daniel has also committed himself to the same risky undertaking as she, she falls in love with a man twenty years older her senior. She senses Daniel’s value to society in contrast to Richie’s lightweight existence.
Neither can Richie match Daniel’s experience as a mayor and postmaster. He lacks Daniel’s acquaintance with influential people, notably his sister Susan B. Anthony and her cohort—people that Annie has only read about before.
Unlike Richie and Annie, who have lived their entire lives on an island, Daniel has traveled halfway across the continent. Perhaps the best thing of all is that he’s willing and able to take Annie there.
Happily Ever After
No novice at the game of courtship, Daniel keeps his wealth to himself until after he is engaged to Annie. As mayor, he may have known too many women who wanted to marry a man for his money. Fortunately, Annie reacts with pleasant surprise, showing that not all young women are looking for sugar daddies.
Courting at the resort at Saratoga, NY in the 19th century carried some risk for wealthy women, for it was described as a “heterogeneous society” where anyone who could afford the price of admission (and the clothing) would be admitted.
Valentine’s Day’s coming up, and I will be on Rochester’s WHAMTV31 at 8:50 AM to discuss The Truth About Daniel, which is among other things, a love story. (Plese note: earlier, the channel was listed as 13. The correct channel is actually 31)
Let’s consider this romantic painting, which I love for for many reasons. First of all, my husband and I nurtured our long-distance romance with letters for two years. Snail mail made for difficult delays in hearing from my heart-throb, especially since the post office near my Toronto residence often went on strike for a couple weeks. Now, though, I consider myself fortunate to have corresponded with Jon before email because I still have every letter he sent me tied up with a neat bow.
The second reason I love this painting is that the woman looks the way I picture Annie Osborn, heroine of my book, right down to the strawberry blond hair that won’t stay put. And the inkwell reminds me of one I saw in an Anthony collection somewhere. Memory fails me at the moment.
And my third reason is that the letters of Annie and Daniel play a pivotal part in the novel. Like my husband and me, these lovers sometimes experienced lapses in snail mail—and their lapses almost led to romantic disaster.
Just for fun, here’s a picture I took of post office boxes at Alley’s Store on Martha’s Vineyard, near the 19th century home of Annie Osborn.
I highly recommend this post on letters in literature. And don’t forget to watch the news at 8:50 on TV13 WHAM on Valentine’s Day!
Post office box photo by Jeanne Gehret
Courtship in the nineteenth century was a carefully-controlled affair, especially among the upper classes like the sphere where Annie Osborn lived. Unmarried women were carefully chaperoned, as this three-way chair in St. Augustine’s Lightner Museum demonstrates.
Here is a wonderful excerpt from a book I bought in that museum gift store; this is from a chapter entitled “Professor Hill’s Guide to Love and Marriage.”
Any gentleman who may continuously give special, undivided attention to a certain lady is presumed to do so because he prefers her to others. It is reasonable to suppose that others will observe his action. It is also reasonable to be expected that the lady will herself appreciate the fact, and her feelings are likely to become engaged.
Should she allow an intimacy thus to ripen upon the part of the gentleman, and to continue, it is to be expected that he will be encouraged to hope for her hand; and hence it is the duty of both lady and gentleman, if neither intends marriage, to discourage an undue intimacy which may ripen into love, as it is in the highest degree dishonorable to trifle with the affections of another.”
p. 109, The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette, by Professor Thomas E. Hill.
Suppose a man from Kansas were to travel all the way to Martha’s Vineyard to visit a woman who had encouraged him, only to find that she did not trust him with her affections?
Photo by Jeanne Gehret