“Be not afraid to work”

Alma Whittaker, whose mother prayed that she would grow up healthy, sensible and intelligent when she was born in 1800, was devastated when her marriage failed.

“One must bear what cannot be escaped,” Hanneke, Alma’s nursemaid, advises in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things. “ “You will not die of your grief—no more than the rest of us ever have.”

“But how does one bear it?” Alma begged.

“Through the dignified performance of one’s duties,” Hanneke said. “Be not afraid to work, child. There you will find consolation.”

Alma, even though she lived long ago when women weren’t supposed to have careers, followed Hanneke’s advice, continuing her work as a botanist studying mosses.

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