Date: August 1994
Creator: Wright, Charlotte M.
Description: Women characters in American literature of the nineteenth century form an overwhelmingly lovely group, but a search through some of the overlooked works reveals a thin but discernible thread of plain, even homely, heroines. Most of these fall into the stereotypical "old maid" category, and, like their real-life counterparts, these "undesirable" women are considered failures, even if they have money or satisfying careers, because they do not have boyfriends, husbands, or children. During the twentieth century, the old maid figure develops into someone not just homely, but downright ugly; in addition, the number of these characters increases, especially in the latter half of the century. In many works written since the 1960s, the woman's ugliness is such an intrinsic part of the story that it could not take place if she were beautiful. In subtle ways, these "ugly woman" stories begin to question the overwhelming value placed on beauty, to question the narrow definition of beauty in American society as a whole, and to suggest that the price for such a "blessing" might indeed be too high. Rather than settling for being a mere "heroine"—which still carries feminine connotations of passive behavior and second-class status—the ugly woman's increase in power ...
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