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Emmeline is a book by Judith Rossner. Published in 1980, Emmeline details the local legend of a woman who becomes ostracized by everyone in her hometown in Maine after a shocking, long-held secret becomes public. The story is a fictionalized account of the life of Emeline Bachelder Gurney. Both anecdotal and documented evidence have been found about Gurney's life. An operatic version by Tobias Picker (libretto by J. D. McClatchy) premiered in 1996 as a commission of the Santa Fe Opera and has enjoyed considerable success. It has been recorded, televised on PBS, and produced in full-scale and chamber productions. and televised.
Emmeline (Rossner novel) Wikipedia
In 1839, thirteen-year-old Emmeline Mosher lives on a farm with her family in Fayette, Maine. Times are hard, so when Emmeline's paternal aunt suggests that she go to Lowell, Massachusetts to support her family by working in a textile mill, Emmeline dutifully leaves home.
When she arrives in Lowell, she is sent to live in a boarding house for young female mill-workers. Emmeline is a good worker. However, she is unable to befriend any of the other girls, who look down on her due to her country ways and her relative youth. Lonely, Emmeline is easily seduced by the Irish-born husband of the factory owner's daughter. She becomes pregnant, although she is not immediately aware of her condition. The mill expels her and the embarrassed boarding house landlady contacts Emmeline's aunt, who lives in the neighboring town of Lynn, Massachusetts, and evicts the girl.
Fearful of Emmeline's parents' reaction, Emmeline's aunt and uncle help her conceal the pregnancy. They send letters and Emmeline's savings (which they pass off as her regular salary) to her parents. They also arrange to have Emmeline's baby adopted. Emmeline imagines she is going to have a girl; gives birth to what she believes to be a girl; her aunt refuses to let her see the child or to tell her its sex in the belief that Emmeline can more easily recover and give up the baby up that way. Emmeline returns home to Maine soon after giving birth shortly thereafter.
Part two of the book picks up more than twenty years later. Despite numerous proposals, a middle-aged Emmeline has never married and cares for her parents, but her father still encourages her to marry. She has a circle of friends, socializing primarily with two sisters of a widower who proposed marriage to her. One day, Matthew Gurney, an itinerant worker, rolls into town. He and Emmeline share a strong immediate attraction. Matthew proposes to her and Emmeline eagerly accepts. They marry with Emmeline wearing her sister-in-law's wedding dress and move into a house that they build themselves.
Emmeline's aunt comes to visit after the wedding. She instantly recognizes Matthew and forces him to admit that he is twenty-one years old, not twenty-six as he originally claimed. At that moment, Emmeline realizes that she gave birth to a boy, not a girl, and that she has married her son. Her aunt tells her father, who immediately disowns her. Word quickly spreads throughout town. Matthew deserts Emmeline, who is soon excommunicated by the preacher at her church and encouraged to leave town.
Emmeline spends the rest of her long life on the fringes of the town, ignored by all. She tries to subsist on what she can grow herself. Neglected as an old woman, she dies during a particularly harsh winter.