(Essentials of European Literature)

In 1840, Louis Cornvelt was a prosperous owner of a weaving mill in Leyden. Strongly orthodox and conservative in every way, he was a staunch Calvinist whose beliefs colored his treatment of his family and his employees. His wife, his sons, and his daughters were expected to be completely submissive to his will and the way of life he represented.

Outwardly, at least, they were submissive, until the arrival in the Cornvelt home of an orphaned niece, Marie Elizabeth Sylvain. Reared in a much more permissive atmosphere in the home of her French father, she brought new ideas and an air of rebellion into the Cornvelt home. Three of the sons fell in love with her, but she refused their overtures of love and marriage, for she could not stand the idea of placing herself under the domination of a man. Her rebellion extended so far as to cause her to run away to France when her uncle refused to allow her to earn a living for herself; he felt that such a course might demean him and his family in the eyes of their friends and neighbors.

Marie Elizabeth Sylvain’s cousins, fired by her arguments and example, also tried to rebel, but in the end each submissively accepted their father’s domination. Katie Cornvelt married a young medical doctor, William Wiseman, as her father wished, although she found the man’s profession and person repugnant. Nicholas Cornvelt ran his father’s woolen mill in the old way, as his father dictated, even though the younger man realized that more progressive methods were needed if the mill were to compete with more progressive business houses. Sarah Cornvelt gave up the young man she loved when their fathers refused to countenance their marriage. David Cornvelt, in love with his French cousin, gave her up too when his father demanded that he do so. The young people had been so used to domination that they could not break from the habit of obedience, even after they were grown.

By 1872 the children of Louis Cornvelt were themselves middle-aged and had children of their own who were approaching maturity. Having been reared in a home completely dominated by their father, the children attempted to rule their families in much the same way and to require of the new generation absolute obedience to parents and loyalty to a harshly conservative code. In their time, however, the new generation was supported and encouraged to rebellion by changes in the life of the time. In Holland, as in other European countries, new liberality in politics, new theories in sociology, a breakdown of orthodox religion, and other changes contributed to an outlook that fostered rebellion...

(The entire section is 1069 words.)