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I'm reading Anna Katharine Green's A Strange Disappearance and found the following sentence:

if the girl had a secret—as nearly all girls have, brought low as she has evidently been—it had nothing to do with her disappearance, nor would a knowledge of it help you in any way.

Can you use another phrase? What is another word for "brought low" here?

  • adv 2. In or to a reduced, humbled, or degraded condition: brought low by failure. thefreedictionary.com/Low – Kris Dec 26 '13 at 14:20
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brought low simply means to be placed in a less beneficial position by fate, circumstance, as a result of poor choices, or other. Another phrase might be "as far down in her circumstances", or, to use another idiom, "down on her luck".

examples:

Talbot's death takes the form of traditional de casibus tragedy wherein a great man falls from a high place, is brought low by fortune. -James C. Bulman (1985 Literary Criticism)

...churches built up to get gain would be brought low in the dust and be consumed as stubble. -George M. Peacock, An LDS Perspective on Understanding Scriptural Idioms (NB: refers to another idiom later)

be brought low - (old-fashioned): to lose your wealth or your high position in society

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'Brought low' typically means 'to come to experience meaner circumstances from a background of economic privilege, influence, power, etc.; humbled'. And, mind you, not 'humbled' as in 'gratified and appreciative', but more 'crushed underfoot', as per Biblical usage:

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day

Isiah 2:17

Anyway, I agree more or less with aeismail. In this context, 'brought low' does mean 'having been in some bad situations', but the subtext is missed. The connotation is that she was a 'good girl', one from a relatively well-off family, who had come to face some circumstances that a girl of her standing normally shouldn't. Consequently, she might have done some things or had some experiences that be cause for shame, considering societal expectations of her, and the expectations her former life would have led her to have of herself.

As for a word to replace brought low, 'humbled' could do it. A bigger bit of re-phrasing could be done, too:

...if the girl had a secret, as nearly all girls have, having crossed the tracks as she evidently has-it had nothing...

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