Confidence Men and Painted Women
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

Confidence Men and Painted Women Details

TitleConfidence Men and Painted Women
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 10th, 1986
PublisherYale University Press
ISBN-139780300037883
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Literature, 19th Century, Reference, Research, North American Hi..., American History, Historical

Confidence Men and Painted Women Review

  • Mary Catelli
    January 1, 1970
    History of an attitude, studying its ramifications of through many complications.Sincerity. Hypocrisy. Major issues in the era for Americans. For all sorts of reasons. For one thing, cities exploded in this time, and that meant that people kept on meeting up with people they didn't know. One person wrote in a letter that, shockingly enough, she has only twice met someone she actually knew while walking the streets of Philadelphia. And many people had to work with people they didn't k History of an attitude, studying its ramifications of through many complications.Sincerity. Hypocrisy. Major issues in the era for Americans. For all sorts of reasons. For one thing, cities exploded in this time, and that meant that people kept on meeting up with people they didn't know. One person wrote in a letter that, shockingly enough, she has only twice met someone she actually knew while walking the streets of Philadelphia. And many people had to work with people they didn't know and couldn't know. Apprenticeships, even, became rare.Worse, the spread of democracy meant that traditional authority was being upended, and people were rising in social status. Many advice books fulminated about how men could subvert the authority of fathers and clergy. The old Puritan habit of self-examination to determine whether one could be saved carried over nicely to the role of examining one's self's for hypocrisy. Especially since being a hypocrite was the great fear of the Puritan conscience.The "confidence man" was a major bogeyman in the cult of sincerity that arose as a consequence. A man who could allure the innocent young man to his doom by his false professions -- and worse, by his ability to read the unfortunate young man's feeling on his sincere and open face. One reason why the cult of domesticity emphasized the woman's role in the cult of sincerity was that it might prove fatal for the man's ability to manage, if he adhered strictly to its code.And it produce interesting ramifications. Fashion, for instance. Godley's Lady Book -- a fashion book -- railed against fashion and the attention women paid to it and how the dress should simply express the wearer's heart. Make-up was frowned on; not only did the "painted woman" hide her true face, she hid the paleness and blushes that expressed her sensibility. Dress abruptly turned from "romantic" fancy and adorned, to "sentimental" which was plain, close to the human form, and simple. Well, close to the human form in theory. Women used corsets and padding to fit it more closely. That was not fatal to the theory that the dress a woman wore merely put forth her sincere heart. What really didn't work was the problem that as soon as you put forth dress as expressing sincerity, any false fashion seeker could put it on.Etiquette was worse. Heavily complicated, demanding strict adherence ot many rule, stern in its demands for self-restraint -- and, in theory, the spontaneous overflow of a sincere heart. Etiquette books demanded a sincere and natural presentation, and scorned those who followed the rules woodenly.Mourning was particularly changed. In the old towns, everyone knew the dead, everyone participated in the funeral rites, and there was no division of the bereaved and the mourners. But in the new cities -- sentiment frequently underlined how alone and isolated the bereaved were, and how hard it was to reach them, and talked of the private expression of grief. At the same time, the rules of wearing mourning were in force, and department stores had mourning departments.Well, it did not last. The problem of hypocrisy and sincerity grew less morally earnest and more light-hearted. Fashion grew more convoluted and dropped its interest in expressing the wearer's soul. Etiquette started to demand only formal appearances. And middle-class America learned to love private theatricals.That's the problem with cults of sincerity. Faking is particularly disastrous to the cult.
    more
  • Billy
    January 1, 1970
    In her 1983 work Confidence Men and Painted Women, University of Southern California historian Karen Halttunen examines the social norms of middle class Americans from the years 1830-1870. Confidence Men examines the manners and fashions of the Victorian era not in a critical fashion, but instead inquires, “Why did nineteenth-century conduct manuals represent hypocrisy, personified in the confidence man and the painted woman, as a major threat to American society?” In only two-hundred pages, Hal In her 1983 work Confidence Men and Painted Women, University of Southern California historian Karen Halttunen examines the social norms of middle class Americans from the years 1830-1870. Confidence Men examines the manners and fashions of the Victorian era not in a critical fashion, but instead inquires, “Why did nineteenth-century conduct manuals represent hypocrisy, personified in the confidence man and the painted woman, as a major threat to American society?” In only two-hundred pages, Halttunen shows that for the better part of the nineteenth century, Americans viewed hypocrisy as a direct threat to the democratic process, and considered each of these figures as a “symbolic expression of moral and political decay in America.” Fluidity among classes in 19th century U.S. society compounded this fear. The possibility of upward or downward social mobility prompted an identity crisis for many middle class Americas. In their desire to appear as proper middle class citizens, urban Americans looked to identify themselves in opposition to confidence men and painted women. Both figures represented amorality and insincerity in, respectively, working and domestic social spheres. Put simply, both figures stood as examples of inauthenticity, or simply “passing for something they were not.” For this reason, middle-class citizens’ ideal appearance was to appear as industrious, modest and most importantly, sincere Americans.Halttunen begins by focusing on the threat of hypocrisy in American society. She attributes this threat to rapid economic expansion. Growing U.S. prosperity led to the possibility of upward economic mobility, which in turn sent many young men and women to urban areas. In their new urban setting, identity formation became confusing. No longer would personal reputation be contingent on one’s family, neighborhood, or church. Now, desperately searching for cultural signifiers, young Americans relied on attire and manners to distinguish themselves as proper middle class citizens. Yet, as Halttunen shows, there was a fine line between proper attire and the insincere looks of fashion. Both men and women strove for sincerity in their appearance. Men aimed to set themselves apart from “confidence men,” insidious characters that represented the antithesis of a hard working, religious individual. Confidence men corrupted the unsuspecting. They typically sprung onto city newcomers as friends. Under their wing young men were led into saloons, brothels and gambling houses, where they might lose their money, morals, or even their life. In short, young men came to be wary of confidence men, but perhaps more wary of appearing to be one. Confidence men had a female counterpart. The “painted woman” stood for hypocrisy in the domestic sphere. They represented a failure to adhere to 19th century virtue of sincerity. Nineteenth century society looked down on makeup, since sincere, clean living females would not need to cover blemishes that could only come from unclean living. In other words, society looked down upon confidence men and painted women because they focused on outside appearances to cover up their true, insincere inner-selves.To avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, middle class citizens tried to mold their appearance and demeanor in opposition to these powerful caricatures. To do so, citizens resolved themselves to the ideal of sincerity. Their dress, manners and rituals— including funerals—became public stages upon which one could establish their sincerity for all to see. In doing so, there arose an inherent contradiction to the ideals of 19th century behavior manuals: namely, that by focusing on the correct attire and etiquette to appear sincere renders the participant insincere. The rest of Halttunen’s book looks at society’s recognition of this contradiction, and ultimately the reconciliation of public appearance (or simply put, fashion) with personal sincerity. In short, by the Gilded Age, Americans had not only made peace with the division between ostensible outward appearance and supposed internal sincerity, but had learned to accept this contradiction as a social norm. Halttunen’s methodology utilizes secondary sources and conduct manuals of the era. Examples include: Seven Lectures to Young Men, The Spring-time of Life; or, Advice to youth, Young Ladies’ Friend. These revealing titles show a desire to guide young men and women on the path of proper conduct. Her most successful examination comes from the series of Godey’s Lady’s books, which never seem to be at a loss to guide young women in their etiquette. Yet, for as much detail as Halttunen puts into these guides, she surprisingly neglects the trend of new social history so prevalent at the time of this book’s research. Published in 1983, one might imagine that Halttunen might have paid more attention to data, if only to suggest the actual impact these guides may have had on readers of such literature. Without such data, scholars may be left wondering if the suggestions of these manuals were taken seriously by the majority of the middle class. In short, she does an excellent job in revealing what guides like Godey’s Lady’s were publishing, but does little to investigate how many people were reading these books, let alone taking their advice. Halttunen covers a lot of ground in Confidence Men and Painted Women, but the book’s organization makes it easy to follow. The fluidity with which chapters flow into each other, however, might actually detract from her historical interpretation, most notably in the book’s clear delineation between spheres of men and women. For example, Halttunen relegates women’s social role to the house, with a special emphasis on the parlor room. This room, which lay between personal, private quarters of the home and public sphere outside, acted as a liminal space in which women might perform their social graces. But Halttunen fails to fully examine the role men were supposed to play in this spatial borderland, a platform on which a hostess performed for her guests. Surely their male counterparts had well-prescribed roles in this social tarantella, yet they remain hidden from the analysis. Fashion also plays a key role in Halttunen’s work, but even though the title of the book is Confidence Men and Painted Women, the former of the pair receive short shrift in her analysis of clothing and apparel. Whether or not women paid more attention to their attire than men is not the point. More precisely, her clear division between male and female social roles fails to recognize the fluidity both men and women might have played in influencing each other’s spheres of existence. One cannot exactly blame Halttunen for this shortcoming—Joan W. Scott’s Gender and the Politics of History was not published until three years after Confidence Men. Nevertheless, historians should recognize the book’s limitation in the way of gendered analysis.Another missed opportunity comes with Halttunen’s scant comparisons to fashions and manners in the years beyond the scope of her work. Of course, historians make choices in the length of their analysis, and to be fair her examination of nineteenth century societal norms and fashions are nothing short of extensive. Yet, for all the detail paid to etiquette and attire, there remains little room for comparisons with the eras both proceeding the 1830s and following the 1870s. Put simply, a little more comparison would add much to the historical significance of her research and analysis. One glaring omission is Mary Ryan’s Cradle of the Middle Class, a social history which precedes and overlaps Halttunen’s examination both temporarily and analytically. A deeper understanding of the role social norms had on political appearance and rhetoric is an analysis that might add much to Halttunen’s work. For example, on page 34 she points out that for “Victorian Americans, hypocrisy was not merely a personal sin; it was a social offense that threatened to dissolve the ties of mutual confidence binding men together.” How did this adherence for sincerity hold especially true for politicians? Halttunen gives us a brief summation, but one based only on secondary literature. Also, what role did the Civil War play in shifting the emphasis away from sincerity and towards acceptable social hypocrisy? Was it too unnerving to hide away behind parlor-room doors when solders returned maimed (or not at all)? If she had addressed such issues, it could reveal about shifting ideas of sincerity in the face of national tragedy. With these queries in mind, it seems that in the end Halttunen’s well-written book might raise more questions than it answers.
    more
  • David Bates
    January 1, 1970
    Karen Halttunen explored the cultural changes wrought in the early decades of industrialization in her 1982 work Confidence Men and Painted Women. As young Americans left the countryside and journeyed beyond traditional restraints and supervision to swelling towns and cities, concerned writers dwelt at length on the threats posed by two archetypal villains – the confidence man and the painted woman. Studying advice literature published after 1830 Halttunen teases out the anxieties about trust wh Karen Halttunen explored the cultural changes wrought in the early decades of industrialization in her 1982 work Confidence Men and Painted Women. As young Americans left the countryside and journeyed beyond traditional restraints and supervision to swelling towns and cities, concerned writers dwelt at length on the threats posed by two archetypal villains – the confidence man and the painted woman. Studying advice literature published after 1830 Halttunen teases out the anxieties about trust which dominated the newly emerging world of strangers and the strategies with which contemporaries proposed to meet them. Both the confidence man and the painted lady were in essence duplicitous, manipulative and destructive. The confidence man might meet a young man as he entered a city, showing him the sights and helping him to find his feet amid the teeming throngs, only to betray him by gradually leading him into vice. Once the youth’s virtues were corrupted his money might be stolen, or worse, he might become engrossed and apprenticed in the confidence man’s criminal network. The confidence man could appear, with a very similar progression of manipulation, degradation and betrayal, as a demagogue wielding power in the local party machine, or as a gambler whose subtle games met trust with trickery and theft. All these manifestations spoke to fears about the loosening of familial, communal and clerical influence. “The clear authority exercised within the hierarchical social institutions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America,” Halttunen writes, “was giving way to the more tenuous authority possible within the egalitarian social organizations of the nineteenth century. In the emerging social system, authority could be seized by any charismatic figure who emerged from the masses as a man of magnetic personal power.” Questions about how to trust and in whom to have confidence spiraled out from the individual into insecurities surrounding the society and institutions of the Republic. A parallel set of anxieties surrounded painted women, similarly manipulative, sometimes a prostitute, but more often a lady of fashion, whose pretense poisoned social life with dishonesty. Seized with anxiety about the dangers posed by strangers who were untrustworthy hypocrites, youths were enjoined to practice sentimental sincerity, a style marked by the professed intensity of authentic inner feelings. While for men this was a private style (to be open and sincere in public was to invite the depredations of confidence men), sentimental women were to be “constitutionally transparent, and incapable of disguising their feelings,” which might erupt in “swoons, illness, trances, ecstasies, and, most importantly, tears.” The formal performances of sincerity necessary to meet this norm and gain trust embroiled Americans in a vicious circle, for forms became fashion, and fashion could be condemned as hypocrisy. Locked into the demands for artificial performance, condemning clumsy execution as the dreaded hypocritical insincerity, Halttunen suggests the irony that Americans in the Victorian age learned to stress surface performance, sanctioning to some extent the hypocrisy they nominally rejected. The inborn tension between sincerity and formality deeply marked middle class culture in America. “Repeatedly throughout American history, the sentimental impulse has returned to convince middle-class men and women of the hypocrisy of their social lives and to stress the importance of establishing sincere forms as a way of restoring confidence to the entire American social order,” Haltunnen concludes. This process turns on anxieties inherent in a society of “men and women who are constantly assuming new identities and struggling to be convincing in new social roles.”
    more
  • Nigel Sellars
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating and well argued book, Halttunen's work examines not just the attitudes, but the behaviors, of a critical generation in American history. She argues how the industrial and market revolutions and burgeoning new cities placed tremendous stress on American society and rather than accept or embrace these changes, many groups tried to adapt older views to maintain their older but increasing irrelevant values. While Haltunnen limits her study largely to the antebellum era, her ideas have A fascinating and well argued book, Halttunen's work examines not just the attitudes, but the behaviors, of a critical generation in American history. She argues how the industrial and market revolutions and burgeoning new cities placed tremendous stress on American society and rather than accept or embrace these changes, many groups tried to adapt older views to maintain their older but increasing irrelevant values. While Haltunnen limits her study largely to the antebellum era, her ideas have fascinating implications for the rest of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. What she describes is an America that was essentially a nation of strangers where trust of others was essential, yet where it was also undermined because appearances dominated and the constant reinventing of one's self was a requirement for success. To counter the change, advice books appeared to advise rural youth on to recognize swindlers and jezebel, These volumes on building character and achieving material success while maintaining traditional virtues were precursors to "self-help books like Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grew Rich" and Dale Carnegies "How to Winn Friends," although with a stronger and more explicit Protestant moral veneer.Haltunnen also argues that while supposedly educating people on moral behavior, it also was being undermined by a society where success involved have some of the very con-men characteristics the books warn about.What is interesting to me, though, is how those advice books also eventually become virtual instruction manuals on how to impersonate the moral and virtuous person in order to better con your victims.
    more
  • Mariel
    January 1, 1970
    Haltunen asks why 19th century conduct manuals were so concerned with "hypocrisy" and how they attempted to fight this threat. She ends up with an extremely compelling work about mid-19th century behaviour, fashion, and society that critically examines the changing relationships within society and the larger significance for American republicanism. The "confidence man" and his female counterpart, the "painted woman," represented a growing threat to early-mid 19th century life. As cities and town Haltunen asks why 19th century conduct manuals were so concerned with "hypocrisy" and how they attempted to fight this threat. She ends up with an extremely compelling work about mid-19th century behaviour, fashion, and society that critically examines the changing relationships within society and the larger significance for American republicanism. The "confidence man" and his female counterpart, the "painted woman," represented a growing threat to early-mid 19th century life. As cities and towns grew and respectable people encountered strangers on a daily basis, the possiblity of being seduced by someone who would gain your "confidence" only to lure you into a life of gambling and sexual depravity became a more serious threat for young men and women. In order to combat this threat, respectable people needed a clear code of behaviour, dress and morality. For if the "confidence man" could manipulate and contaminate the virtue of good republicans, then how could a country founded on principles of republican virtue survive? The specific codes of behaviour, fashion and performance provide the rich details of Haltunen's work. In examining proper dinner party behaviour, mourning rituals, and the gradual abandonment of "sentimentality" she finds the hypocrisy within the fight against hypocrisy- the need to be sincere, but not too sincere. Although this is an academic work, it is quite readable. There are pictures, but the argument is not inherently visual. Anyone interested in the reasoning behind some common rituals or manners would find this book entertaining.
    more
  • Kristi
    January 1, 1970
    Halttuen explores the trope of the confidence men and painted women in 19th century American culture. Basing her study in social conduct manuals and fashion magazines, Haltttuen traces changes in the attitudes of nineteenth century middle class Americans. Anxieties about physical and social mobility in antebellum culture involved fears about deception, sincerity, and identity. In response to these fears, middle class antebellum Americans developed a sentimental culture that strictly governed the Halttuen explores the trope of the confidence men and painted women in 19th century American culture. Basing her study in social conduct manuals and fashion magazines, Haltttuen traces changes in the attitudes of nineteenth century middle class Americans. Anxieties about physical and social mobility in antebellum culture involved fears about deception, sincerity, and identity. In response to these fears, middle class antebellum Americans developed a sentimental culture that strictly governed the appearances and behaviors of proper middle class gentility. As Americans became more comfortable with social mobility and ritualized social forms, as they were influenced by changing ideas about morality and the nature of the world, and became engaged in a capitalist economic system, they embraced theater in the parlor and fears of confidence men and painted women became integrated into the identity of the ambitious and upwardly mobile middle class.
    more
  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    This is a compact, easy-to-read, and perceptive book about changes in etiquette, dress, and middle-class conduct over the course of the 19th century. In some ways it's kind of a small topic, but the author does a good succinct job of explaining why it matters and in general this book is a compelling reminder of how old ideas don't always disappear, but sometimes take on new life in new settings, i.e. the connection between republican ideology, puritanism, and their application in the Jacksonian This is a compact, easy-to-read, and perceptive book about changes in etiquette, dress, and middle-class conduct over the course of the 19th century. In some ways it's kind of a small topic, but the author does a good succinct job of explaining why it matters and in general this book is a compelling reminder of how old ideas don't always disappear, but sometimes take on new life in new settings, i.e. the connection between republican ideology, puritanism, and their application in the Jacksonian era.
    more
  • Bernadette Loeffel-Atkins
    January 1, 1970
    This has to be one of my favorite historical culture books. Halttunen knows her stuff. Her research is amazing. This is a study of middle-class culture in America from 1830-1870. Her study of the social and cultural development of the middle class is based on the etiquette manuals and fashion magazines of the mid 19th century. A must read for students of the era.
    more
  • Lesley
    January 1, 1970
    Engaging, a true social history of the sentimental period in the United States. Takes a deeper look into culture, including dress, etiquette, and the social norms of life in the early to mid 1800's by evaluating a wealth of pop-culture literary pieces. Hulttunen, at times, over quotes and the language isn't always natural, but the argument is great.
    more
  • Bernadette Loeffel-Atkins
    January 1, 1970
    An excellent read for those who want to get a better understanding of 19th Century Middle-Class Society in America. It covers etiquette, mourning rituals, entertainment, etc. A great read for the 19th Century Scholar.
  • Rebecca McNamara
    January 1, 1970
    A cogent, lively study of nineteenth-century middle-class culture in the United States. A must-read for anyone studying the art, design, material culture, social or other histories of this period.
Write a review