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My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.
My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.
My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.
My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.

My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.

“You are a very naughty woman.”

Told in the first-person narrative, Maggie is no Mary Magdalene, and no scarlet woman, but she is the woman with the scarlet shawl. This shawl is destined to bring her great shame and distress.

Maggie foreshadows her own predicament as she opens her story by telling the reader of a newspaper story that she herself has just read. In it, a young woman goes into debt due to the machinations of an expert door-to-door salesman. Too ashamed and too fearful of her husband’s anger (he’s a sailor off to sea and can’t govern her purse from afar) she poisons herself.

Maggie almost repeats this cycle. While her husband is away, a persistent “packman”, a peddler, comes to her door and she agrees to buy a wonderful shawl from him. The shawl will bring her great joy or will it? Maggie pays for the shawl over installments, but soon enough, her husband becomes unemployed and the threads of the shawl begin to unravel her marriage.

The writing style of this text is interesting. Maggie’s narrative voice is easy-going; the tone of her writing is casual, perhaps almost modern-sounding. And for this cataloger, Maggie seems like such an agreeable person that she certainly deserved as many shawls as she chose to shoulder, but the social mores of her time prevent this.

Here, she laments getting into debt without telling her husband and without his consent: “A wife has no right to do this; it is great dishonesty and unfaithfulness; and I do believe, from what I have seen since then, that much of the unhappiness of some married people is owing to such want of confidence in wives and husbands.” (p15)

The wonderful shaw becomes a “hateful shawl.” The couple are on the verge of selling their furniture to pay their debts when a family friend bails them out. But only after the friend tells Maggie not once, but twice: “You are a very naughty woman.”

This copy in its dated presentation binding helps narrow in on the book’s publication date, ca.1866. AAS surmised that the book could have been published between 1867 to 1869.

Description: My Scarlet Shawl: A Wife’s Story.

Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, No. 1122 Chestnut Street [and:] New York: 599 Broadway., [ca. 1866]. Frontispiece, 68, [1]pp. 12mo. Publisher’s cloth in a date presentation binding. Binding with soil, general wear, very good.


OCLC: AAS, University of Iowa, Free Library of Phila, LCP, Brigham Young University. Issued first in England in 1866 as My Scarlet Shawl or Out of Debt, Out of Danger, and Other Stories. The title-page of the present copy states “Reprinted substantially from the (London) Religious Tract Society.” A comparison of the one text with the other could prove to be interesting.

Price: $250.00

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