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Biased Judgments Towards Marian Forrester

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Biased Judgments towards Marian Forrester

A Lost Lady recounts the story of the Forresters, a wealthy and aristocratic couple in the small town of Sweet Water through the eyes of Niel, the nephew of the Judge in the town. Captain Forrester, a big shot in the railroad world, and Marian, his young and beautiful wife, present prosperity and delicacy in the town. Moreover, Marian’s beauty and grace and Captain’s generosity and kindness help them to form proper bounds and draw townspeople, especially Niel, to their big house on the hill. Being enchanted by Mrs. Forrester’s sincerity, beauty, and loyalty, Niel pays attention to every detail of her, serving as an innocent observer with romantic illusions. He cares a lot about Forresters and respects the roles assigned to them by the society. While growing up, Niel in vain tries to resist the changes happening around him to keep his memories alive. Therefore, he thinks that he should be the one to take care of Forresters after Mr. Forrester becomes bankrupt and has a stroke and Mrs. Forrester starts to lose her value as a lady in his eyes. Trying hard enough to save their nobility, but at the end seeing their weakness to withstand their severe problems hurts him. Moreover, after realizing that Mrs. Forrester does not show effort as much as him to have her aristocratic life back, he begins to think that she is lost, behaving in a way a lady in his imagination would never do. In the end, he regrets all the time he spends to keep her grace as vivid as possible and not to make her be in need of others’ help, without understanding that he neglects her willpower from the beginning. Therefore, the book narrates mainly the particular features of Mrs. Forrester and how Niel perceives her actions. However, in a closer look, it criticizes people’s inclination to fit others into an ideal role in their minds and their harsh judgments when others behave in an unexpected way like a lost person, deviating from their assigned roles.

Niel always wants Mrs. Forrester to be the lady of the town as he believes that she is a lot different from most of the people around him. He is captivated by her charm, intelligence, and liveliness that cause other people to gather toward her, saying ‘‘if she merely bowed to you, merely looked at you, it constituted a personal relation. Something about her took hold of one in a flash; one became acutely conscious of her, of her fragility and grace, of her mouth which could say so much without words; of her eyes, lively, laughing, intimate, nearly always a little mocking.”(pg.27) Furthermore, he depicts and idealizes her as a superior figure to those in Sweet Water, indicating “he was proud now that at the first moment he had recognized her as belonging to a different world from any he had ever known.”(pg.33) The fact that at first Forresters visit the town only in summer makes Niel perceive Mrs. Forrester as a mysterious and transient lady figure who intrigues him in a way unlike inhabitants of the town do and so he has higher expectations for her from the start. Thus, he desires to see Mrs. Forrester consistent with his definitions and interprets her by his abstract aesthetic ideal, overlooking the common reality. However, Mrs. Forrester does not need to oppose against the standards that are set to her by Niel to differ herself from Niel’s version. As she continues to act like herself depending on circumstances in an unanticipated way for Niel, he starts not to comprehend her and judges her harshly. In his opinion, Marian Forrester is a person who would have an identity crisis as she needs money to continue her lady-like attitude and appearance, saying “[h]e dread[s] poverty for her. She was one of the people who ought always to have money; any retrenchment of their generous way of living would be a hardship for her—would be unfitting. She would not be herself in straitened circumstances.” (pg.68) However, Marian Forrester’s reaction to the news that she is now the wife of a poor man is not nearly the crushing identity crisis Niel assumes it to be. Instead, “Niel saw that Mrs. Forrester grew very pale, but she smiled and brought her husband his cigar stand. ‘Oh, well! I expect we can manage, can’t we?”(pg.73) Niel sees that she immediately accepts the changed circumstances and surprises as her response does not match his foreseen one, showing the discrepancy between his portrayal of Mrs. Forrester and Marian’s image as a confident and autonomous character.

Niel’s firm conviction that Forresters do, and will always belong in the upper social strata makes him a biased observer. He immediately feels disappointed and betrayed when he sees Mrs. Forrester with Frank Ellinger, a bachelor in the town, in a romantic setting, thinking that she acts unlike his view of a lady who has to be loyal to her husband. Moreover, his idealization of the lady and his unwillingness to accept her changes make him attempt to control Mrs. Forrester and try tirelessly to maintain her nobility, even though it gets harder as Captain grows older and their fortune dissolves. He thinks that he should be the one to take care of her and help her to find her direction which is also set by his moral convictions. Therefore, when Marian Forrester learns that her lover Frank marries a girl called Constance and ventures through a torrential downpour to use Judge’s phone to call him, Niel immediately warns her that such a phone call is not a good idea as the operator can be able to listen to all the conversation. He says “I’d rather, you know, publish anything in the town paper than telephone it through Mrs. Beasley,” (pg.111) who is the telephone operator.  However, even though Mrs. Forrester starts a friendly and impersonal conversation with Frank unlike what Niel expects from her, she gets hysterical after some time. At that instance, Niel feels urged to do something to save her dignity and stifles her words by cutting the phone cord, thinking that “he had saved her. […] Her reproaches had got no farther than this room.” (pg.114) Niel’s behavior shows that he suppresses Marian’s courage by cutting off the wire and ending her call early, without her noticing.  Although he tries a lot to preserve her lady-like image to the townspeople, Marian shows that she is never confused about her identity and continues to act like a confident character.

Niel values Mrs. Forrester most when her actions fit into his description of a lady. Before Mr. Forrester’s death, Marian feels obligated to fit herself into her husband’s dream –“I planned to build a house that my friends could come to, with a wife like Mrs. Forrester to make it attractive to them. I used to promise myself that someday I would manage it.” (pg.43) Therefore, for her, one of the ways to look suitable for her role assigned by her husband, is to wear jewelry.  For Niel, this feature of her indicates that she is a real lady in Sweet Water. To emphasize her lady-like figure and especially her loyalty, he always refers to Mrs. Forrester’s garnet pendant earring with pearls.  Because even though the Captain has given a lot of jewelry as a gift to his wife, Marian prefers to wear these as they once belonged to Mr. Forrester’s mother. The fact that they symbolize how much Marian Forrester cares about family, heirloom and tradition is very important for Niel. Moreover, they are an indication not only of the ability of Captain Forrester to afford luxury but also of her worth as a lady. However, once their fortune dissolves and Mrs. Forrester can no longer wear jewelry, Niel still tries to see her lady-like features no longer in her appearance but in her loyalty to her husband. Therefore, after Mrs. Forrester says “You see, two years, three years, more of this, and I could still go back to California- and live again. But after that… Perhaps people think I’ve settled down to grow old gracefully but I’ve not. I feel such a power to live in me,” (pg.106) Niel feels very surprised and “frightened for her.” (pg.107) He finds her hope to be inappropriate and realizes that she no longer considers herself as a lady whose existence depends on her husband, implying that she is waiting for her husband’s death to live her life again. He questions her anticipation by asking himself “when women began to talk about still being young, didn’t it mean that something had broken?” (pg.107)

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