To the editors:
Reading in Cecil Adams's column "Straight Dope," Chicago Reader [May 6, 1988], the letter about the novels of yesteryears in which the ladies swooned easily, I wondered as to what period were the novels the writer of the letter had in mind. To begin with, the novel was not invented until the Eighteen Century, and the writers who wrote in the new genre such as Swift, Addison, Fielding, Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Defoe, to name only a few, didn't write romances, that is, in which extreme emotion is expressed--emotion that could cause a lady's swooning.
Not even in the most sentimental Victorian literature is there much ladies' swooning: Take for instance, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the Bronte sisters' Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, not to mention Dickens's voluminous works. However, even if there is some ladies' swooning in a few novels of yesteryear, those women were most always young girls who loved someone secretly, because either her family didn't approve of him, or his family of her.
Then we must understand that in case her lover got married, or died in the war, this unhappy woman had no one to turn to in order to let some grief off her chest. Thus, she had to turn within herself for relief, which was much too much for her body to endure, and her body had to resort to swooning which served as a defense mechanism. It wasn't like today where women are free to have as many lovers they wish, as well as many of them change lovers more often than their underwear. And even those women do have some people who might sympathize with them when they happened to lose a lover. Moreover, today, in case a woman's grief is great, she knows--at least subconsciously--that she can receive some psychiatric help, and she can join support groups where she can express her grief. Having people who will listen to one's expressions of grief, that person is taking the first positive steps to recovery.
Yet, today, many are the women who suffered even strokes after hearing that a son or beloved husband was killed in the war or in an accident, or died of sickness. And as many were unable to survive the loss, had even ended their lives or suffered chronic depression.