Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1905
Source: New Age, p. 506, 10 August 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
What possible connection can there be between my remarks last week anent Queen Alexandra’s speech, calling on women to organise and help more efficiently our soldiers wounded in battle, and this question of the cotton crisis, which today culminates in a notice from the Employers’ Association to the Operative Spinners’ Association to the effect that there will be a reduction in wages of 5 per cent.? Why this connection? That there are other wars than those provoked by militarism; that there is industrial warfare, in which the suffering is prolonged and terrible, and in which the list of maimed, killed, and wounded mounts up to thousands and tens of thousands. That in this present case of reduction of wages, thousands of operatives, the majority of them women, will be affected, and that, as a strike seems inevitable, those women will need help and generous help from their more well-to-do sisters. This is a way in which solidarity amongst women can be most effectually shown, this helping financially of industrially organised women over difficult times. We are getting splendid help from these women in our agitation and propaganda for political equality of opportunity with men; let us not forget that it is in our power to repay in art that debt by quick and generous help in time of strike. Women’s Trade Union organisations are formed always under the greatest difficulties, and those members who persist represent the survival of the fittest (as unionists) amongst their class. Trades unionism is the woman factory operative’s school wherein she learns the nature of public institutions, their uses and necessities, as also how to defend her rights, and remedy her wrongs. Organised women workers have evolved to the stage not only of speaking for themselves collectively, but they have also sufficient individual development to speak collectively through a representative. If the present crisis develops unfortunately into a strike, we can trust the organised women workers of the North to prove their intelligent solidarity with labour. Will the middle and upper class woman prove her intelligent solidarity with womanhood?
I have been very gently called to task by a dear friend, whose opinion value very highly, for having recommended to my readers Miss Robins’ novel, The Dark Lantern; and have been referred to Mrs. Mona Caird’s criticism of the novel in question, in the July number of the Fortnightly. I have read the criticism, which is headed “The Duel of the Sexes,” but which deals for the greater part with an unregenerate article by Lucas Malet. Barely two pages are devoted to criticism of Miss Elisabeth Robins’ book, and I must confess that the perusal of those two pages has left me unrepentant as regards my recommendation to my readers. The book gave me intense pleasure as a work of art (I am not denying, there are, towards the end specially, one or two faults of taste), as a cleverly worked out study of character, and as a brave attempt to reflect a special phase of suffering and stultification that many women undergo as a result of sex repression. I fail altogether to put myself in the position of those people who judge a work of art dogmatically, because of what some of the characters say and do, or fail to say and do. It seems to me that as it takes many men and women to make a world, so it takes many men and women of different shades of thought, and of various temperaments, to make an interesting novel. I fail to see that the modern neurotic, spoilt, over-luxuriously tended and sheltered Katherine of Miss Robins’ story is a modern version of the Patient Griselda of mediaeval fiction. Katherine’s was a “free union” and, as such she, had grasped for herself, and could have made use of, had she chosen to do so, the equality of opportunity which the law denies to her more conventional sisters. I am not forgetting the fact that the couple were married eventually; but Katherine needed to justify to herself spiritually, as well as legally, the step she had taken. Given these factors in the inner drama that was being played out between the couple, it was not meekness, such as that of Griselda, that inspired Katherine’s tolerance of conditions that would have been otherwise unbearable, but pride, intense, scorching but adorably admirable pride, such as is only possible in a nervous, high-strung, exquisitely sensitive temperament, like hers. She loved and she needed to justify her love, not only to her friends, but to herself. Her keen, poetic imagination did not hide from her inner vision the failings of the man she loved; but she possessed a store of that imagination large enough to teach her that his virtues outweighed his failings, and that exterior ruggedness might be fused and melted away in the steady flame of friendship and understanding. Miss Robins, if I understand her aright, never was inartistic enough to wish to make Katherine stand as representative for her sex, but only as a type just as Ibsen depicted Nora and Hedda Gabbler as types. Once having created a type, the author must make him or her speak and act according to their temperament and character and the story must unfold on those lines. It does not follow – and it appears too simply elemental to need explanation, that it cannot follow – that the author, who is the interpreter only does not endorse every sentiment and every action which he describes. Life would be dull indeed if everyone agreed dogmatically, and novels, which should be the reflection of life, must, to be interesting, represent its every facet and phase. We can take our social, economic and political opinions in pre-digested tabloid form every morning in our halfpenny daily; but our mental and spiritual needs call for the strong meat of life, and its sauce piquante – Art.
If the House of Cecil cannot point to a recent record of a wise constructive policy, at least it can pride itself on its destructive capabilities During Friday’s discussion on the Unemployed Bill, Mr. Gerald Balfour moved to strike out of one clause the words sanctioning the use of rates for the payment of labour carried on by the unemployed in farm colonies. Keir Hardie protested against the change to be made in the Labour Bill as illogical, and remarked, “if Parliament realised how charity stank in the nostrils of the working classes, it would not assent to such an amendment.” Lord Hugh Cecil and the Prime Minister then spoke in support of the amendment, which, in spite of Keir Hardie’s statement that a penny rate in the pound would cover the expenses of wages, and Will Crooks’ argument that in a short time these farm colonies would be self-supporting, was carried by 182 against 108. I hope the workers won’t forget how Lord Hugh Cecil stated in Parliament that the payment of labour out of public money would be demoralising; and that the professional unemployed would then be as common as the professional writer of begging letters. Neither must the working woman forget that Keir Hardie moved “that the word workman should include workwomen, any law or usage to the contrary notwithstanding.” The women’s industrial and political champion was assured that the word workman did include workwoman; so when the farm colonies are established I hop, unemployed workwomen will not be backward in their demands for work.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.