How common was the "country girl seduced by rich man" melodrama plot?

(Spinoff thread from the one about Evita.)

When I think of “melodrama”, the usual plots I think about are the “Oh crap I can’t pay the rent and my evil landlord will kick me out what do I do now?!”, the “villain wants to marry beautiful heroine to get hold of her wealth/get revenge and ties her to the railroad tracks” and this:

Heroine is a poor girl from the country seduced by a worldly and handsome man and tempted to leave for the city. Her lover convinces her that he loves her and will “do the honourable thing” and marry her. The lovers travel to the city together and the man abandons the heroine (sometimes also leaving her with a child) and she’s forced to work as a prostitute to survive. She sometimes dies of a horrible disease, commits suicide or is imprisoned or ends up marrying the love interest (a different person from the seducer).

The third plot is what I’m wondering about. In URL=“http://http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=17114270#post17114070”] this post I said I thought Evita was a relatively modern version of this plot (it is based on a real person’s life but loosely-- most historians believe her reputation as a gold-digger was exaggerated by her opponents) with an amoral heroine. I’ve also come across references to the “country girl” seduction plot in discussions of the white slavery panic and silent movies.

Does anyone know how common this plot actually was?

Correction to link here

The Colleen Bawn fits the overall ‘innocent country maiden seduced by rich man’ plot, although not the details you give - the landowner is in love with the country girl and marries her, but he thinks his family won’t accept her. In real life he arranged to have her murdered, but in the play everyone lives happily ever after.

Plays about the Murder in the Red Barn were incredibly popular in the mid-nineteenth century. In real life the difference in social class between the murderer and the victim wasn’t that huge, and the victim wasn’t a virginal young maiden, but I’m pretty sure at least some of the plays stretched those elements for dramatic effect, to make it a ‘wicked squire seduces and murders innocent country girl’ plot.

ETA: In the Red Barn case, while Corder didn’t actually lure Maria Marten off to the city, he told her family that was what he had done, to cover up the fact that he’d murdered her.

Anecdote time: Nine years ago when I was in Year 5 (girls’ school) I did after-school drama classes and got to do Maria’s famous monologue. It was awesome.

Way Down East is a great silent film version of a similar plot. Ice floe drama at the end!

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser has this plot starting out, but then the heroine dumps the villain and becomes a successful actress. IIRC, she doesn’t marry, either. The villain dies alone and broke.

That’s pretty much word for word the Magnolia-Gaylord storyline in every version of* Showboat.*

Not to mention its siblings “naive country girl and traveling salesman” from Oklahoma and The Music Man and “naive country girl and ne’er do well” from Carousel and Elmer Gantry. Sometimes the man reforms, but often he doesn’t.

Magnolia becomes a singer IIRC but I suppose in the 1890s female singers still had a bad reputation.

Here’s another one from real life: The maid of Buttermere. She really was a maid and her seducer was a conman who fooled a lot of people so public sympathy was great.

I suspect it turns up in fiction because it did happen a lot in real life.

See also the remarkable book from Georgian times: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris’s_List_of_Covent_Garden_Ladies The ladies were prostitutes. A common theme of their biographies was
their route into the sex trade being ascribed

I rather think it was in the interests of “fallen women” to claim this kind of background to make themselves sound more wholesome to their customers.

It goes back at least to Golding’s The Vicar of Wakefield (though that story has a different ending).

Sorry, Goldsmith, not Golding.

Regarding the “white slavery” panic, there is an interesting book called Sin in the Second Cityabout the end of the prostitution era in Chicago in the early 1900’s, and the origin of the Mann Act. My take-away was that white slavery was basically B.S. but that various people, including some prostitutes, had a vested interest in spreading lurid tales.

To the O.P., I would also add Lydia’s story from Pride and Prejudice.

Just read that… WOW!

Not from literature but real life: The most famous closing argument in American jurisprudence is the Soiled Dove Plea, a naked and successful argument for jury nullification of the charges against a clearly guilty prostitute in Woodward, Oklahoma, in 1899. Her attorney, Temple Lea Houston, argued from assuming as a clear and obvious fact (though I’m not clear as to whether any such thing actually was in evidence) that the woman had only turned to prostitution because a heartless man had “ruined” her.

There’s a great Tumblrwith books and newspaper clippings on 19th century prostitution. There’s no commentary, which is too bad, but the sources themselves are fascinating. A lot of it is polemic against “white slavery”.

The classic music-hall song “She Is More to be Pitied than Censured” (1894, William B. Gray) follows this theme:

Probably the best-known representative of the genre in song is “She Was Poor But She Was Honest” (anonymous, late 19th century):

A subplot in Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850) is similar. Little Em’ly eventually leaves her alluring seducer Steerforth when she realizes he won’t marry her, and is just barely saved by her grieving and loving family from being ensnared into prostitution.

A litttle late but thanks so much for that!

BTW anyone know of any stage examples?

How about opera? There are quite a few ‘fallen women’ who were Seduced and Abandoned in opera (though possibly not always “country woman and city man” specific).

Dumas’ 1848 novel The Lady of the Camellias became a play and then was adapted by Verdi in his 1853 La Traviata. Puccini had *La Bohème *(1896) and Madama Butterfly (1903)–the last possibly closest to a pure “seduced and abandoned” story.

All the heroines were used and abandoned by men at some point in their histories; some actively worked as prostitutes.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_bohème
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madama_Butterfly

As an Asian woman I know some people have *issues * with Madame Butterfly/Miss Saigon (along the lines of it perpetuates “passive Asian woman devoted to a foreign lover/oversexualised Asian woman” stereotypes. IIRC though Cho-Cho San/Kim was a 15/17-year old in love for the first time with a foreign man-- and everyone tends to LOVE the first person they fall in love with for a while.

And I think the opera makes Pinkerton out to be irresponsible at best and callous at worst (although I do have issues with the colonialist aspect).

I don’t know where this comes from, but I was supposed to sing it (which is why I memorized the words; but the director, unimpressed with my singing – which does not often happen in my case! :mad: – decided to cut it from performances) when I played Floyd Allen in a college theater production of “Dark of the Moon”:

“A Picture from Life’s Other Side”

A pure gal left her mother
She was fur away from home
She walked the streets of Asheville
So cold and so alone
A man, he come up to her
And he took her by the arm
And said, "Now, I’ll be good to you
“And see you have no harm.”
He took her down a back street
Into a house of sin
And once that poor gal went inside
She never come out again
Just a pitcher from life’s other side
Somebody who fell by the way
A light has gone out with the tide, the tide
That might have been happy someday, someday
Some poor old mother
At home alone
Waitin’ and watchin’ in vain
Waitin’ to hear
From a loved one so dear
Just a pitcher from life’s other side!