Some of Isabella Alden’s most memorable heroines were single, strong-willed, and determined to make their own way in the world. Miss Sarah Stafford was one such heroine. In Missent; the Story of a Letter, Miss Stafford decided to buy and furnish her own home, a remarkable and unusual plan for a young woman at a time when women couldn’t vote, and were legally barred in many states from owning property.
But Miss Sarah Stafford was looking for her dream home. She was alone in the world and though she’d found some happiness boarding in the homes of others, what she really wanted was a place to belong. And so she decided to buy her own house.
Once she made her decision, Miss Stafford turned to her friend David Durand for help. With his expertise, she was able to find a house to buy and negotiate a fair price with the seller. But Mr. Durand’s help didn’t stop there. Isabella wrote:
Then began the delightful task of furnishing. In this, as in the matter of selecting and buying, Mr. Durand was an invaluable assistant.
Day after day, Miss Stafford met Mr. Durand at furniture stores, or carpet warehouses or any of a number of establishments as he helped her select the furnishings for her new house. Together they chose items for every room, even for a little section of the house she had named her very own “cozy corner.”
We know from Isabella’s story that both Miss Stafford and Mr. Durand had exquisite taste and chose lovely items for the house. But what did the furnishings look like? The illustrations in this post give some clues. They illustrate what the fashions in home furnishings were like around the time Missent was published in 1900.
After several weeks of shopping together, Miss Stafford realized something rather important:
It was nearing completion, and was as nearly perfect as taste and skill and care could make it; but it was growing daily more lonely to her. … She had done her utmost for it, and Mr. Durand had been most kind and patient, and had hunted through many shops in search of certain old-fashioned things for which she had expressed a wish; yet, as often as she thought of herself there, a sense of loneliness and dreariness stole over her.
Sarah Stafford came to realize that “rooms and furniture did not make a home.” Suddenly, the prospect of being alone again—even in a house she owned—was not at all what she wanted. Little did she suspect that Mr. Durand understood exactly what she was feeling.
Very soon, Mr. Durand had a plan of his own that would both help and surprise Sarah Stafford … and ensure that she would never know a lonely day again.