Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1904
Source: New Age, p. 650, 13 October 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
It has been suggested by some of my readers that I should give them occasionally an article on “Love and Marriage” – a difficult order, it seemed to me, to execute in cold blood; for Eros is a mutinous babe of many moods, who has a habit of wriggling and smirching his rainbow wings when unsympathetic folk are trying to get him under the microscope, or when printers’ ink is flying about. In the nick of time, however, an unknown correspondent, whose anonymity shall be strictly preserved, was good enough to send me his views on the bringing up of girls, to the end that they should become evolved, conscious, and “the intellectual equal of the most highly cultivated men.” In other words, I take him to mean to prepare them for an equal – a consciously equal – and perfect union in marriage. My correspondent confesses to being a Celt; says that “it never enters into the head of an Irishman to regard women as inferior”; and tells me how “he has kept the education of his own daughter entirely in his own hands; taking care that her mind should never be disturbed lay popular superstitions, ..... and that she should not grow up in that semi-imbecile ignorance of the broad, facts of life which exposes women to be deceived by any low scamp, or by any sanctimonious humbug they may meet with.” The result of this most excellent bringing up, which I, like my correspondent, wish that every girl could receive is that this, young Irish girl is, on her father’s showing, “the intellectual equal of the most highly cultivated men, and the moral superior of nine men out of ten. Both men and women who become acquainted with her feel their inferiority and the higher their nature the more strongly they feel it.” Those who are good enough to follow my writings in this column, will, I feel sure; realise that my correspondent has my full sympathy in the secular and broad-minded education he has secured for his daughter, and my sincerest congratulations on the results achieved.
The point at which I can no longer join issue with my correspondent is when, later on in his letter, he exclaims: “No, my dear Madam, let us give up talking about men’s questions and women’s questions. There is but one question, the religious question.” (The religious question as my Celtic friend elsewhere explains, being anti-Clericalism.) I fear that with him a part – a very important part, I am willing to concede – bulks so large that he is unable to perceive the whole. Perhaps he will bear with me if, for the sake of showing some other sides of the great whole, and keeping to the front my original theme of Love and Marriage, I attempt to follow, with many misgivings of head and heart, the story of developed conscious girlhood on the threshold of love and marriage, as they present themselves in our still medieval form of society. I know her, it is true, to be safe in a panoply of Reason against the wiles of the low scamp, or those of the sanctimonious humbug; and I picture her, therefore, allowing her intellectual sympathies and her deepest affections to go out to the one man in ten who is her moral equal. New forces, new impulses, new beauties, open out around, her, for her nature is expanding, as does that of the flower to the irresistibly imperious call of life’s subtlest and sweetest passion. Brought up to reason, as well as to feel, to analyse and criticise, instead of to accept, she begins to enquire into the conditions of that married state in its present form of evolution, in which her and her lover’s budding passion is to find its season of blossoming and of fruitfulness. A strange and grotesque chaos of worn-out legal, ecclesiastical, and social superstitions is what meets her most simple and natural enquiries. Marriage laws are man-made, are based on man’s interests, and suit his convenience only. The Church, under whose auspices most people are married, says (so she discovers) that the marriage vow is equally binding on both parties; but the law of the land enacts (so she discovers as the result of further researches) that if she, after entering on the contract, breaks her vow, her husband can cast her off, separate her from the children born of her own body, and can publicly brand her with infamy in the Law Courts of the land. If, on the other hand, her husband breaks his marriage vow – aye, even if he breaks it again and again, she has no redress, she cannot divorce him, and she cannot remove her children from his influence. She will find that the marriage state into which present-day conditions of society invite her to enter, was founded neither on equal rights, nor on equal affections, but that, as Herbert Spencer puts it, “originally, the act of purchase was accounted the essential part of the marriage, and union in the name of affection was not essential. In the present day union in the name of the law is considered the most important, and union by affection as less important.”
If, then, the young girl, feeling herself the moral and intellectual equal of the man with whom she thinks of uniting her life and destinies, shrinks from entering on a contract which immediately puts her in a legally inferior position, and which, through its odious expression of “coverture,” denies the personality she has been taught to develop and express, is, such reluctance to be wondered at? Do not these enquiries immediately prove to her that there are women’s questions; and women’s interests, which must be first brought up to the same level as men’s before we can speak or write of there being but one question, and that question the religious one? My Celtic friend also says that “we must cease to regard women’s interests as apart from those of men.” How can we cease to regard them as apart, until men, as sole legislators, have made them one? That is the ideal of our women’s movement, the goal of our propaganda, that our interests should be no longer separated, but should be considered as one. But denying an unpleasant fact, or acting as if it did not exist, does not suppress the fact, or make it less malignant in its results! And the fact of (I quote from the Cheltenham Examiner of January, 1904, commenting on A.C. Plowden’s Autobiography of a Police Magistrate): “For the English wife there is no real partnership in worldly goods in marriage. Such is the condition into which Church and State have allowed marriage among the humbler classes to drift. The Church should either wake up to the situation or alter its highly figurative but untruthful marriage service; and women who have a care for the unhappy and injured of their own sex, should not rest until they have secured the Parliamentary franchise, so that the needs of women, as well as those of men; can claim the attention of members of Parliament.” Like my Celtic correspondent, we claim this in the name of the race, more even than in the name of women; for love and marriage under real and noble conditions can never become the heritage of the race till Woman can, in the Words of William Blake, with
“Her Brain enlabyrinth the whole heaven of her bosom and loins,
To put in act what her Heart wills.”
Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy begs me to correct in this week’s column part of my statement about Mr. Crooks’s Bill, which does not include the question of the eligibility of women to administrative bodies. Whilst on this subject, let me beg all my readers who wish to help us to write at once to their member of Parliament, urging him, if friendly to the question, to ballot in the first ballot of the Session for Crooks’s Bill. No later ballot is of any use, since only the first eight or nine places in the ballot give any real or practical chance for a private member’s Bill; and all available places for such Bills are filled up after the first ballot. Readers may find it useful to cut this “par” out, and keep it for reference when writing to their members.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.