Pygmalion HTML version

The rest of the story need not be shown in action, and indeed, would hardly need telling if
our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-makes and
reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of "happy endings" to
misfit all stories. Now, the history of Eliza Doolittle, though called a romance because of
the transfiguration it records seems exceedingly improbable, is common enough. Such
transfigurations have been achieved by hundreds of resolutely ambitious young women
since Nell Gwynne set them the example by playing queens and fascinating kings in the
theatre in which she began by selling oranges. Nevertheless, people in all directions have
assumed, for no other reason than that she became the heroine of a romance, that she
must have married the hero of it. This is unbearable, not only because her little drama, if
acted on such a thoughtless assumption, must be spoiled, but because the true sequel is
patent to anyone with a sense of human nature in general, and of feminine instinct in
Eliza, in telling Higgins she would not marry him if he asked her, was not coquetting: she
was announcing a well-considered decision. When a bachelor interests, and dominates,
and teaches, and becomes important to a spinster, as Higgins with Eliza, she always, if
she has character enough to be capable of it, considers very seriously indeed whether she
will play for becoming that bachelor's wife, especially if he is so little interested in
marriage that a determined and devoted woman might capture him if she set herself
resolutely to do it. Her decision will depend a good deal on whether she is really free to
choose; and that, again, will depend on her age and income. If she is at the end of her
youth, and has no security for her livelihood, she will marry him because she must marry
anybody who will provide for her. But at Eliza's age a good-looking girl does not feel that
pressure; she feels free to pick and choose. She is therefore guided by her instinct in the
matter. Eliza's instinct tells her not to marry Higgins. It does not tell her to give him up. It
is not in the slightest doubt as to his remaining one of the strongest personal interests in
her life. It would be very sorely strained if there was another woman likely to supplant
her with him. But as she feels sure of him on that last point, she has no doubt at all as to
her course, and would not have any, even if the difference of twenty years in age, which
seems so great to youth, did not exist between them.
As our own instincts are not appealed to by her conclusion, let us see whether we cannot
discover some reason in it. When Higgins excused his indifference to young women on
the ground that they had an irresistible rival in his mother, he gave the clue to his
inveterate old-bachelordom. The case is uncommon only to the extent that remarkable
mothers are uncommon. If an imaginative boy has a sufficiently rich mother who has
intelligence, personal grace, dignity of character without harshness, and a cultivated sense
of the best art of her time to enable her to make her house beautiful, she sets a standard
for him against which very few women can struggle, besides effecting for him a
disengagement of his affections, his sense of beauty, and his idealism from his
specifically sexual impulses. This makes him a standing puzzle to the huge number of
uncultivated people who have been brought up in tasteless homes by commonplace or