A Visit From the Old Mistress

Winslow_Homer_-_A_Visit_from_the_Old_Mistress_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis poignant 1876 painting by Winslow Homer is rarely seen except in art gallery presentations. The Smithsonian’s collection interprets it this way:

“…the living conditions of these former slaves would appear not to have improved since before the time of the Civil War. Their dwelling is humble, and their homespun clothing is shabby. Yet the relationship between them and their former mistress is very different. The mistress clearly assumes the stature of a guest in the home of others. She now stands while one of her former servants sits in a chair. Homer caught the awkward tension of these women whose years of forced bondage never fostered in them a sense of loyalty or affection for their former overseer.”

It was not necessarily so with my fictional mistress Parthenia Leila Ellis of the novel. She had only two slaves to manage, a pair of husband-and-wife house servants named Brutus and Natalie. They lived in the house with her, not in separate quarters, and being house slaves they dressed better than these, presumably field slaves, did.

Yet the relationship between them and the widow Ellis might have been equally awkward after the war. Leila hoped she could afford enough in wages to entice them to stay on as employees, but I leave it to the reader of the novel to decide whether they did.

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Parthenia Leila Ellis, Slavery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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