Claire Benedict, the main character in Interrupted, is a woman who is dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives. She regularly prays for friends and acquaintances; and when she meets someone new, she immediately begins looking for opportunities to help that person.
That’s certainly the case with Harry Matthews. As soon as Claire meets him, she realizes Harry may have a problem with alcohol.
Later in the book, Harry finds himself indebted to Claire and tells her that if he can ever do anything for her, she has only to ask and it will be done.
There was a flush on Claire’s cheeks as she replied, holding forward a little book at the same time.
She could think of scarcely anything else, so easily done, that would give her greater pleasure than to have him write his name on her pledge book; she had an ambition to fill every blank. There was room for five hundred signers, and she and her sister at home were trying to see which could get their pledge-book filled first. Would he give her his name?
And so, to his amazement and dismay, was Harry Matthews brought face to face with a total abstinence pledge. What an apparently simple request to make! How almost impossible it seemed to him to comply with it!
He made no attempt to take the little book, but stood in embarrassment before it.
“Isn’t there anything else?” he said, at last, trying to laugh. “I hadn’t an idea that you would ask anything of this sort. I can’t sign it, Miss Benedict; I can’t really, though I would like to please you.”
“What is in the way, Mr. Matthews? Have you promised your mother not to sign it?”
The flush on his cheek mounted to his forehead, but still he tried to laugh and speak gaily.
“Hardly! My mother’s petitions do not lie in that direction. But I really am principled against signing pledges. I don’t believe in a fellow making a coward of himself and hanging his manhood on a piece of paper.”
This was foolish. Would it do to let the young fellow know that she knew it was?
“Then you do not believe in bonds, or mortgages, or receipts, or promises to pay, of any sort—not even bank-notes!”
He laughed again.
“That is business,” he said.
“Well,” briskly, “this is business. I will be very business-like. What do you want me to do, give you a receipt? Come, I want your name to help fill my book, and I am making as earnest a business as I know how, of securing names.”
“Miss Benedict, I am not in the least afraid of becoming a drunkard.”
“Mr. Matthews, that has nothing whatever to do with the business in hand. What I want is your name on my total abstinence pledge. If you do not intend to be a drinker, you can certainly have no objection to gratifying me in this way.”
“Ah, but I have! The promise trammels me unnecessarily and foolishly. I am often thrown among people with whom it is pleasant to take a sip of wine, and it does no harm to anybody.”
“How can you be sure of that? There are drunkards in the world, Mr. Matthews; is it your belief that they started out with the deliberate intention of becoming such, or even with the fear that they might? Or were they led along step by step?”
“Oh, I know all that; but I assure you I am very careful with whom I drink liquor. There are people who seem unable to take a very little habitually; they must either let it alone, or drink to excess. Such people ought to let it alone, and to sign a pledge to do so. I never drink with any such; and I never drink, anyway, save with men much older than I, who ought to set me the example instead of looking to me, and who are either masters of themselves, or too far gone to be influenced by anything that I might do.”
Was there ever such idiotic reasoning!
When Isabella Alden wrote Interrupted in 1885, there was a strong temperance movement sweeping across America. Driving that wave was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which worked tirelessly toward the elimination of alcohol “with a mother’s love.”
The WCTU and other Christian temperance organizations used temperance pledges as a device to secure individuals’ promises to abstain from the consumption of alcohol.
The WCTU and organizations like them distributed pledge books and pledge cards liberally. Click on each of the pledge cards to see a larger image.
Family pledge documents were also distributed so entire families could take the pledge together, with family members often serving as witnesses to each others’ signatures.
Once signed, the pledges were often kept in family Bibles at a time in America when the family Bible was the most important possession in the home.
The temperance pledge was an effective tool for the WCTU because it tied abstinence to virtue, morality, and, most importantly, a pledge before God.