The Angel and the Author by Jerome K. Jerome - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

CHAPTER XI

[The everlasting Newness of Woman.]

An Oriental visitor was returning from our shores to his native land.

"Well," asked the youthful diplomatist who had been told off to show him round, as on the deck of the steamer they shook hands, "what do you now think of England?"

"Too much woman," answered the grave Orientalist, and descended to his cabin.

The young diplomatist returned to the shore thoughtful, and later in the day a few of us discussed the matter in a far-off, dimly-lighted corner of the club smoking-room.

Has the pendulum swung too far the other way? Could there be truth in our Oriental friend's terse commentary? The eternal feminine! The Western world has been handed over to her. The stranger from Mars or Jupiter would describe us as a hive of women, the sober-clad male being retained apparently on condition of its doing all the hard work and making itself generally useful. Formerly it was the man who wore the fine clothes who went to the shows. To-day it is the woman gorgeously clad for whom the shows are organized. The man dressed in a serviceable and unostentatious, not to say depressing, suit of black accompanies her for the purpose of carrying her cloak and calling her carriage. Among the working classes life, of necessity, remains primitive; the law of the cave is still, with slight modification, the law of the slum. But in upper and middle-class circles the man is now the woman's servant.

I remember being present while a mother of my acquaintance was instilling into the mind of her little son the advantages of being born a man. A little girl cousin was about to spend a week with him. It was impressed upon him that if she showed a liking for any of his toys, he was at once to give them up to her.

"But why, mamma?" he demanded, evidently surprised. "Because, my dear, you are a little man."

Should she break them, he was not to smack her head or kick her--as his instinct might prompt him to do. He was just to say:

"Oh, it is of no consequence at all," and to look as if he meant it.

[Doctor says she is not to be bothered.]

She was always to choose the game--to have the biggest apple. There was much more of a similar nature. It was all because he was a little man and she was a little woman. At the end he looked up, puzzled:

"But don't she do anything, 'cos she's a little girl?"

It was explained to him that she didn't. By right of being born a little girl she was exempt from all duty.

Woman nowadays is not taking any duty. She objects to housekeeping; she calls it domestic slavery, and feels she was intended for higher things. What higher things she does not condescend to explain. One or two wives of my acquaintance have persuaded their husbands that these higher things are all-important. The home has been given up. In company with other strivers after higher things, they live now in dismal barracks differing but little from a glorified Bloomsbury lodging-house. But they call them "Mansions" or "Courts," and seem proud of the address. They are not bothered with servants--with housekeeping. The idea of the modern woman is that she is not to be bothered with anything. I remember the words with which one of these ladies announced her departure from her bothering home.

"Oh, well, I'm tired of trouble," she confided to another lady, "so I've made up my mind not to have any more of it."

Artemus Ward tells us of a man who had been in prison for twenty years. Suddenly a bright idea occurred to him; he opened the window and got out. Here have we poor, foolish mortals been imprisoned in this troublesome world for Lord knows how many millions of years. We have got so used to trouble we thought there was no help for it. We have told ourselves that "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." We imagined the only thing to be done was to bear it philosophically. Why did not this bright young creature come along before--show us the way out. All we had to do was to give up the bothering home and the bothering servants, and go into a "Mansion" or a "Court."

It seems that you leave trouble outside--in charge of the hall- porter, one supposes. He ties it up for you as the Commissionaire of the Army and Navy Stores ties up your dog. If you want it again, you ask for it as you come out. Small wonder that the "Court" and "Mansion" are growing in popularity every day.

[That "Higher Life."]

They have nothing to do now all day long, these soaring wives of whom I am speaking. They would scorn to sew on a shirt-button even. Are there not other women--of an inferior breed--specially fashioned by Providence for the doing of such slavish tasks? They have no more bothers of any kind. They are free to lead the higher life. What I am waiting for is a glimpse of the higher life. One of them, it is true, has taken up the violin. Another of them is devoting her emancipation to poker work. A third is learning skirt- dancing. Are these the "higher things" for which women are claiming freedom from all duty? And, if so, is there not danger that the closing of our homes may lead to the crowding up of the world with too much higher things?

May there not, by the time all bothers have been removed from woman's path, be too many amateur violinists in the world, too many skirt- dancers, too much poker work? If not, what are they? these "higher things," for which so many women are demanding twenty-four hours a day leisure. I want to know.

One lady of my acquaintance is a Poor Law Guardian and secretary to a labour bureau. But then she runs a house with two servants, four children, and a husband, and appears to be so used to bothers that she would feel herself lost without them. You can do this kind of work apparently even when you are bothered with a home. It is the skirt-dancing and the poker work that cannot brook rivalry. The modern woman has begun to find children a nuisance; they interfere with her development. The mere man, who has written his poems, painted his pictures, composed his melodies, fashioned his philosophies, in the midst of life's troubles and bothers, grows nervous thinking what this new woman must be whose mind is so tremendous that the whole world must be shut up, so to speak, sent to do its business out of her sight and hearing, lest her attention should be distracted.

An optimistic friend of mine tells me not to worry myself; tells me that it is going to come out all right in the end. Woman just now, he contends, is passing through her college period. The school life of strict surveillance is for ever done with. She is now the young Freshwoman. The bothering lessons are over, the bothering schoolmaster she has said good-bye to. She has her latchkey and is "on her own." There are still some bothering rules about being in at twelve o'clock, and so many attendances each term at chapel. She is indignant. This interferes with her idea that life is to be one long orgie of self-indulgence, of pleasure. The college period will pass- -is passing. Woman will go out into the world, take her place there, discover that bothers were not left behind in the old schoolhouse, will learn that life has duties, responsibilities, will take up her burden side by side with man, will accomplish her destiny.

[Is there anything left for her to learn?]

Meanwhile, however, she is having a good time--some people think too good a time. She wants the best of both. She demands the joys of independence together with freedom from all work--slavery she calls it. The servants are not to be allowed to bother her, the children are not to be allowed to bother her, her husband is not to be allowed to bother her. She is to be free to lead the higher life. My dear lady, we all want to lead the higher life. I don't want to write these articles. I want somebody else to bother about my rates and taxes, my children's boots, while I sit in an easy-chair and dream about the wonderful books I am going to write, if only a stupid public would let me. Tommy Smith of Brixton feels that he was intended for higher things. He does not want to be wasting his time in an office from nine to six adding up figures. His proper place in life is that of Prime Minister or Field Marshal: he feels it. Do you think the man has no yearning for higher things? Do you think we like the office, the shop, the factory? We ought to be writing poetry, painting pictures, the whole world admiring us. You seem to imagine your man goes off every morning to a sort of City picnic, has eight hours' fun--which he calls work--and then comes home to annoy you with chatter about dinner.

It is the old fable reversed; man said woman had nothing to do all day but to enjoy herself. Making a potato pie! What sort of work was that? Making a potato pie was a lark; anybody could make a potato pie.

So the woman said, "Try it," and took the man's spade and went out into the field, and left him at home to make that pie.

The man discovered that potato pies took a bit more making than he had reckoned--found that running the house and looking after the children was not quite the merry pastime he had argued. Man was a fool.

Now it is the woman who talks without thinking. How did she like hoeing the potato patch? Hard work, was it not, my dear lady? Made your back ache? It came on to rain and you got wet.

I don't see that it very much matters which of you hoes the potato patch, which of you makes the potato pie. Maybe the hoeing of the patch demands more muscle--is more suited to the man. Maybe the making of the pie may be more in your department. But, as I have said, I cannot see that this matter is of importance. The patch has to be hoed, the pie to be cooked; the one cannot do the both. Settle it between you, and, having settled it, agree to do each your own work free from this everlasting nagging.

I know, personally, three ladies who have exchanged the woman's work for the man's. One was deserted by her husband, and left with two young children. She hired a capable woman to look after the house, and joined a ladies' orchestra as pianist at two pounds a week. She now earns four, and works twelve hours a day. The husband of the second fell ill. She set him to write letters and run errands, which was light work that he could do, and started a dressmaker's business. The third was left a widow without means. She sent her three children to boarding-school, and opened a tea-room. I don't know how they talked before, but I know that they do not talk now as though earning the income was a sort of round game.

[When they have tried it the other way round.]

On the Continent they have gone deliberately to work, one would imagine, to reverse matters. Abroad woman is always where man ought to be, and man where most ladies would prefer to meet with women. The ladies garde-robe is superintended by a superannuated sergeant of artillery. When I want to curl my moustache, say, I have to make application to a superb golden-haired creature, who stands by and watches me with an interested smile. I would be much happier waited on by the superannuated sergeant, and my wife tells me she could very well spare him. But it is the law of the land. I remember the first time I travelled with my daughter on the Continent. In the morning I was awakened by a piercing scream from her room. I struggled into my pyjamas, and rushed to her assistance. I could not see her. I could see nothing but a muscular-looking man in a blue blouse with a can of hot water in one hand and a pair of boots in the other.

He appeared to be equally bewildered with myself at the sight of the empty bed. From a cupboard in the corner came a wail of distress:

"Oh, do send that horrid man away. What's he doing in my room?"

I explained to her afterwards that the chambermaid abroad is always an active and willing young man. The foreign girl fills in her time bricklaying and grooming down the horses. It is a young and charming lady who serves you when you enter the tobacconist's. She doesn't understand tobacco, is unsympathetic; with Mr. Frederic Harrison, regards smoking as a degrading and unclean habit; cannot see, herself, any difference between shag and Mayblossom, seeing that they are both the same price; thinks you fussy. The corset shop is run by a most presentable young man in a Vandyck beard. The wife runs the restaurant; the man does the cooking, and yet the woman has not reached freedom from bother.

[A brutal suggestion]

It sounds brutal, but perhaps woman was not intended to live free from all bothers. Perhaps even the higher life--the skirt-dancing and the poker work--has its bothers. Perhaps woman was intended to take her share of the world's work--of the world's bothers.