Otis Blake Everett and Sentimental Bachelorhood

Nineteenth century middle and upper class women began to channel their anger and frustration with their limited roles as wife and mother and charged themselves with the right to control, define, and limit men’s sexual behavior. The ideal of the “Christian Gentlemen” was pushed forth as the ideal for men by society and was not merely a social class distinction.There was a moral component inherent in the concept which made it a difficult and an ambiguous ideal for society to define. In the end, the most basic definition of the Christian Gentlemen was a man who tested his manliness not through conquest but by denial of self.

Mothers began to teach their sons to strictly adhere to the Seventh Commandment and the son had to have “absolute and unquestioned obedience to his mother’s will.” As sons grew older mothers began to urge them towards a life of domesticity and to eschew the excitements of theater and taverns. Mothers also instilled in their sons a desire for a home and the companionship of a pious woman, rather than live the life of the sentimental bachelor.

As shown by Godey’s, the sentimental bachelor was incongruent with the interdependent domestic ideology of the time. Although antebellum culture was obsessed with bachelors, in urban areas like Boston it was even normalized, bachelorhood was thought to be a threat to the bourgeois social and sexual ideology because of its ambiguous gender roles. Vincent J. Bertolini, in his article “Fireside Chastity: The Erotics of Sentimental Bachelorhood in the 1850s,” noted that the bachelor was a man in flux. He was no longer a boy whose mother monitored his sexuality, but not yet a man because he was unmarried.

Otis Blake vacillates many times in his view of marriage throughout the letters. Most of the letters to his mother laments his being in Calcutta without a wife, as in the letter below. But when he writes to his father or his brother, Thomas, Otis Blake romanticizes bachelorhood more. Perhaps he was trying to please his mother and exemplify his Christian Gentlemen status while expressing his true feelings toward marriage to his brother. In his letter to his father on 6 November 1854, Otis Blake writes of his new expanded social circle that includes many single, young ladies, but “shall take good care not to get caught.”

Page one of Otis Blake's letter regarding marriage to his mother.

6 November 1854: “Oh dear!! I wish I was married. It makes me feel quite old to have Tom engaged. I have about come to the conclusion that if I can find one to suit me, and see my way clear to support a wife, to get married the next time I go home. The ladies in this country are too lazy to suit me. I have[…]” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

Page 2 of Otis Blake's letter regarding marriage to his mother.

“[…]not made but very few acquaintances among the ladies since I have been here. I called on one of our neighours the other evening. He has a very handsome daughter, a little tinged, being country born, and she will be worth about a hundred thousand rupees, but it is no inducement for me. I love very well to hear her play & sing, and call on her on that account.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

In the letters of Elizabeth Everett to her son, Otis Blake Everett, Elizabeth exerts her power of motherhood in her aim to domesticate Otis Blake through marriage. Nearly every letter Elizabeth writes contains news of engagements and marriages of family and friends. She seems to be subtly steering Otis to enter True Manhood, a state Otis Blake could not seem to commit to.

Passage in letter from Elizabeth Everett to Otis Blake Everett regarding marriage.

18 June 1854 letter to Otis Blake from his mother: “I hope you will prove and expert and economical housekeeper, and then when you come home and get married, if you should chance to get one of Dickens’ Dora’s you will know how to manage her.” Elizabeth Everett is referring to the character of Dora Spenlow in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Dora Spenlow was a wife who burst into tears at the thought of housekeeping and accused her husband of being a brute. A childish type woman who would not make the ideal wife for Otis Blake. Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

Alas, for Otis Blake, sentimental bachelorhood was all he would ever know. His time in Calcutta never allowed him to find a suitable wife.

Next: Life in India