Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

I would not have been able to complete this edition without the support of others. I am especially grateful to Sharon M. Harris for her advice, encouragement, and enthusiasm throughout this project. My work on Davis has benefi ted greatly from conversations with Sherry and Robin Cadwallader; they graciously welcomed me into the Society for the Study of Rebecca Harding Davis and Her World and have...

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Editor’s Introduction

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pp. ix-xlvi

In A Law Unto Herself, Rebecca Harding Davis transforms a typical Gothic plot device of a lost inheritance into a vehicle for a realistic critique of the legal status of women. Originally serialized in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1877 and published in book form in 1878, A Law Unto Herself appeared during a time of cultural change and contradiction. Women’s legal rights and cultural roles shifted dramatically throughout the...

A Note on the Text

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pp. xlvii-xlviii

A Law Unto Herself

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pp. xlix-l

Part 1

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-12

On a raw, cloudy afternoon in early spring a few years ago a family carriage was driven slowly down a lonely road in one of the outlying suburbs of Philadelphia, stopping at last in front of an apparently vacant house. Th is house was built of gray stone, and stood back from the road, surrounded by a few sombre pines and much rank shrubbery: shrubbery and trees, and the house itself, had long been abandoned to decay....

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Chapter 2

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pp. 13-22

It was not Laidley who entered, but Mrs. Combe, then the most famous clairvoyant in the United States.1 According to statements of men both shrewd and honest she had lately succeeded in bringing the dead back to them in actual bodily presence. The voice was heard, then the spirit slowly grew into matter beside them. They could feel and see its warm flesh, its hair and clothing, and even while they held...

Part 2

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Chapter 3

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pp. 25-34

Captain Swendon, with the majority of his sex, was never less a hero than when at home. Brute force, od, backbone, whatever you call the resistant power which keeps a man erect among other men, weakens under the coddling of feminine fi ngers and the smoke of conjugal incense. Th e aching tooth, the gnawing passion or the religious problem...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 35-50

Down on the coast the world suddenly broadened and lifted into larger spaces. In lieu of eight- feet strips of pavement to walk on, there were the gray sweeps of sand, and great marshes stained with patches of color in emerald and brown, rolling off into the hazy background: instead of the brick and wooden boxes wherein we shut ourselves up with bad air ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 51-54

A luxurious apartment, of which the most salient features were excess of heat and color. A glowing fi re burned in the grate. Persian rugs, richlytinted curtains, tiger and leopard skins, light and gilding on every side, threw into more miserable contrast Laidley’s pinched, pallid face as he stood in the midst. His back was to the fi re, his claw- like hands behind...

Part 3

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Chapter 6

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pp. 57-62

A year after Laidley’s death, Judge Rhodes, being in New York, breakfasted with Mr. Neckart. He noticed that the editor had grown lean and sallow. “And God knows he had no good looks to spare,” smoothing down his own white beard over his comfortable paunch. Something, too, of that easy frankness which had made Neckart so popular...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 63-71

The Hemlock Farm, the captain’s new possession, was a great untrimmed tract of farm and woodland on the Hudson, with a roughhewn stone house, open-windowed and wide-doored, uncivilized and picturesque, set down hospitably in the midst of it. Mr. Neckart, striking across the fi elds from the little station, caught glimpses through the forest for a mile or two of its walls and heavy chimneys stained with...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 72-78

Miss Swendon, going up the wooded hill toward the house, raising her head, saw a man coming toward her down the narrow path. The low sunlight struck through the trees on his broad forehead and magnificent golden beard flowing full on his breast. He was in evening-dress; a topaz blazed on his snowy shirtfront; he walked meditatively, his hands...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 79-86

Mr. Neckart, standing back in the shadow of the scrubby althea-bushes, his hands clasped behind him and his eyes following the skiff as it drifted down the river in the twilight, compelled himself to argue the matter out according to the rulings of common sense, just as he would the appropriation bill....

Part 4

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Chapter 10

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pp. 89-92

Miss Fleming arrived that evening while Jane was on the water. She was in the habit of coming out to the Hemlock Farm for a day’s holiday, and went directly to her own room as though she were at home. When she stepped presently out on the porch, where the gentlemen had gone to smoke, a soft black silk showing every line of her supple...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 93-99

When Jane woke the next morning a bluebird was singing outside of the window: she tried to mimic him before she was out of bed, and sang scraps of songs to herself as she dressed. The captain heard her in his room below, but pretended to be asleep when she came down as usual to lay out his clothes, for, although she insisted that her father should have Dave as a valet, she left him but little to do....

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Chapter 12

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pp. 100-107

Mr. Van Ness returned to the Hemlock Farm at stated periods during the summer. He had, to be plain, sat down before Jane’s heart to besiege it with the same ponderous benign calm with which he ate an egg or talked of death. There was a bronze image of Buddha in the hall at the Farm, the gaze of the god fixed with ineff able content, as it had been for ages, on his own stomach....

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Chapter 13

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pp. 108-116

Mr. Van Ness came beaming down through the lilacs to the arbor, and was received with much reverence by Mrs. Wilde. She was a devout woman, and Pliny Van Ness’s name was in all the churches. They all sauntered back to luncheon presently, Mrs. Wilde and Jane going before, while Mr. Van Ness and the Russian princess walked more slowly through the woods, the foreigner talking with animation and many...

Part 5

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Chapter 14

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pp. 119-124

The Hemlock Farm was awake to its farthest worm-eaten old fence. Never since its trees grew or its grass was green had such a breath and stir of delight swept through them. The low October sun reddened the stubble-field and thrust lances of light through the darkening boles; a string band, hidden somewhere, as evening fell sent long wafts of music through meadow and woods; everywhere was the...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 125-128

Jane was roused by a wild shriek from without. She thought at first it was an animal in an agony of pain or rage. The wind had closed the door, and she could not open it. She went round by a passage to reach the lawn. While she had been in the hall a scene fit for a melodrama was in progress without. The tiny black Russian landaulet with three ponies...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 129-131

The steamer began to cut at last through the short curled waves, a bit of spray blown up on Neckart’s mouth was salt, and, looking back, the great congregation of ships in the offing had dwindled to a few black spears of masts....

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Chapter 17

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pp. 132-140

The captain reported himself “under the weather” the day after the nutting frolic. His guests had all gone excepting Van Ness, who remained in New York, appearing at the farm every afternoon with a fresh invoice of diff usive sweetness and light. In a week the captain gave up his daily visit to the club, and one morning Jane found him in the work- room, busy again among the dusty models, with a gray pinched line about his...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 141-148

As they turned into another path, Jane saw the boy Phil running toward the stables, and Betty came toward her, walking calmly, but twisting her sleeve into a rag with nervous fingers.
“My father!” cried Jane.
“Yes. He’s awake, and he don’t seem quite so peart as he was this morning. But it’s nothing: don’t you be scared, miss. I took the liberty of sending Phil for the doctor,” panting after her as she ran....

Part 6

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Chapter 19

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pp. 151-153

The reason which Mr. Van Ness offered for Jane’s disappearance, he protested, would suggest itself to everybody as the only possible one: her grief had deranged her, and she had wandered away bent on selfdestruction. But the house was filled now with the friends of the captain, among them Judge Rhodes and Mrs. Wilde, and he read doubt...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 154-159

Van Ness had really but slight knowledge of the places in which Jane’s early life had been passed. On reaching Philadelphia he was forced to search through old directories for the houses in which the captain had lived, and go to them in turn— a tedious process enough, as the old man had migrated, as his whim or purse dictated, from Kensington to...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 160-166

The Scotia was within a few hours of Liverpool. The passengers were all gathered on deck— the women, eager and garrulous, eying each other a little curiously in their new costumes— even the most blasé traveller among them roused by the smell of land. Miss Fleming, however, sat quietly apart, with Mr. Neckart beside her. The other passengers were...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 167-176

When the door of the hut opened Bruno growled furiously. Mr. Van Ness appeared on the threshold, smiling, benign, a goodly sight, from his blond head and the yellow topaz on his snowy shirtfront to the polished boots....

Notes

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pp. 177-182

In the Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers series

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pp. 183-183