“Child-wife” or “child-bride” was a term used in the late 1800s to describe a young bride in her late teens or early twenties who had little experience in the ways of the world. A child-wife was an innocent, unsure of her footing, and sometimes easily influenced.
Isabella used the term a couple of times in describing some of her characters, but Mrs. Harry Harper is probably her most winning example of a child-wife.
“Mrs. Harry Harper’s Awakening” was a short story Isabella published in 1881. It’s a quick read and on the surface, it’s a simple story of a young woman who blossoms after she unintentionally becomes involved with a ladies’ Christian mission society.
But what makes the story unique is the heroine’s progression from a “child-bride” with no life purpose to a woman who is strong in her faith and determined to live her convictions.
She is introduced to us simply as “Mrs. Harry Harper.” She has no identity of her own outside of her husband’s. In fact, we never learn her Christian name; and even her husband calls her “wife” or “wifey.” Although he says those words with affection, he—like everyone else—doesn’t see her as anything more than an extension of himself.
He leaves her alone every day while he works, and expects her to simply fend for herself in some ladylike way while he takes care of the important business of earning a living. How Mrs. Harry elects to spend her days and how her involvement with a ladies’ mission society impacts all areas of her life illustrates Mrs. Harry’s progression from child-wife to confident worker for Christ.
As with all of Isabella’s stories, “Mrs. Harry Harper’s Awakening” is an allegory that illustrates Christian duty. Mrs. Harry Harper considered herself a Christian and she attended church, but it wasn’t until she began actually working for the Lord that she received the blessings and fulfillment of living the Christian life.