illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Curious cultural convergence

Be thankful we’ve moved past the late 19th century. I haven’t posted anything for weeks because I’ve been  developing detailed conjectures on the backstory of a painting that’s been in my family for decades.

“Once you get your teeth in somebody’s leg, you don’t let go, do you?” a business colleague once commented. Well, no, I don’t.

And in reviewing background resources, I found a post I’d previously overlooked: a reference to the eventual divorce of the young girl in the painting.

daguerrotypes of Adele and her family 20. Adele c.1902 restored faceAdele was my great-grandmother’s older sister; ten years older, in fact: the middle child of nine. The oldest was born in 1844;  Adele was born in 1854; and my great-grandmother Emma Marguerite was born in 1864, three years after Adele’s portrait was painted.

In 1873, Adele married Thomas Newton Murphy, nine years her senior, a lawyer  and Civil War veteran who’d lost an arm while serving under General Sherman in Georgia.  They lived in upstate New York and had seven children over the next eighteen years.  His work as an itinerant lawyer in St. Lawrence County often took him away from home. He filed for divorce–and custody of the three youngest children– in 1898 and even brought in a witness to testify that Adele had “committed adultery with four different men from Nov.20, 1896 through June 20, 1898” and “is in reality a prostitute for pay.”

Adele had enough gumption to  file a counter-suit on July 6, 1898. She denied his accusations and alleged under oath that Thomas had been conducting an affair with Addie Crandall since Feb. 27, 1894 at various places in Potsdam, Norfolk, and Massena, as well as his home office and at the Norwood farm. She asserted that they had not cohabited since Feb 1894.

19. Thomas Newton Murphy,c 1895Of course, the dashing Thomas had a quarter-century of political connections upon which to draw. Although Addie Crandall’s husband filed for divorce from her, citing Thomas as co-respondent, the case was thrown out. And although Adele brought in a witness to testify in her defense, “Judge Russell decided in favor of Plaintiff on June 3, 1899, awarding custody of the three youngest children and issuing the decree ‘that it shall be lawful for the said Thomas N. Murphy to marry again in the same manner as if the said Adele E. Murphy, the defendant, was actually dead, but it shall not be lawful for the said Adele E. Murphy to marry again until the said Thomas N. Murphy be actually dead.'”

Thomas took the children to Michigan, where his mother was then living. Addie Crandall came to Michigan after she was divorced in January, 1900. She and Thomas married a month later. The marriage lasted only one year, after which he and the children returned to Norwood.

I have difficulty understanding such blatant — didn’t we used to call them — double standards?

It also happens that  Portland Opera’s season opener is Richard Strauss’ 1905 Salome. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and her first Herodias_by_Paul_Delarochehusband, referred to as both Herod II and Philip. Herodias’ second husband was Herod Antipas, who left his first wife Phasaelis because he fell in love with his half-brother’s wife.  Apparently both of them divorced.

The New Testament story is very similar in Matthew, Mark and Luke:

Mark 6:

17. For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her.

18. For John had said unto Herod, it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.

The libretto is a German translation of  Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play of the same name, as translated from the original French by Lord Alfred Douglas. It includes “the imprecations of Jokanaan [John the Baptist], directed against Herodias, ‘the daughter of Babylon, with her golden eyes and her gilded eyelids! Thus saith the Lord God, Let there come up against her a multitude of men. Let the people take stones and stone her…Let the war captains pierce her with their swords, let them crush her beneath their shields…It is thus that I will wipe out all wickedness from the earth, and that all women shall learn not to imitate her abominations.'”

Excuse me? Herod Antipas abandoned his wife and spends most of the opera openly lusting after his step-daughter. And yet , as Salome observes, “He [John the Baptist] says terrible things about my mother [Herodias], does he not?” Yes, Salome lusted after John the Baptist, who, of course, would not have anything to do with her. Unbalanced by his refusal and by the open desire of her step-father, she asks for John the Baptist’s head–and her mother approves.

Forget the dance and the seven veils, my point is: men could have mistresses, they could get divorces, they could remarry–but women were “the source of wickedness in the earth.”

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2013 by in family history, fathers and daughters, US History, Writing and tagged .
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