Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1903
Source: New Age, p. 762, 26 November 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The Nineteenth Century for this month contains three highly interesting articles on women from three different points of view – to relating to women of the present day, and one relating to Italian women of the spacious days of the Renaissance. The very fact that a leading Review of the day gives such a large share to subjects specially related to women, and to their influence on social and intellectual questions of the past and of the present, is a healthy and suggestive sign of the times, as showing that women’s direct influence is permeating thought in more directions than one, and will before long permeate to an equal extent action. The first of the articles is by a man, Mr. K.B. Marriott Watson and has for its title “The deleterious effect Americanisation upon women.” The main argument running through Mr. Marriott Watson’s train of thought seems to be that women are growing less and less desirous of motherhood and even in many cases of wifehood. This near departure in the evolution of the feminine side of the human race Mr. Marriott Watson calls “Americanisation;” I should be inclined to suggest that it is only “Americanisation” in so far as the American race represents what is most advanced and evolved in modern civilisation. We may deprecate and deplore, or we may, on the contrary, admire American tendencies, American methods, and American aspirations; we may dub them materialistic, pushful, neurotic, or up to-date and admirable; but we cannot help in the long run adopting and following the lead which they are giving, because the whole trend of modern civilisation and development is in that direction; and where America leads we have sooner or later to follow. As a natural consequence of this American lead, we may expect to find that women, no less than men, will be infected with the new interpretation of life, and will hasten to avail themselves of the new values and sanctions that modernity reveals. Foremost among these values is doubtless self-expression; and the man, having found the possibility of it most keenly and satisfactorily in his business and public life, the woman is naturally making tentative efforts in the same direction; and it is these tentative efforts that arouse the ire of such thinkers as President Roosevelt and Mr. Marriott Watson.
It never seems to occur to either of these thinkers, or to others holding similar views, that the influence on women of several centuries of self-suppression of one of the fundamentally natural impulses may tend to make it easier for the twentieth century women to suppress or transmute the maternal desire, and to present the spectacle described in Mrs. Val Voorst’s book, The Woman Who Toils, in a passage which our present writer quotes “The factories are full of old maids; the colleges are full of old maids; the ball-rooms in the worldly centres are full of old maids. For nature obligations are substituted the fictitious duties of clubs, meetings, committees, organisations, professions, a thousand unwomanly occupations.” I must protest, “en passant,” against the use of the term “old maid;” a woman between 30 and 40 is no more an old maid than a man between 30 and 40 is an old bachelor. Mrs. Van Voorst wished no doubt to put a sting in the tail of her accusation against women, and fell back on that unworthy and now valueless reproach, “Old maidism.” Fortunately, the word has now lost its terrors; for the poor, diffident, dependent of the Victorian era has blossomed out into the economically independent bachelor woman of the present century, who is prepared to take her time, to look about her and to choose her mate instead of, as formerly, accepting gratefully the first man who condescended to ask her in marriage. This appears to be the principal quarrel that Mr. Marriott Watson has with what he terms the Americanised woman; for his taste she is too cold and virtuous; not anxious enough to enter irresponsibly into a legal bond in which most of the penalties are on her side, most of the liberties on the side of the man; for as Mr. H.G. Wells has the frankness to confess, “few men are born with a passion for monogamy.” Mr. Marriott Watson in his enthusiastic desire to recall women to a sense of their duties surely oversteps in his teaching the bounds of prudence, and if women take him seriously and listen to his syren voice, we may expect rapid developments in the sexual code of ethics. “That the human spirit,” he writes, “should vibrate with passionate human feeling, and fall, is to me, I confess, more estimable than that it should starve of coldness in virtuous orthodoxy.” Surely this is a different voice from that of the Jehoval thunder, and the creed of the early Church Fathers to which women have listened and bowed their heads during long, long centuries! But perhaps Mr. Marriott Watson only addresses himself to women in the mass, and not to the women in particular with whom he is concerned. I have often noticed the men make a subtle difference between “my wife, daughters, and sisters” and other men’s wives, daughters, and sisters.
This article, by Julia M. Ady, is most interesting and useful as throwing light on many vexed questions of to-day, and bringing into focus matters which might otherwise, by their too pressing nearness, bulk over largely in our imaginations. One has quite a warm sisterly glow when reading of these dear creatures of Italian Renaissance times. They are so nearly akin to us, some humanly like us poor women of the present day, especially, we are told, “in their determination to have a good time.” Naturally the circle of ladies who were determined to indulge in that desire was much more restricted than it is nowadays, when steam, electricity, and automatic piano players spread their blessings of civilisation not only through halls and palaces, but through villa and cottage! We gather, however, from the article that though card-playing (“flusso” was the name of the “bridge” of that period), gardening, and the preparation of cosmetics were the principal occupations of their leisure hours, their life possessed a more strenuous side; for Isabella d'Este read Cicero and Virgil from her earliest years, and most of her contemporaries in her own class of life were classical scholars who did not leave their classics behind them in the schoolroom, but found their Greek and Latin authors a source of solace and culture during the full and stirring years of after life.
The third article on “Women in the Medical Profession” I shall hope to notice next week.
Dora B. Montefiore.