|Fanny Elssler in the shadow dance. N. Currier, 1846.|
The Maiden follows the virtuous Anna Lee and her friend Florence Armitage as they navigate courtship in a world of callow and profligate young men. While Anna’s character and instincts are unimpeachable, Florence is susceptible to the alluring vices of urban life, such as walking out on the street and flirting with young men. Throughout the novel, Anna is the ideal standard, Florence the cautionary example of how certain behaviors might lead a girl down a one-way path. Our first sign of Florence’s susceptibility is her account of scheming to go see Fanny Elssler—against the wishes of her parents. She explains to Anna, “A few of us girls were dying to see her, and we hatched up a plot among ourselves, that we would make some of our gentlemen acquaintances take us to the theater.” And so Florence begs the young Will Archer to take her—a girl did not go to the theater alone—which shocked even Archer, who we later find out is quite the rake.