In In the Midst of Alarms (1894) by Robert Barr, the author was describing the wife of a Canadian farmer:

As he rose the door from the main portion of the house opened, and there entered a woman hardly yet past middle age, who had once been undoubtedly handsome, but on whose worn and faded face was the look of patient weariness which so often is the result of a youth spent in helping a husband to overcome the stumpy stubbornness of an American bush farm. When the farm is conquered, the victor is usually vanquished. It needed no second glance to see that she was the mother from whom the daughter had inherited her good looks.

How could the victor be vanquished at the same time?

  • 3
    The general concept is that of a "Pyrrhic victory" (after Pyrrhus of Epirus), e.g. a situation where the victory depleted your resources to the point that there is a net loss (Pyrrhus allegedly said after defeating the Romans at Asculum, "one more such a victory and we will be utterly ruined"). The hard work the woman put in during in her youth so that she could enjoy the fruits of her labour in her later years left her in a state where she is unable to do so, even though the farm does prosper. Mar 1, 2021 at 11:27
  • Actually that should read "i.e.", not "e.g." in the first line. Alas it's too late to fix the comment. Mar 1, 2021 at 12:12

1 Answer 1


Making land suitable for farming can require a lot of work. Examples of this can be found in other literary works. For example, the father in Federico García Lorca's play Blood Wedding / Bodas de sangre (1932) says about his land,

En mi tiempo, ni esparto daba esta tierra. Ha sido necesario castigarla y hasta llorarla, para que nos dé algo provechoso.

In my time, this land did not even give esparto (grass). It was necessary to punish/castigarla even to the point of weeping before it gave us anything profitable.

In Marcel Pagnol's L'eau des Collines (The Water of the Hills) Jean de Florette even works himself to death in an attempt to benefit from the land he has inherited, but he fails because others have interrupted the water supply to his land.

The point is that making land profitable can require hard work. In the example from Robert Barr's novel, the farmer has succeeded in reaching his goal (hence "the victor"), but he has sacrificed his health for it and in that sense he has been "vanquished".

  • 6
    In this particular case, I think the implication isn't that the hard work resulted in the sacrifice of her health, but in the sacrifice of her good looks.
    – nick012000
    Mar 1, 2021 at 5:33

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