The Madonna of the Tubs
Elizabeth S Phelps
Geology, Natural History, Amusement, Reading, Quackery, Heredity, Obstetrics, Physiognomy, Physiology, Temperance, Sociology
The 'endless procession' of hotel 'boarders' who flock to the small fishing port of Fairharbor every August invariably become fixated by the local 'snail[s]—brown, green, orange, lemon, gray, and white—the tiny shells mere flecks of color, moved sluggishly by their cell of hidden consciousness and will', as well as the 'great volcanic veins that seem to pulsate yet through the cliff with the fire imprisoned there—who knows when?'. One local resident, however, exclaims 'I'm tired seein' a passel of folks squealin' at a snail shell', and, indeed, the visitor 'views the attractions of the spot first enthusiastically, then calmly, now indifferently, and drifts away at the third stage of feeling, possibly an object of curiosity or envy, in his turn, to the snail, who has to stay'. (94) On a table in the parlour of the poor family of a fisherman are 'an old Harper, and a patent-medicine almanac' (99). In the same room, moreover, lies a 'sleeping baby, who seemed to have been born in a hard season, and bore the inheritance of poverty and anxiety in the lines of his unconscious face' (100). It is also a 'physiological fact' that one of the fishermen is 'what may be charitably called sensitive to liquor, owing to some passing familiarity of the nervous system with its effects in early youth; and it took little enough to make it clear that he had better have taken none at all' (103). When Helen Ritter gives some assistance to the family of a fisherman assumed to have been lost at sea, it is stated that 'her head was painfully uneducated in sociology. She had not a particle of training as a visitor to the poor. She had not a theory as to their elevation. She had never been interested in books concerning their management' (110).
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