Summary Of Confidence Men And Painted Women By Karen Halttunen

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Karen Halttunen’s Confidence Men and Painted Women examines the massive changes—and the causes of these changes—in American culture in the 19th century. In her book, Halttunen argues that the movement of American populations away from rural environments to urban cities made citizens concerned about future generations of Americans. Specifically, Americans had a growing concern about hypocrisy, which is defined in the book as an inability to see someone’s true character, led to a huge emphasis on sincerity and sentimentality. This, in turn, produced a series of changes in an effort to have society reflect this new importance on sincerity more clearly, especially as it pertains to fashion and etiquette. Halttunen supports this argument very clearly …show more content…

The amount of information that Halttunen presents in terms of the changes to the culture seems overwhelming at points, but it truly shows how well researched this topic was. There are countless pages devoted simply to pointing out the differences in style of dress, and just as much attention is given when researching the new sentimentalist etiquette and its “cult of mourning.” Each main chapter advances the argument quite clearly and demonstrates not only these changes, but what influential people of the time were saying about them. A wide array of works are referenced—everything from short stories to advice manuals, and an especially deep knowledge of the shifting trends in Godey’s Lady’s Book. It lives up to its subtitle in every way—not only proving its main argument about why these changes were taking place, but truly being a thorough study of the sentiments, ideology, and fashion of middle-class life in the 19th …show more content…

It discusses the movement of the confidence man into mainstream culture in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century—but this contributes relatively little to the rest of the novel. While it is interesting to see the changing attitudes towards the “confidence man,” it is important to note that, despite the title of the book, the confidence man has relatively little to do with the entire argument that Halttunen is making. The book very clearly moves away from the confidence man in the earliest chapters to discuss the overlying ideas that made the confidence man so concerning to the American public. Shifting back to such a specific facet of hypocrisy in a time period that the book does not even set out to cover seems questionable at best, and I have to wonder why it was added to the book at all, even as an epilogue. This being said, for the very reason that it is an epilogue, it does not damage Halttunen’s argument; rather, it simply ends the book on an odd

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