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Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies . Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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“THESE lovely ladies and the like of them, are the very head and front of mischief; first because ... they have it in their power to do whatever they like with men and things, and yet do so little with either; and, secondly, because, by very reason of their beauty and virtue, they have become the excuse for all the iniquity of our days; it seems so impossible that the social order which produces such creatures should be a wrong one.”

—RUSKIN, Fors Clavigera, Letter 80.


In writing this preface for a translation of Mrs. Stetson’s “Women and Economics,” and in recommending the original to my Anglo‐Saxon readers, I am accomplishing the duty of a convert. I believe that “Women and Economics” ought to open the eyes, and, I think, also the hearts, of other readers, because it has opened my own, to the real importance of what is known as the Woman Question.

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I must begin by confessing that the question which goes by that name had never attracted my attention, or, rather, that I had on every occasion evaded and avoided it. Not in the least, however, on account of any ridicule which may attach to it. There is, thank goodness, a spice of absurdity in every person, and in every thing, we care for in this world; and the dear little old lady in Henry James’s “Bostonians,” who pathetically exclaims: “And would you condemn us to remain mere lovely baubles?” is the very creature to endear a cause: she is the Brother Juniper, so to speak, of the Woman Question.

My vague avoidance of the movement was not even due to the perception of some of the less enjoyable peculiarities of its devotees. For a very small knowledge of mankind, and a very slight degree of historical culture, suffice to teach one that it is not the well‐balanced, the lucid, the sympathisingly indulgent or the especially gracious and graceful among human beings who are employed by Providence for the attack and possible destruction of long‐organised social evils: nay, that martyrdom on behalf of any new cause begins, one may say, by the constitution of the martyr as an inevitable eccentric, unconscious of the diffidence, the scepticism, the sympathy, the sense of fitness and measure which check, divert, or hamper normal human beings. The early saints, judging by St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and the “Legenda Aurea,” must have been appalling prigs, indifferent to family affections, higher literature, hygiene, and rational cookery; while the Hebrew Prophets were quite devoid of their historian’s—M. Renan’s—intelligent indulgence for page: 265 the administrative passion of, say, Nebuchadnezzar, or the touching pleasure in toilettes of Queen Jezebel. And, as to Socialists, who may be considered as the modern representatives of such virtuous tactlessness, we have all seen something of them, and of their well‐meant efforts to clash with our habits of dress and manners, and to ruffle our feelings on trifling occasions. So that it does not require the generalising genius of Dr. Nordau, clapping Tolstoi and Ibsen into his specimen‐box of “Degenerates,” to tell us that the Woman Question, Feminism, is likely to be taken up by those disconnected and disjointed personalities who are attracted by every other kind of thing in ism; whose power consists a little in their very inferiority; and whose abnormal and often morbid “pleasure in saying ‘No’” (as Nietzsche puts it) is, after all, alas! alas! so very necessary in this world of quite normally stupid and normally selfish and normally virtuous “pleasure in saying ‘Yes.’” ...

All these things I knew, of course, and I do not really think it was any of them which made me thus indifferent, and perhaps even a little hostile, towards that Woman Question. Indeed, when I seek in the depths of my consciousness, I think the real mischief lay in that word “Woman.” For while that movement was, of course, intended to break down the barriers—legal, professional, educational and social—which still exist between the sexes, the inevitable pitting of one of these sexes against the other, the inevitable harping on what can or cannot, or must or must not be done, said or thought by women, because they are not men (women! women! everlastingly women!), produced a special page: 266 feeling, pervading, overpowering, unendurable (like that of visiting a harem or a nunnery), due to that perpetual obtrusion of the one fact of sex, while the other fact of human nature, the universal, chaste fact represented by the word Homo as distinguished from mere Vir and Femina, seemed for the moment lost sight of.

And somehow—if one is worth one’s salt, if one feels normal kinship not only with the talking and (occasionally) thinking creatures around one, but also with animals, plants, earth, skies, waters, and all things past and present; if one be able, as every decent specimen of genus Homo must, to join in Francis of Assisi’s “Laudes omnium creaturarum”—why, then, one feels a little bored, a little outraged, nay, even sickened, by this everlasting question of sex qualifications and sex disqualifications; and (very unjustly, but perhaps therefore very naturally) one gets to shrink from that particular question exactly because it is the Woman Question.

Very unjustly. let me repeat that; and remind the reader that what I am describing is my still unregenerate state.


My conversion to the importance of the Woman Question was, as I have said, the work of “Women and Economics”; and I was thus converted by Mrs. Stetson’s unpretending little book, because in it the rights and wrongs of Femina, das Weib, were not merely opposed to the rights and wrongs of Vir, der page: 267 Mann, but subordinated to those of what is, after all, a bigger item of creation: Homo, der Mensch.

There was nothing new in connecting the Woman Question with Economics. If I may judge by myself, the majority of people who know anything of Political Economy must be accustomed to regard such questions as marriage, divorce, prostitution, the legal position of mothers and fathers, and many of the peculiarities of law and custom with respect to the sexes, as hinging upon the facts of wealth production and distribution, tenure of soil, heredity and division of property; upon the whole immense question of the individual’s share in the products of nature, of invention and of industry. Indeed, I much suspect that, as in my case, many thinking persons shelve the question of women’s abilities and disabilities exactly because it seems to depend almost completely upon the far more important question of the redistribution of wealth; to demand only a minor act of social justice and social practicality (bringing much waste energy under cultivation) inevitably involved in the greater act of social justice and social practicality which, through revolution or evolution, must needs take place some day or other.

The originality, the scientific soundness and moral efficacy of “Women and Economics,” appear to me to lie in its partially reversing this fact; and in its substituting a moral and psychological reason for the rather miraculous mechanicalness which mars every form of the “historical materialism” of the Marxian school. In other words, this book shows that the present condition of women—their state of dependence, page: 268 tutelage, and semi‐idleness; their sequestration from the discipline of competition and social selection, in fact their economic parasitism—is in itself a most important factor in the wrongness of all our economic arrangements, in the insufficient production, the wasteful expenditure, the degrading mal‐distribution of wealth.

This main thesis of the book can be summed up as follows:

In consequence of the immense benefit which a prolonged stage of infancy, that is to say of intellectual and moral plasticity, obtained for the human race, all other advantages tended, during the beginnings of civilisation, and have tended ever since, to be sacrificed to the rearing of children; and, first and foremost there has been sacrificed to it that equality in the power of obtaining sustenance, and that consequent mutual independence in such matters, which we find existing between the male and female half of almost every other race of animal. The human race, as has been continually demonstrated (but, perhaps, nowhere so well as in the studies on the Play Instinct of Professor Karl Groos), has obtained much of its superiority through the partial replacing of instinct by individual experiment and conscious tradition; but this has meant that the human infant has been born into the world far less mature, far less typically developed, and far less near to independence than the young sheep which can walk within half an hour of its birth, let alone of the chick which can find the right seed almost as soon as it has broken out of the shell. In proportion as the human adult has become rich in page: 269 individual powers, has the human infant required a longer and longer period of tutelage; with the result of requiring. of the human mother a longer and longer devotion of her strength, her mind, and, even more, of her time, to the rearing of offspring. The difference between the female of genus homoand the female of other genera has therefore originated not in a longer period of gestation (for that of the horse, for instance, is nearly one‐third longer), but in a longer period of education of the young. The different position of the female whom we call Woman is due to a difference not in physiological but in sociological functions.

For the longer duration of human infancy, and, even more, the greater helplessness, the greater educability of the human infant, has made it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for the human mother to find food for herself, let alone food for her growing and already weaned child. Hence, the continuance of the human race has called forth a personage who (save among birds, so oddly like human beings in many things) can scarcely be said to exist among animals: the Father. The Father, as distinguished from the mere begetter; the pseudo‐father in many stages of primitive life (without ironical references to later stages of existence!), the uncle, the maternal male relative, the head of the tribe, the patriarch: the man who provides food for the child, and food for the woman who rears it; the man who procures, by industry, or violence, a home (cave, cabin, tent, or house) in which the woman remains with the children, while he himself goes forth to hunt, to tend flocks, to make captives, page: 270 to till the ground, to buy and sell; and in modern times to do those hundred curious things which, producing no tangible product, come under the heading of “making money.”

This all seems very simple; but the consequences are complex. The female homo, thus left to rear the children (and do what else she can), becomes, what the female of other animals is not, or only (in birds and certain lower creatures) for a very short time, the dependent of the male homo. The home which she inhabits is his home, the food she eats is his food, the children she rears become, whether father or only patriarch, his children; and, by a natural devolution, she herself, the woman thus dependent upon his activity and thus appropriated to his children’s service, becomes part and parcel of the home, of the goods, of the children; becomes appropriated to the nursing, the cooking, the clothing, the keeping in repair; becomes, thus amalgamated with the man’s property, a piece of property herself, body and soul, a slave (often originally a captive, stolen or bought), and what every slave naturally is, a chattel. By this process, therefore, we have obtained a primitive human group, differing most essentially from the group composed by the male and female of other genera: the man and the woman, vir ac femina, do not stand opposite one another, he a little taller, she a little rounder, like Adam and Eve on the panels of Mereling or Kranach; but in a quite asymmetrical relation: a big man, as in certain archaic statues, holding in his hand a little woman; a god (if we are poetical, and if we face the advantages of the case) protecting a human creature; page: 271 or (if we are cynical, and look to the disadvantages) a human being playing with a doll.


In his remarkable book, “Division du Travail Social” M. Emile Durkheim writes as follows:

“The female of those remotest ages was by no means the feeble being that she has gradually become as a result of increasing morality. Prehistoric bones make it quite plain to us that, in those earliest times, there was much less difference of strength than we find nowadays between the two sexes. And even now, we find that during childhood the skeletons of the male and female present but little difference; the characteristics being, on the whole, rather feminine. If, therefore, we admit that the growth of the individual reproduces, so to speak, on a small scale, the development of the species, then we may fairly conjecture that the same similarity between the sexes existed at the beginning of human evolution, and we may regard the feminine form as an approximation to that original single type of humanity, from which the masculine variety has gradually become differentiated.¹

¹ Readers who wish to find this question of the original predominance of the female discussed with more liberality of view than in the above quotation, should read (and for other reasons also) Mr. Lester Ward’s extremely suggestive volume on “Pure Sociology.” For the biological facts and theories consult Geddes and Thomson, “The Evolution of Sex.” Neither of these books has any practical bias.

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“As regards the highest organ of physical and psychical life, it has been shown by Dr. Lebon, with mathematical precision, that the brain of both sexes must have originally presented just such a degree of similarity. The comparison of a large number of skulls, selected among the most different races and civilisations, has led him to the following conclusion: that, if we compare individuals of the same age, of the same stature and weight, the brain of the male will be found considerably bulkier than that of the female; and that this inequality increases regularly with the increase of civilisation; in such a way that the brain and, therefore, the mind of the woman is constantly tending to differ, to her disadvantage, from the brain and the mind of the man. For instance, the difference found to exist between the average skulls of modern Parisians of the two sexes is almost double the difference which exists between the male and female skulls of the ancient Egyptians. A German anthropologist, Bischoff, has come to the same conclusions on this subject as Dr. Lebon. This anatomical resemblance is accompanied by similarity of function. For, in those early civilisations, the feminine functions are not sharply marked off from the masculine ones; on the contrary, the two sexes lead very much the same life. There are even nowadays a considerable number of savage races where the woman takes her share in political life. This has been remarked more especially among the American Indians, like the Iroquois and Natchez; also at Hawaii, where the female shares the life of the men in a hundred ways; also in New Zealand and Samoa. Similarly, it is not rare to find page: 273 the women accompanying their men on warlike expeditions, urging them on in the fray and even taking an active part in it. In Cuba and in Dahomey also they are as warlike as the men, and fight by their side .... Now, it is to be observed that, among all these peoples, the institution of marriage is extremely rudimentary .... We are acquainted with a type of family, comparatively near us in time, and which possesses only a germ, so to speak, of marriage: we allude to the maternal family .... In this, marriage, or what goes by the name of marriage, consists in but few obligations, frequently limited also in duration, which bind the husband to the wife’s relations .... Whereas, the further we advance, and the nearer we draw to modern times, the more also do we see marriage take on in complexity .... And it is certain that, at the same time, we find a greater and greater division of labour as between the two sexes .... For ages past woman has withdrawn from warfare and public business and concentrated all her activities within the limits of the individual family. And the part which she plays has become only more and more specialised; so that nowadays, and among civilised nations, the female leads a life absolutely different from that of the male. It is as if the two great halves of the soul’s life had become severed, and as if one of the two sexes had appropriated the emotional functions and the other the functions of the intellect.”

I am very glad to have been able to furnish my reader, instead of a précis of parts of “Women and Economics,” the above quotation on the subject of that equality of faculties and community of functions which page: 274 may (or may not) have originally existed between the two halves of genus homo, and upon that subsequent differentiation which resulted in what M. Durkheim has aptly and joyfully defined as a “stationary or even retrograde tendency” in the female skull. For, to such readers as have reason (perhaps owing to their superior knowledge) for giving much weight to similar statements about prehistoric civilisations; and to such readers also as feel that the fact of having possessed any particular desideratum in the past constitutes a better claim to its possession in the future, to both these classes of readers, it must be much more satisfactory to be assured of the original and primæval importance of womankind by M. Durkheim, who jubilates at the “stationnement et régression des crânes féminins” as a splendid argument in favour of thorough‐going division of labour, than to take it on the authority of Mrs. Stetson herself, who, of course, may be suspected of partiality for any hypotheses redounding to the glory of our earliest mothers.

I am also glad to have devolved, so to speak, the onus probandi of the original equality of male and female skulls, of the primitive similarity of habits, functions, and powers of the two sexes, and particularly the responsibility for that uncertain spectre, the “Matriarch,” on to an adversary of female emancipation; because I suspect that, in the undeveloped state of anthropology and prehistoric sociology, the alleged facts and cherished hypotheses of one day are sure to be upset the next. And also because I have a very strong feeling that the desirability of any particular thing in the future has nothing to do with its existence or non‐ page: 275 existence in the past; and that the question of the position of women, say, in the year 2000 A.D., will depend not upon the position of women in the year—well, the year 20,000 before the Deluge—but upon the condition of the world at large, the intellectual, moral, particularly economical state of men and women, in our own times. For to a believer in the principle of evolution, the nature, the fate, of an organ, a faculty, an institution, an art, a class or a sex, are a matter of adaptation to the condition of everything else which can affect it; the specialisation—even that “division of labour” which M. Durkheim places (instead of poor old happiness, long since dethroned) as the aim of all human effort—the social organisation we are all so proud of (marriage laws, private property, inheritance, army, bureaucracy, public instruction), have had, after all, exceedingly humble origins. Man himself—I will not say Homo Himself or Herself—has developed out of some very simple bit of slime; so why should the woman of the future require to prove so many quarterings, to demonstrate that she is of decayed nobility, to point to genealogical trees with a Matriarch at their root?


Thus, in my opinion, Mrs. Stetson’s truly valuable achievement consists in showing that the exclusion of women from the world’s activity and their subordination to men, have ceased to be either beneficial or inevitable, however beneficial and inevitable they may have been towards securing the lengthened infancy and page: 276 greater educability of human beings, and also the storage and increase of inventions and laws, thanks to a rigidly organised home. Mrs. Stetson has satisfactorily demonstrated (to me at least) that one particular automatic arrangement of social evolution has done its work: like slavery, like serfage, like feudalism, like monasticism, like centralisation (according to individualists), like capitalism (according to socialists), the subordination of women has served its purpose and now become an impediment to progress; an impediment which progress is therefore bound to sweep away. The childhood, the greater teachableness of genus homo can now no longer be endangered; and a large proportion of human education has, since thousands of years, passed from the care of the mother to that of the community as a whole, or of portions—guilds, priesthoods, universities, and so forth—of the community; while, on the other hand, the inventions and traditions have been stored, multiplied, and diffused far beyond the powers of family education. Civilisation is being impoverished by the paying off of a debt. It is time that debt should be cancelled. The benefit has long been secured beyond all possibility of loss; but the price is still being paid. Now what is this price? M. Durkheim and the sociologists of whom he is typical, have answered with complacent simplicity: “The stagnation and regression of the Female Mind.” Less easily pleased than these learned theorists, Mrs. Stetson has set about analysing the facts covered by their satisfactory little sentence, and demonstrating in detail what the “Stagnation and Regression of the Female Mind” implies. She has page: 277 shown that it means the removal of womankind from the field of action and reaction called the universe at large to the field of action and reaction called “the family circle”; the substitution, as a factor of adaptation and selection, of the preference of the husband or possible husband for the preferences, so to speak, of the whole of creation. In other words, the sequestration of the capacities of one half of the human race, and their enclosure inside the habits and powers of the other half of the human race. Briefly, a condition in which the man plays the part of the animal who moves and feeds freely on the earth’s surface; and the woman the part of the parasitic creature who lives inside that animal’s tissues. The comparison is exact; but we ought not to push the analogy to the point of considering the parasitism of womankind as the parasitism of a destructive microbe. The mischief lies not in the fact of parasitism (does not M. Durkheim assure us that all co‐operation is a form of parasitism, and the co‐operation of the woman absolutely requires her parasitism?), but in the fact that this parasitic life has developed in the parasite one set of faculties and atrophied another; atrophied the faculties which the woman had (or might have. had, even if in lesser degree) in common with the man, and developed those which were due to the fact of her being a woman.

Philosophers and others of M. Durkheim’s way of thinking will here interrupt in favour of those qualities thus developed; and insist that the distinctively feminine peculiarities are not a drawback, but a blessing. Of course some are. But even if we admit that chastity, maternal unselfishness, tender‐ page: 278 ness, gentleness, are due to woman’s dependent position (a theory invalidated by the coyness in courtship and the passion for their young of she‐animals, who are anything but dependent on their males), and if we add to these solid perfections, æsthetic graces which the æsthetic Greeks by no means viewed as especially feminine; even if we grant for argument’s sake that all the good in women is due to their parasitic status, this gain must be added to the main advantage resulting from “feminine stagnation and regression,” namely, the prolongation of childhood and the establishment of the family group, not deducted from the price at which it has been bought. And similarly, we must not let our Durkheim friends and adversaries argue as if these virtues would vanish off the earth if the position of women were changed. For, whatever their origin, they have become sufficiently common to both sexes for Buddhism and Christianity to have made chastity, mansuetude and unselfishness the basis of their ethical system, which means that even if women were to become spiritual facsimiles of men, they would still be exhorted to practise these virtues, or else that these virtues (as Nietzsche contends) are by no means so essential as M. Durkheim and other respectable sociologists take for granted. As it happens, Mrs. Stetson and I think that Buddha and Christ are nearer the truth in this matter than Nietzsche. But the qualities whose over‐development in women is the evil result of “stagnation and regression” are not commended by either Buddha or Christ or Nietzsche, and cannot, without much strain, be considered as virtues by any one. They are, at least in their un‐ page: 279 desirable preponderance, a part of the heavy price which all the above‐named virtues and desiderata have cost humanity in the past, a price which, in our opinion, humanity may as well stop paying in the future. Having, as I trust, made this point sufficiently clear, we may return to Mrs. Stetson’s analysis of that price, and inquire what has the race lost through feminine regression and stagnation, however indispensable this neat pair of abstractions may have proved in their day.

The first answer which arises in the mind is naturally a direct one: the work which womankind might have accomplished during those hundreds and hundreds of years if she had not had a man to work for her; the work which might have been given by two halves of the human race, instead of being given by one only. But here again we have need for a distinguo, though not a casuistic one. The woman did do work throughout that time. Not merely the essential work, direct and indirect, of rearing a new generation and, in a measure, keeping up the acquired standard of civilisation; but also the work, less essential indeed to the race, which enabled the man not merely to seek for food away from the home, but also to be as idle as he required (or at least as he liked) while in it. The woman, save among the exceptionally wealthy, has always been the chief domestic servant; and even nowadays she is so, to a greater or lesser extent. The woman, therefore, has worked; but—and here comes the subtle distinction on which the whole economic and sociological part of the subject reposes—she has worked not for the consumption of the world at large, page: 280 and subject to the world’s selection of good or bad, useful or useless, work; but for the consumption of one man and subject to that one man’s preferences. The woman has worked without thereby developing those qualities which competition has developed among male workers. She has not become as efficient a human being as her brothers; whatever her individual inherited aptitudes (and, as Mrs. Stetson aptly reminds us, women are, after all, the children of men as well as of women, and must, therefore, inherit some of their father’s natural powers), she has not been allowed to develop them in the struggle for life; but has been condemned, on the contrary, to atrophy them in forms of labour which can require only the most common gifts, since they are required equally of every woman in every family. Let us repeat this fact: womankind has not acquired that degree of bodily, mental, and æsthetic efficiency which can result only from the competition of such qualities, and from that professional education which is itself a result of competition. This, please observe, is not the view only of Mrs. Stetson and the persons in favour of female emancipation. M. Durkheim’s famous “stagnation and regression” of the female mind can mean only that women have become a great deal less competent than they either originally were, or than the favouring power of natural selection would have made them.

But this is by no means the whole of the price which the human race has had to pay for the needful “division of labour” between its two halves. Negatively, the position of women has prevented their developing certain of their possibilities; positively, it has forced page: 281 them to develop certain other of their possibilities. It has atrophied the merely human faculties, which they possess rudimentarily in common with men: it has, on the other hand, hypertrophied the peculiarity which distinguished them from man: hypertrophied their sex. There is one particular sentence in “Women and Economics” which converted me to the cause of female emancipation: “Women are over‐sexed.”


Women over‐sexed! Over‐sexed! There seems something odious and almost intolerable in that word. In the fact also—but odious and intolerable in a manner more subtle and more serious than mere scandalised modesty can ever understand. Let me try to explain the extreme importance of Mrs. Stetson’s thought. Over‐sexed does not mean over‐much addicted to sexual indulgence; very far from it, for that is the case not with women, but with men, of whom we do not say that they are over‐sexed. What we mean by over‐sexed is that, while men are a great many things besides being males—soldiers and sailors, tinkers and tailors, and all the rest of the nursery rhyme—women are, first and foremost females, and then again females, and then—still more females. It is a case for paraphrasing Danton; only that, alas! there is a considerable difference between “de l’audace, de l’audace et encore de l’audace” and “de la femme, de la femme, et encore de la femme,” which latter sums up the outspoken views of the Latin races, and the practice, alas! of the less page: 282 outspoken but more practical Teutonic ones. And here we touch the full mischief. That women are over‐sexed means that, instead of depending upon their intelligence, their strength, endurance, and honesty, they depend mainly upon their sex; that they appeal to men, dominate men through the fact of their sex; that (if the foregoing seems an exaggeration) they are economically supported by men because they are wanted as wives and mothers of children—that is to say, wanted for their sex. And it means, therefore, by a fearful irony, that the half of humanity which is constitutionally (and by the bare fact of motherhood) more chaste, less dominated by sexual impulses and thoughts, has unconsciously, and all the more inevitably, acquired its power, secured its livelihood, by making the other half of humanity less chaste, by appealing through every means, material, æsthetic and imaginative, sensual or sentimental, to those already excessive impulses and thoughts of sex. The woman has appealed to the man, not as other men appeal to him, as a comrade, a competitor, a fellow‐citizen, or an open enemy of different nationality, creed, or class; but as a possible wife, as a female.

This has been a cause of weakness and degradation to the man; a “fall,” like that of Adam; and, in those countries where literature is thoroughly outspoken, man, like Adam, has thrown the blame on Eve, as the instrument of the Devil. I am not alluding to the Fathers of the Church or to ascetic writers; but to the essayists, novelists, and dramatists who have taken their place in modern life, and who have merely restated, in language less allegorical, but by no means page: 283 more polite, the legend, or rather, alas! the sociological fact, of the death and damnation of man’s soul through woman.

This is, of course, particularly the case among our Continental neighbours, more outspoken than we upon all sexual questions, and unhampered by the thought of Thackeray’s Erubescent Young Person. The old, old story is repeated with slight variations from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche, and from Michelet to Dumas fils. I think it may be studied best in the works of this really very humanitarian though exceedingly amusing dramatist.

“Well, then,” asks Mme. Leverdet in his “Ami des Femmes,” “what conclusion have you come to as a result of your studies of womankind? You needn’t mind telling me, for I am a femme d’esprit.

“My conclusion,” answers De Ryons, the “Ami des Femmes”—“my conclusion is that Woman, such as she exists at present, is a creature entirely illogical, inferior, and harmful—‘un être illogique, subalterne et malfaisant.’”

The admirable preface of the play, and the whole tenor of the author’s works, show that the younger Duress is making use of the personage of De Ryons to speak his own innermost convictions, and that these are the convictions of a very sincere and very disheartened moralist. As such, they are well worthy of our attention; and—in the light of Mrs. Stetson’s words, “Women are over‐sexed”—ought to carry more weight than a whole cargo of “Woman Question” pamphlets. In the first place, Dumas fils is rebelling, with the mixed cynicism and enthusiasm of his moralist’s page: 284 nature, against the poetical lie, covering so much ugly prose, that “Love is enough.” Rebelling, that is to say, against the narrowing of that great word love down to a single one of its possible meanings; rebelling against the notion that the power of loving, of giving one’s self, body and soul, which is necessary for the efficacy and dignity of all human labour, of all human relationship, should be expended solely in the passion of a man for a woman. He sees and he preaches how small a part sex has a right to play in this big and complex world, how episodic a part in this wide and varied human life. And he sees that the danger and the evil come from what we have learned to call the over‐sexed woman, but which he calls, like every Frenchman, merely La Femme.

For he is himself that Femme’s first and foremost victim; he is hag‐ridden by that fearful neo‐Latin abstraction as in an inevitable reality. Similar in this to so very different a man as Michelet, Dumas describes La Femme as if she were a single and invariable type, and, moreover, also the type of a disease. It is altogether impossible to translate into English the particular words which either Michelet or Dumas (I forget which) has coined as expressive of the intimate nature of womankind. But in another place Michelet defines the object of his love and pity, of his very honest “Frauendienst”—as “la femme, toujours faible et souvent furieuse”—while Dumas has a less medical and much more amusing formula: “Ces charmants et terribles petits carnivores pour lesquels on se déshonore, on se ruine, on se tue, et dont l’unique préoccupation, au milieu de ce carnage universel, est page: 285 de s’habiller tantôt comme des parapluies et tantôt comme des sonnettes.”

Dumas, however, is not inferior to Michelet in physiological lore, particularly of the kind offered to the world by men of science rather hungry than scrupulous. In this preface of “L’Ami des Femmes,” we have a list of all the possible varieties of La Femme, with inventories of her peculiarities, from the lines in her hands to the shape and consistence of her calves, let alone the smoothness or crispness of hair, the flatness or sharpness of nose, the skin which is either always warm or always cold, and those curious olfactory details which prove that, so far as French writers are concerned, it is quite untrue that genus homo is inferior to the canine race in the faculty of scent. Physiologically and sociologically, Dumas believes unhesitatingly in the existence of La Femme. And believing in her as such, he sees in her a horrible danger to man’s moral progress; he sees her attack him, grapple with him, destroy him, in her capacity not of human being, of competitor, of enemy, but in her capacity of woman, of mistress or wife. Against this danger man must eternally struggle; the creature made in God’s image must be saved from this diseased piece of its own flesh. Man must diminish the power of woman by diminishing his own sensuality and folly. One feels all through this laughing cynicism a sort of priestly rage at the impossibility of finding out some better mode of continuing the race, at the impossibility of thoroughly getting rid of this constant disgrace and danger.

Meanwhile, there women are, and the only thing is page: 286 to be exceedingly wise and consistent and austere with them; not to be unjust or angry with their miserable nature, which is not any fault of theirs. Besides, and that is the worst of it, these sirens, these man‐destroying monsters, do everything to make themselves agreeable; these dangerous wild beasts are, alas! charming.


All this is, you will answer, mere literary exaggeration. There have been an enormous number of most useful women in the world, Mrs. Fry, Queen Elizabeth, Joan of Arc, the mother of the Gracchi; and, as a fact, it is these selfsame Latin countries, with all their filthy talk about La Femme, her ailments and powers, who bore us Anglo‐Saxons almost equally with their talk about the miraculous virtues of La Mère, who is, after all, only La Femme ... well, as the Latins would put it, when she is too old or too busy to be La Femme.

Doubtless. And it is not “Women and Economics,” nor I, its converted expounder, who give so inordinate an importance to the influence of the over‐sexed woman upon the moral cleanness, the chastity, of mankind; it is the very people, like Dumas, who believe, which we do not, in the universal existence and eternal duration of La Femme.

Mrs. Stetson has mentioned this aspect of the question, and I have followed her example, because it is certainly an important one. But Mrs. Stetson has page: 287 taught me to see that there is another aspect, more important by far. The fostering of vices, especially of vices so harmful to the race as those presided over by La Femme, is a very grave mischief; but vices, from their vicious nature, are more or less exceptional and tend to die out. And a far more serious evil consists in the wasting and perverting of virtues, the systematic misapplication of healthy feelings and energies. Now the chief point made by the author of “Women and Economics,” the point which, as it converted myself, ought to convert many others from indifference to the Woman Question, is concerned with the misapplication and waste of the productive energies and generous impulses of men, thanks to the necessity of providing not only for themselves and their offspring, but for a woman who has been brought up not as a citizen, but as a parasite, not as a comrade, but as a servant, or—well, consider the word even in its most sentimental and honourable sense—as a lover. The economic dependence of women (however inevitable and useful in the past) has not merely limited the amount of productive bodily and mental work at the disposal of the community, but it has very seriously increased the mal‐distribution of that work and of its products by creating, within the community, a system of units of virtuous egoism, a network of virtuous rapacity which has made the supposed organic social whole a mere gigantic delusion. Virtuous egoism, and virtuous rapacity; for it is virtuous on the man’s part, husband or intending husband, to sacrifice himself for another human being; and the consciousness of the virtue enables the sacrifice to be extended, with a clear con‐ page: 288 science, to the interests of the community at large. A man has to be first a good father and husband, and only afterwards, with such honesty as remains over, a good citizen.

“Such honesty as remains over! Sacrifice of the community to the wife and children!” you exclaim. “Why, this accusation of yours against the modern man and the modern woman is far more really dreadful than any of that French rubbish about La Femme and her victims!” Exactly so; and a great deal more important, because it is a great deal truer and more sweeping. The very fact of its truth not being recognised merely goes to prove how extraordinarily our moral sense in economic matters has been perverted (or has failed to grow), owing to the fact of the man having to supply the material wants and satisfy the caprices not only of himself, but of that “better”—or worse—self who sees the world only through his eyes, and damages the world only through his hands. It is not a question of cheating or robbing. I am not a collectivist; I believe no more in the rights of labour than in the rights of property; and I have no reason for supposing that the author of “Women and Economics” does so either. People’s moral obtuseness is, on the contrary, proved irrefutably by their always connecting the idea of dishonesty with such narrow and crass categories as cheating and robbery—cheating and robbery which can be practised only against individuals, and on very rare occasions; besides being severely, perhaps almost too severely, punished. What cannot be punished (but is on the contrary praised and admired, when successful) is exactly the chronic and page: 289 all‐pervading preference of the interest of the individual as against the interest of the community, the debasing of the standard of work and the quality of products. Now, this kind of dishonesty triumphs not merely in commerce and industry (perhaps almost least there, where most visible), but in all the professions which are exercised, and in many cases (bureaucracies of all kinds, civil and ecclesiastic, and who shall say how large a portion of our supposed necessary military system?) are kept in useless existence merely because men have to make a living. “Je n’en vois pas la nécessité”: the minister might make that simple answer to the unmarried parasite, office‐seeker, or journalist, or whatever he was; but no minister, however cynical, would dare to question the married man’s right—nay, his duty—to support his wife and family, or, more strictly, his wife.

I repeat: more strictly his wife; because it is, in reality, not the unborn children, or even the born children, who decide the “standard of living”; but the wife, extremely on the spot, and already accustomed both to a certain degree of expenditure as a reality, and, what is quite as important, to a certain expenditure as an ideal in the future. Even the poorest paupers contrive to rear offspring; and, by a melancholy irony, the greater part of the world’s most necessary work happens to be done by people “whose dear papa was poor,” as Stevenson makes the good little boy express it. No, no, it is not the children who ask for carriage horses, toilettes, and footmen, or (in more sordid spheres) for the Ibsenian “home for happy people,” with its one overworked drudge and page: 290 its preoccupation about the husband’s dinner. It is not even the children who clamour for nurse‐maids and governesses and expensive schools: it is the wife.


Tout cela a été fait pour casser,” remarks Nana, after one of her bouts of destruction. Reputable women do not, usually, while away a dull morning like Zola’s ingenuous courtesan; they do not set to tearing and smashing. But the only difference, very often, is that while the light lady destroyed in a couple of hours the product of many men’s and many months’ labour, the virtuous woman of the well‐to‐do classes, and of the classes (more numerous and important) aspiring or pretending to such well‐to‐do‐ness, alters, discards, throws away more gradually those objects which are no longer consonant with “what one has to have,” and whose continued use would therefore suggest the horrid thought that the family was not really well‐off; in eminently business countries the thought that the husband’s business was not thriving. “It is good for trade,” remark the more responsible among these ladies, unconsciously echoing a reflexion of that same Nana. It is good for trade: and so is a town being burnt down, or swallowed up by an earthquake, or washed away by a tidal wave. It makes room for more objects (dresses, crockery, furniture, houses, or human beings); but, meanwhile, you have wasted those that were already there, and all the labour and capital they have cost to produce.

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But the spirit of wastefulness is by no means the worst co‐relative among women of the spirit of rapacity, of “getting wealth, not making it,” as Mrs. Stetson luminously describes it, which the economic dependence of the wife develops (as a virtue, too!) in the husband. An enormous amount of the hardness in bargaining, the readiness to take advantage, the willingness to use debasing methods (such as our modern hypnotising advertisement system), the wholesale acceptance of intellectual and moral, if not material, adulteration of work and its products—corresponds in the husband to what is honoured as thrift, as good management, in the wife. It is more than probable that the time wasted, the bad covetousness excited, the futile ingenuity exercised by the women who crowd round the windows of our great shops and attend their odious “sales,” are really the result of a perverted possibility of virtue.

For the man’s virtue is to make money; the woman’s virtue is to make money go a long way. And, between the two virtues, we are continually told that a business house cannot give better wages and shorter hours because it would be “crowded out of the market”; and we are told also, by more solemn moralists still, that nations cannot do without war, lest they lose their “commercial outlets,” or fail to secure those they have not yet got.

Who can object? All these people are good husbands and good wives; the home is the pivot of our morality. And the most disheartening thing is, that all this is true.

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How do you propose to remedy it? By what arrangements do you expect to make the wife the economic equal of her husband, the joint citizen of the community?

I propose nothing, because I do not know. All I feel sure of is, that if people only want a change sufficiently strongly and persistently, that change will work out its means in one way or another. Which way? is a question often unanswerable, because the practical detail depends upon other practical details which the continuance of the present state of things is hiding from us, or even forbidding. And because, moreover, we are surrounded on all sides by resources which become available only in connection with other resources, and only under the synthetic power of desire. The lids of boiling kettles went on rising all through Antiquity and the Middle Ages; but the notion of using that expansive movement of steam could not occur until people had already got roads and mariners’ compass and mechanical mills, and until people were beginning to find stage‐coaches and sailing vessels and wind‐mills and water‐mills a little unsatisfactory. The integration of women as direct economic, and therefore direct moral and civic, factors in the community, is not a more difficult question than the question of the integration of the labouring classes into the real life of nations; and yet the “social question” will find, some day, its unexpected solution; and the “Woman page: 293 Question” will, very likely, have to be settled before that.

Have to be settled? I would have said “settle itself,” for that is more like my meaning, if it were not that I wish to insist that questions do not settle themselves satisfactorily, unless we wish and help them to do so. It is for the sake of such increase of wish for a change in the economic position of women, or, at all events, a diminution of the present very strong prejudice against such a change, that the discussion of ways and means appears, to me at least, principally useful. I do not agree with Mrs. Stetson’s suggestion of our eventually living in a kind of hotel, or at least dining permanently in a restaurant; but the discussion of such a plan, odious as it appears to me, is infinitely useful in accustoming us to the thought that some arrangement will require to be devised for delivering women from the necessities of housekeeping. I see some similar usefulness even in discussions about the future of women (including the possibility of that famous “third sex” which haunts the imagination of the Latin believers in La Femme), such as I. H. Rosny has introduced (I scarcely know whether as a joke or not) into his “Chemin d’Amour.” All these speculations, serious or frivolous, enthusiastic or cynical, serve to plough up the solid, sterile ground of our prejudices, and to expose our thoughts and feelings to the fertilising influences of time and chance.

Besides this fact, the one thing certain about the future of women is, surely, that they ought to be given, by the removal of legal and professional disabilities, a page: 294 chance, if not of becoming different from what they have been, at all events of showing what they really are. For one of the paradoxes of this most paradoxical question is precisely that, with all our literature about La Femme, and all our violent discussions, economical, physiological, psychological, sociological (each deciding according to some hypothesis of his immature science), as to what women must or must not be allowed to do, and what women must and must not succeed or fail in—we do not really know what women are. Women, so to speak, as a natural product, as distinguished from women as a creation of men; for women, hitherto, have been as much a creation of men as the grafted fruit tree, the milch cow, or the gelding who spends six hours in pulling a carriage, and the rest of the twenty‐four standing in a stable. Very excellent things, no doubt, and a great deal more useful and agreeable to man than a bitter‐berried thorn, or a she‐buffalo, or a wild horse of the pampas; but scarcely allowing us to judge, by what they at present are, of what their species must eternally and necessarily be.

One of the very great uses of Mrs. Stetson’s most useful book is to accustom those who can think, to think in terms of change, of adaptation, of evolution; to free us from the superstition that the present is the type of the eternal, and that our preferences of to‐day are what decide the fate of the universe. Woman—even letting alone La Femme—is, so to speak, the last scientific survival of the pre‐Darwinian belief in the invariability of types; Woman, I may add, is almost a relic of the philosophy of the Middle page: 295 Ages; for has not Woman an Essence, something quite apart from herself, an essence like the “virtus dormitiva” of opium (not always so tranquillising), an essential quality of being—well—being a woman?

One word more. There is a notion, founded in the main on the facts of a period of struggle, segregation of interests, and general uncomfortable transition, that if women attain legal and economic independence, if they get to live, bodily and intellectually and socially, a life more similar, I might say more symmetrical, to that of men, they will necessarily become—let us put it plainly, less attractive to possible husbands. Of course, if they have changed, they will no longer realise the ideal of gracefulness, beauty, and lovableness of the particular men who like them just as they are; but then those particular men will themselves probably no longer exist. Moreover, there is, undoubtedly, a certain co‐relation between the qualities of the two sexes, due to the fact, which we are all of us (not only M. Durkheim with his “division of labour”) inclined to forget, namely, that the woman is, after all, not merely the wife (since that noble word must be put to such mean use) of the man, but also his daughter, his sister, and his companion; and that, as such, he requires her to be not unlike, but like himself. There is, if we watch for it, a family resemblance, after all, between the men and women of the same country. I was very much struck, while at Tangier, by the fact that the husbands of those veiled and painted Moorish women were themselves so oddly like women in men’s clothes, those languid Moors lolling in their shops, page: 296 with black beards which looked almost as if they had been gummed on to their delicate white faces: the ultra‐feminine woman belonged, quite naturally, to the effeminate man. In a similar way, the “masculine” Englishwoman, fox‐hunting, alp‐climbing, boating, is the natural companion of the out‐of‐door, athletic, sporting, colonising Englishman; she has been taught by her big brothers during their holidays “not to be a muff”; she has learned to be ashamed of the things “the boys” would be ashamed of. And, living as I do equally among Latins and Anglo‐Saxons, I have got to guess that, if the Latins see a “third sex” in a portion of Anglo‐Saxon womankind, the Anglo‐Saxons, on the other hand, have a vague but strong feeling that a corresponding category might be found among the Latin males morally emasculated by belief in La Femme. For if manly be an adjective denoting certain virtues, and effeminate an adjective denoting certain weaknesses, you may be sure that the same civilisation, the same habits and preferences, will produce more of the one than of the other in all the members of a race, just because they do belong to the same race. The man makes the woman, and the woman (as Dumas and the believers in La Femme are the first to tell us) in her turn makes the man; woman in the image of man, man in the image of woman.

And since I have used the word image, and have alluded to the grace and beauty, or the gracelessness and ugliness, of the women of the future, let me remind Mrs. Stetson’s readers that it is just the most æsthetic, but also the most athletic and the most intellectual, people of the past which has left us those statues page: 297 of gods and goddesses in the presence of whose marvellous vigour and loveliness we are often in doubt whether to give the name of Apollo, or that of Athena.