Confidence Men and Painted Women

Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-class Culture in America, 1830-1870

Copyright Date: 1982
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Confidence Men and Painted Women
    Book Description:

    Karen Halttunen draws a vivid picture of the social and cultural development of the upwardly mobile middle class, basing her study on a survey of the conduct manuals and fashion magazines of mid-nineteenth-century America.

    "An ingenious book: original, inventive, resourceful, and exciting. … This book adds immeasurably to the current work on sentimental culture and American cultural history and brings to its task an inquisitive, fresh, and intelligent perspective. … Essential reading for historians, literary critics, feminists, and cultural commentators who wish to study mid-nineteenth-century American culture and its relation to contemporary values."-Dianne F. Sadoff,American Quarterly

    "A compelling and beautifully developed study. … Halttunen provides us with a subtle book that gently unfolds from her mastery of the subject and intelligent prose."-Paula S. Fass,Journal of Social History

    "Halttunen has done her homework-the research has been tremendous, the notes and bibliography are impressive, and the text is peppered with hundreds of quotes-and gives some real insight into an area of American culture and history where we might have never bothered to look."-John Hopkins,Times Literary Supplement

    "The kind of imaginative history that opens up new questions, that challenges conventional historical understanding, and demonstrates how provocative and exciting cultural history can be."-William R. Leach,The New England Quarterly

    "A stunning contribution to American cultural history."-Alan Trachtenberg

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16664-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. 1 The Era of the Confidence Man
    (pp. 1-32)

    During the first half of the nineteenth century, unprecedented numbers of young men were leaving their rural homes and families to seek work in the booming cities of industrializing America. As thousands of young Americans broke away from traditional restraints on their conduct, middle-class moralists began to grow alarmed. Who would guide the conduct of America’s rising generation as they wandered far beyond the surveillance of their families, their towns, and their churches? After 1830, a number of clergymen, teachers, and sentimental writers confronted the moral problem generated by this mass migration in dozens of manuals of advice to American...

  6. 2 Hypocrisy and Sincerity in the World of Strangers
    (pp. 33-55)

    In warning the American youth not to be seduced by the evil confidence man, antebellum advice manuals were cautioning him above all not to become a confidence man himself. And in warning him against the contagious moral leprosy of the confidence man, the advice manuals focused on a single evil trait: hypocrisy. The youth who was successfully recruited into the ranks of confidence men became a “fiend of hell, disguised in the robes of honor and purity,” who destroyed his victims “by his fascinating arts and deep hypocrisy.”¹ The advisers’ broadest fear was not simply that a small corps of...

  7. 3 Sentimental Culture and the Problem of Fashion
    (pp. 56-91)

    A profound middle-class distrust of the city as a realm of hypocrisy and deceit surfaced in English literature nearly a century before 1830. One of the most famous heroines of eighteenth-century literature was the victim of a confidence game played in the world of strangers that was London: Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is a poor country girl who meets her downfall because, as Ian Watt has observed, she never knows “what duplicities are hidden in the behaviour of the people she meets, or what horrors are being perpetrated behind the walls of [the city’s] houses.” As Clarissa herself confesses, “I knew...

  8. 4 Sentimental Culture and the Problem of Etiquette
    (pp. 92-123)

    In the decades after 1830, etiquette, like fashionable dress, was becoming a powerful force shaping the social life of the American middle-class parlor. The social stamp of success was that elusive quality of gentility which aspiring middle-class men and especially women sought to achieve by studying the art of politeness. Between 1830 and 1860, approximately seventy American etiquette manuals were published, many of which went through several editions; and European visitors such as Francis Grund and Harriet Martineau observed that the urban middle classes were inordinately conscious of polite social usage.¹ But the encroachments of formal etiquette in parlor society,...

  9. 5 Mourning the Dead: A Study in Sentimental Ritual
    (pp. 124-152)

    One of the most significant expressions of sentimental culture was the cult of mourning. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the sentimentalization of death in America had gradually shifted the focus of popular attitudes away from the objective, physical fact of death toward the subjective response to death by those who mourned. By the mid-nineteenth century, death had come to preoccupy sentimentalists, who cherished it as the occasion for two of the deepest “right feelings” in human experience: bereavement, or direct mourning for the dead, and sympathy, or mournful condolence for the bereaved. Within the sentimental cult of mourning, bereavement and...

  10. 6 Disguises, Masks, and Parlor Theatricals: The Decline of Sentimental Culture in the 1850s
    (pp. 153-190)

    On March 26, 1845, a play calledFashionbegan a long and successful run at the Park Theatre in New York. Written by popular sentimentalist Anna Cora Mowatt, it was a farce about the fashionable follies of the nouveau riche Tiffany family of New York. On the one hand,Fashionwas a full-blown critique of the life of fashion, a critique grounded in sentimental middle-class hostility to the hypocrisy of “heartless” social ritual. Ironically, however, this attack on social theatricality was itself presented within a theatrical performance, and this critique of social ritual itself served as a ritual for its...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-197)

    On his famed travels through Jacksonian America, Alexis de Tocqueville was struck most forcefully by one distinguishing characteristic of American society: “the general equality of condition among the people.” InDemocracy in America, Tocqueville discussed how that equality of condition shaped not just American politics and law, but national opinions, sentiments, and customs as well. His analysis of democratic culture focused on the peculiar “restlessness of temper” that plagued the American anxious to improve his condition. “It is strange to see,” he wrote, “with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that...

  12. Epilogue: The Confidence Man in Corporate America
    (pp. 198-210)

    The transition from the sentimental culture of early Victorianism to the theatrical culture of high Victorianism demonstrates a sharp decline in middle-class concerns about the problem of hypocrisy in American society. This major cultural shift thus points to a reorientation of middle-class attitudes toward social mobility after mid-century. For the sincere ideal of sentimental culture had been nurtured, in part, by middle-class anxieties about the dangers of placelessness in an open society. By the second half of the nineteenth century, middle-class Americans were coming to accept the idea of a social system filled with liminal men in pursuit of the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-238)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 239-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-262)