Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Once widely known, Constance Fenimore Woolson, the grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, the American novelist famous throughout the world for his Leatherstocking tales of the early frontier, has recently begun to receive notice from feminist scholars who have promoted the work of this intelligent, sensitive, well-read writer. Ironically, “Rodman the Keeper” is difficult to regard as feminist: The women of the story (Bettina Ward and Mary, Rodman’s “promised wife”) take a distant backseat ethically to the men. To say that, however, is to admit that Woolson is capable of defying conventional expectations unlike so many of her competitors, who were writing sentimental local color stories for publication in magazines and newspapers. A less-talented hand might have made Bettina Ward see the error of her ways and accept the brave Yankee soldier who is as clearly attracted to her as she eventually is to him. That Bettina chooses instead to risk an independent life shows Woolson does not fear straying from popular formulas.

In an awkward digression never satisfactorily developed, Woolson more than once draws the reader’s attention to some French lines displayed on Rodman’s wall, which are best known in their Italian version, as part of the song “La donna e mobile,” or“woman is fickle.” Rodman even recites the quatrain aloud at Ward De Rosset’s request, lingering on one phrase: “Bien fou qui s’y fie”—“A fool is...

(The entire section is 452 words.)