Monthly Archives: October 2012

Women and Nostalgia During the American Civil War: Cursed as a Cause, Blessed as the Cure

Alicia Zuberbier,
Dr. Lori Kelly*,
Carroll College

Full paper:

Abstract: During the Victorian era, women were expected to be angels of the home, likened to heavenly saints of the domestic world. They cared for the entire house, devoting their lives to the contentment of their children and husband. Women who followed in these roles had happy little families, presenting the picture perfect Victorian household. However, in 1861, the start of the American Civil War, their slice of domestic heaven crumbled. Their men left, off to face a slew of horrors, ranging from death and destruction to unmanageable diseases, nostalgia being one of them. One Civil War veteran described nostalgia–an extreme homesickness–saying it “fastens upon the breast of its prey, and sucks, vampire-like, the breath of his nostrils. Many a heroic spirit after braving death at the cannon’s mouth . . . has at length succumbed unresistingly to this vampire, Nostalgia” (Matt, “Home”). Left behind, women were trapped in a paradox by nostalgia because, in a sense, as providers of good homes they contributed to the illness. Ironically, for similar reasons, they also became an antidote. It was quickly recognized that women were a cause for the life threatening illness known as nostalgia, but as the war came to its end, they were considered to have the most impact on its cure.

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