The Good Englishwoman
Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variationsin hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling andpunctuation remains unchanged.
The half title immediately before the title page has been omitted.
ORLO WILLIAMS, M.C.
Author of “Vie de Boheme: A Patch of Romantic Paris,”
“The Life and Letters of John Rickman,” etc.
GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
ST MARTIN’S STREET
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
THE DUNEDIN PRESS LIMITED, EDINBURGH
WHEN SHE IS OLDER
WITH THE SUPERFLUOUS INJUNCTION
NOT TO TAKE THIS BOOK
|I.||The Man in the Sidecar||9|
|IV.||The English Wife||76|
|V.||The English Mother||102|
|VI.||The Englishwoman’s Mind||128|
|VII.||The Englishwoman’s Manners||145|
|VIII.||The Englishwoman and the Arts||166|
|IX.||The Englishwoman in Society||187|
|X.||The Englishwoman at Work||204|
|XI.||The Englishwoman at Play||219|
|XII.||The Englishwoman in Parliament||234|
A FEW REMARKS FROM THE MAN IN THE SIDECAR
My uncle Joseph, a solitary man, once broke thesilence of a country walk by asserting withexplosive emphasis: “I don’t see how any man canunderstand women.” I assented vaguely, and hewent on: “How can we ever grasp their point ofview, my dear boy, which is so totally differentfrom ours? How can we understand the outlookon life of beings whose instincts, training, purpose,ambitions have so little resemblance to ours? Formy part I have given up trying: it is a waste oftime. Never let a woman flatter you into thinkingthat you understand her: she is trying to make youher tool. The Egyptians gave the Sphinx awoman’s face and they were right. Women areso mysterious.” And the south-west wind took uphis words and whispered them to the trees, whichnodded their heads and waved their branches,rustling “mysterious, mysterious” in all theirleaves.
I do not argue with my uncle Joseph, especially10on a country walk when the south-west wind isblowing. So I took out my pipe and lit it in spiteof the south-west wind, saying to myself: “Yousilly wind, you silly trees, you know nothing ofwisdom. You would catch up anything that myuncle Joseph said and make it seem important.”And the south-west wind solemnly breathed “important”into the ear of a little quarry, in the toneof a ripe family butler.11 “There is just as much,and just as little, mystery about men and womenas there is about you. It depends how much onewants to know. So far as there is any mystery, asa matter of fact, it is much more on the side ofmen, who are far more incalculable, far more complexthan women in their motives and reactions.But men are lazy, you silly old things, and it savesa lot of trouble to invent a mystery and give it uprather than sit down before a problem to study it.Men have thousands of other things to think aboutbesides women, but women, who have not the samevariety, are so devilish insistent, that they wouldkeep men thinking about them all their time ifthey could. So, in self-defence, men have pacifiedthe dear things by calling them mysterious, whichis highly flattering, and by giving them up forthree-quarters of their days. Uncle Joseph hasprobably been arguing unsuccessfully with AuntGeorgiana, as he always will, because he never tookthe trouble to master her mental and emotionalprocesses. But that does not prove the generaltruth of his proposition. His is just the mindwhich grows those weeds of everyday thought theseeds of which thoughtless south-west winds blowabout as they do the seeds of thistles. Go off andblow those clouds away, you reverberator of commonplaces.”
Throwing up his hands with a shriek of “commonplaces,”the wind flew up over the hill rufflingits hair as he passed.
I think I was quite right not to answer my uncleJoseph and to rebuke the south-west wind.People are so tiresomely fond of uttering generalisationswhich they do not really believe and onwhich they never act. It is surely no less foolishto say that women are complete mysteries than tosay that one understands them perfectly. Everyindividual understands a few men and a fewwomen, or life would be impossible. Besides,understanding has its degrees which approach, butnever reach, perfection. Samuel Butler somewheresays that the process of love could only belogically concluded by eating the loved one—acoarse way of saying that perfect love would endin complete assimilation: it is the same with the12relation of knowledge. Happily love betweenhuman beings of opposite sexes can exist withoutbeing pushed to this voracious conclusion: so canunderstanding.
It may be true that women have quickerintuitions than men, though only over a limitedrange of subjects: but men, on the other hand, aremore widely and studiously observant, besidesbeing far more interested in the attainment of truthas the result of observation. Patient induction is,after all, an excellent substitute for brilliantguessing. Women would be extremely disappointedif men really acted on the “mystery”theory and took to thinking or writing as littleabout woman as the majority think or write aboutthe problem of existence. Nothing, however, willprevent men from talking and thinking aboutwomen, and a glance at any bookshelf will provethat they do not always do so in complete ignoranceof their subject. Balzac, who was no magician,was not entirely beside the mark in creating theDuchesse de Maufrigneuse, and Lady Teazle is arecognizable being. George Meredith’s Dianaseems to have human substance: Mr Shaw’s Annein “Man and Superman” and Mr Wells’ AnneVeronica, though founded on masculine observations,are admitted by women to be reasonable13creations. The laziness of men, I repeat, and thevanity of women are responsible for the legend ofwoman’s inviolable mystery. The laws of gravitationwere a mystery till Newton used his observation:the mystery still remains, but the experimentsof Newton and other physicists has drivenit further back. So it is with the human soul.Each one is a mystery, but observation andfamiliarity can penetrate a number of its veils,leaving only some of the intimate recesses unexplored,and even these recesses are threatenedwith exposure as our knowledge of telepathy and ofthe subconscious elements increases.
There are certain experiences of women which aman cannot share, certain aspirations and fears atwhose poignancy he can only guess, certain instinctiveimpulses of which he is not directly conscious:but he can surmount the barriers in somemeasure by the use of his eyes and ears. If,therefore, he choose to record what his eyes andears tell him, he is not exceeding the limits ofmasculine capacity. My uncle Joseph could hardlydeplore so unpretentious a line of approach. Amere man may be content to leave Miss DorothyRichardson and Miss May Sinclair delving gloomilyin the jungles of feminine psychology where hewould fear to follow them, and yet feel that, with14outpresumption, he may hold some views abouthis natural complement. The question is whatviews are right and what are wrong. The war haschanged many things, and man’s views about hisnatural complement among them. Most people,with that useful faculty of oblivion for which wethank Providence, have forgotten what theythought in 1914: if there were such a thing as amental gramophone which could record theirthoughts of five years ago, they would be extremelysurprised. Things that seemed absurd then havenow been taken for granted, and it is possiblethat many things taken for granted then may beshown to have become absurd. It has certainlybecome ridiculous to speak of the “weaker sex,”except in a strictly muscular sense. Women haverevealed capacities for organisation and disciplinedeffort in large bodies, especially in this country, forwhich the epithet “surprising” is but feeble. Hasthis fact alone not caused a revolution of ideas?If we have not all accepted it yet, we shall all soonhave to accept the principle that, in all but purelyphysical exertion, men and women have equalpotential abilities. The potential ability of womenis still in need of development, for they are startingsome centuries behind the men, but the inevitableresult will be the recognition of15 “equal opportunity.”To what sociological crisis this maylead, I do not know, and as this is not a sociologicaltreatise, I need not prophesy: but it is an elementthat must count heavily in any review of old ideas.
Another element which must count is thefranchise, which will, of course, be extended in thenear future till there is no inequality between thesexes in this respect. Women are political beingswith vast possibilities of becoming a politicalforce. They will play a more and more importantpart in the history of the nation. They will dancea new dance in the ballet of humanity. Thatrecently so familiar figure in a short skirt of khakiand close-fitting cap, seated firmly but not toogracefully astride a motor bicycle rushing with itsside-car, and often its male passenger, through thetraffic is more than a phenomenon, it is a symbol.The air has whipped her cheeks pink and blownloose a stray lock above her determined eyes.What beauties she has of form or feature are noneof them hid. She is all the woman that the worldhas known, but with a new purpose and a newpoise. For good or ill she has entered the machine,and we came to look on her with an indifferent andfamiliar eye. But what will she do, what will shethink, whither will she carry us in that side-car ofhers? To all her ancient qualities she has added a16new one: object of desire, mother of children,guardian of the hearth, mate of man or virginsaint, she has now another manifestation, that offellow-combatant; some say, also of adversary.One might almost say that, bending over thehandle-bars of her machine, with her body curvedand her legs planted firmly on the footboard shemimes the very mark of interrogation which herchanges of social posture present. A living queryin khaki, she is a challenge to the prophet and thephilosopher. One who is neither will let the challengepass, sure only of one thing—that develop asshe may and carry us where she will, the traditionof the good Englishwoman is safe in her keeping.
“The good Englishwoman,” an untranslatablephrase—I beseech our French neighbours not totranslate it la bonne anglaise—is an expressionwhich has a corresponding reality. We all knowit, in our flesh, in our bones, in our minds and inour souls. The Englishwoman is a definite personto all of us in England: she is not merely thefemale of the species living in these isles, she has asignificance in the world at large. We love herand we honour her, but we do not often reflectwhat it is that we love and honour. It is a mentaloccupation which might be more frequently indulgedin, were we not such indifferent reflectors.17The ingenious Henry Adams, that enlightened butpensive American, whose death has just given usone of the most fascinating books of modern times,spent his whole life in reflecting on his countrymen,with results which are stimulating if not encouraging.He did not spend so much time reflecting onhis countrywomen, though he said that he owedmore to them than to any man, but his reflectionson that head resolved themselves into a questionwhich no Englishman would formulate in similarcircumstances. Henry Adams used to inviteagreeable and witty people to dine,1 and, at anunexpected moment, to propound to the “brightest”of the women the question: “Why is theAmerican woman a failure?” He meant a failureas a force rather than as an individual, but it wasan irritating question all the same, nor is it surprisingthat it usually drew the answer: “Becausethe American man is a failure.” The Englishmanwould be