Elsie Ainslie, A Victim of Social Wrong
Springfield, Mass. Star Publishing Co., .
Springfield, Mass. Star Publishing Co., . First edition. Two variants of the first edition, both in publisher's printed wraps lettered in red to front. Both exceptional survivors, one in untrimmed wraps with some offsetting to the rear and fore-edges a bit chipped. Preliminary and terminal leaves uniformly toned, else internally fresh. Collating , 108 with adverts to interior of wraps. Second copy in trimmed wraps, complete in 108 pages with dedication to verso of front wrap and adverts to recto of rear wrap, issued without title page. Some toning to the first and final leaves, else fresh. A scarce work considering the sexual dangers faced by women, including women of color, in a society that inadequately prepares them for male treachery. OCLC reports 8 first editions at libraries. The present pairing gives researchers a unique opportunity to study the print history of this rare work on gender and race.
A contemporary publisher's advertisement for Sara Mecracken's tale of "social wrong" touts it as the story of "a beautiful, pure young girl from New York" who is courted, kidnapped, and forced into marriage; and the publishers market her tragedy as "thrilling, dramatic, and touching...appropriate for the home of every mother who would prepare her daughters to meet the dangers of society." Such an overview, focused on sensational thrills and conservative morality, belie the sharp social critique that Mecracken delivers to white patriarchy. At its opening, the book introduces us to an elderly Elsie. Watching her innocent grandson play, she realizes that she has an opportunity to counteract a violent system in some small way by educating him to value the bodily rights and autonomy of women: "No, he shall not be one to mar the life of the innocent, nor wear the victor's crown of debauchery and wrong; my few remaining days shall be devoted to pluck one brand from the seething hell of social wrong. He shall be taught the true responsibilities which belong to his own soul."
As the narrative unfolds, the reader learns that in her youth, Elsie, a white woman, trusted her suitor Albert Ainslie, who would go on to sexually assault her, abduct her, and force her into marriage. Painfully aware now of her own vulnerability within the sexual economy, she further learns that she is not the only woman Albert has victimized: he also assaulted Mira and Dora, women of color, "beautiful creole" girls, who went on to be institutionalized and die by suicide. Women of any race are commodified and devalued by the system Albert operates within. Yet even they have stratified levels of empowerment. That the narrative comes from Elsie's perspective is notable. The suggestion persists throughout that Elsie' racial purity allowed for her survival, her (coerced) marriage rather than abandonment, and the chance to procreate and change the future through her offspring. Preserved by her whiteness, she is freed from patriarchal oversight by the story's end in a way no other women are -- her father is fatally shot by Albert while attempting to free her, and Albert subsequently flees to California and dies of alcoholism. No longer a victim but a survivor and a free woman under the legal system, she can become a savior to future generations of women by preventing at least one boy from growing into violent manhood. In this sense, Mecracken's story is progressive and conservative, placing blame for systemic violence on the patriarchy while placing responsibility for its solution on individual women. Near Fine (Item #3978)