Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rachel Gratz

Rachel was the youngest of the three Gratz sisters still at home at the beginning of the nineteenth century. With her mass of red-gold hair and hazel eyes, she was considered the beauty of the family. Visiting in New York in 1800, she was seen at the theater by a Count Germond who raved all night about her beauty and spent the next two days wangling an introduction (the acquaintance went no further). Rebecca received compliments from those who had met her, but only Rachel caused flutters from across the room.

Unlike her older sisters Sarah and Rebecca who were "sensible" women, Rachel was under the rule of what the age called "sensibility," a term which would translate today to "emotions and affections." Her disposition served to enhance her physical beauty. Playful and good-humored, Rachel knew how to have fun. In her absence her family found their world much more dull; during one of these periods, Rebecca wrote to Rachel about the conditions at home without her lively presence: "If not for the opportunity of complaining we should even want spirits to keep ourselves awake."

Rachel, however, had another side, one characterized by debilitating anxiety. In the absence of loved ones, Rachel was subject to catastrophic thinking. Imagining terrible disasters, she became depressed and unable to function. During the early years of their father's illness, Sarah and Rebecca felt that Rachel's depressed state was yet another burden on their already laden mother. Both exhorted their younger sister to make an effort, using much the same language, but Rachel reacted differently to each. She must have heard their characteristic tones of voice as she read their words and reacted poorly to the often irritable Sarah and with gratitude to gentle Rebecca. "In you I...find admonitory council and a sincere friend," Rachel wrote to Rebecca, and insisted, much to her sister's distress, on idealizing her. Sarah, witness to Rachel's adoration, commented dryly on Rebecca's "superiority in all things."

Despite her anxieties, Rachel, with her beauty and vivaciousness, must have seemed to her family destined to attract an exceptional man for her husband. Her sisters Sarah and Rebecca were to be sorely disappointed in her choice: a man that they -- and Rachel -- had made light of for five years.

(The "Count Germond" story is from Maria Fenno's letters to Rebecca in December 1800. They, like all the other letters quoted here, are in the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, American Philosophical Society. Thanks to http://gilbertstuart.blogspot.com for the use of the image of Rachel Gratz. The original painting by Gilbert Stuart is on loan at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Powered by WebRing.