« AnteriorContinua »
champions. · Three of the most impas- these writers; and, with their boundless sioned and inspired of the female writ- faculty of adaptation, they undertook ers of northern Europe ended their to develop upon their own account the days by suicide. Others found againprinciples and theories by them set after long wandering, their road to Da- forth. I have seen, visited, talked with mascus, and embraced in the end the
many of them-these women with woman's true vocation of wifehood and whom their ‘rights' have become a tic, motherhood." Among these last was who opened wide their exquisite, conMme. Edgren-Leffler, who had been fiding and, often, truly simple and the standard-bearer of feminine eman- childlike hearts to Stuart-Mill and cipation as Björnsen was its prophet, Bebel. Conscientiously, and with all and who, in the words of Mme. Mar- their might, they set about de-feminizholm, “renouncing the artifices of the ing themselves at their orders. Unfor. past, and scorning the ambition to win tunately, the two distinguished and inhearts, in the character of an attractive trepid authors in question had forgotwoman, was resolved to conquer and ten one thing in their bold and striking convince in that of a clever woman. argument, and that one thing She condemned her sex's old-fashioned woman herself! But the woman, with aspiration to cajole by her personal her eternal susceptibility to suggestion, graces, and considered herself called to submits instinctively to the man, be he command consideration by what she theorist, agitator, or mere pedant. She did. Her mind had been formed in the conforms to his wishes, and is feminine school of Mill and Spencer.”
or unfeminine, as he requires. Beloved In the opinion of Mme. Marholm, it guides and masters, we beseech you to is the sociologues and sociologists of cherish fewer illusions yourselves and our time, such as Mill and Bebel, who to impart fewer to us! Your two faare chiefly responsible for these mous books are excellent, instructive, cesses. An indignant and sarcastic progressive works! The only trouble spectator of the follies of Scandinavian 'with you is that you know nothing Feminism, and of their echo in Ger- about women! Your writings contain many, where she now lives, she has a little of everything except that living published in the course of the last few spark which reveals the man to the years a series of very remarkable woman, and the woman to the man. works, which are at once a
You can make women exactly what alarm at the imprudences of the pres- you please-Amazons or rational beent, and a warning and admonition for ings or ecstatic saints, prodigies of the future. “There are”-according to learning or idiots, mothers or maids; Mme. Marholm-"two works on wom- for we obey your slightest gesture, and an's rights equally celebrated and de- it is the essence of our nature to follow serving of celebrity. One is 'The Sub- you anywhere. But though it seems jection of Woman,' by John Stuart good to you to exercise authority Mill; the er, Bebel's 'Woman and over us, the fact of that authority is Socialism.' Both bear witness to the neither so fortunate nor so unfortunate profound and accurate knowledge of a one for us, as you fondly imagine. their authors, and to their courageous What you regard as our happiness is desire to do good. But what, in not our happiness. What you consider Heaven's name, have women to do with our misfortune is not our misfortune. such treatises--and what is it that they If man has usually oppressed woman, have actually done? They began by woman, on the other hand, has usually assiduously modelling themselves upon controlled man. ... The recognized
legal obligations of man to woman, and pion of the rights of the lower orders of woman to man are mere palliatives observes: "The stilted and affected wrifor those cases in which the true fusion tings of Mme. Laura Marholm aim so has not taken place. They are, more- wide of the mark, that it is hardly posover, futile in the end, because in this sible to take her seriously, in spite of question, which is the most central of her success in the masculine world." all, it is the instinct of choice which There is some excuse for the bitterness must decide. Here the code is silent of this last remark, for not only has because it is powerless. Men are not masculine criticism in general been made of wood as John Stuart MIII most favorable to the daring theories seems to claim, and the ideal relation of Mme. Marholm, but it has even between the sexes does not consist in hailed her, upon occasion, as the author holding high-toned conversations with of a quite novel philosophy of the a woman."
feminine, making only a few reservaThese ironical passages represent tions with regard to the excesses of her fairly enough Mme. Laura Marholm's ruthless polemic. attempt to organize a reaction, and But no honest adversary of our augive the watch-word of her crusade thor, whether man or woman, can deny against certain doctrines, the shocking her claim to consideration as an origiextravagance of which affords a kind nal and penetrating thinker, with a of excuse for the inverse exaggerations keen intellect and a brilliant and picwhich we find in her own work.
turesque style. Being herself a fiery antagonist and Let us then endeavor to trace the main a pitiless critic, Mme. Marholm has, of outlines of that mocking countenance course, excited no little animosity in of which the features are so essentially her turn. Women who work in the German, but which owes to a strain of thick of the fight have been stupefied Scandinavian blood something which to behold one of themselves--and a re- is rather French in its prevailing ex. doubtable champion, too-going over pression-the physiognomy of a woman into the masculine camp, horse, foot whose writings are more captivating to and dragoons. “Treason!" was the cry the Latin mind than any contribution which arose from all sides and rang to the ethical literature of Germany round the footsteps of the deserter. has been for many years.
Mme. Minna Cauer, a member of the fashionable world, but also the patron- It is well, in the first place, to insist ess of many social movements, in- strongly on the fact that the entire litvoked the memory of Rahel von Varn- erary activity of Mme. Marholm is best hagen. “What would that exquisite summed up in the single word reaction. creature have thought of the theories Now a reaction of any kind is sure to of a Mme. Marholm, who seems to ad- have certain healthful and useful qualimit the existence of but one motive ties, for it is always born of some form in the life of a woman, and that a sen- of excess, and its first object is to point suous one?”
out abuses. Usually, however, the re“From all the aspirations which are action also overshoots the mark, exagpossible to humanity," writes another gerates in its turn, and is in danger of learned lady, Mme. Lily Braun, “this arresting such progress as has been woman distils the carnal element, and made upon the opposite side. It is shows us her heroines all alike ab- well, therefore, to listen with deference sorbed in the pursuit of that order of to the arguments of our author, but sensations;" while yet another cham- also to keep cool and not suffer our
selves to be borne away on a stream of over-audacious conclusions. To employ a Hegelian form of speech, which does not seem out of place in the present instance, we may say that if Feminism is a thesis, the religion of instinct proclaimed by Mme. Marholm is its antithesis, and it remains for the good sense of the public to formulate the synthesis which will reconcile the contradictory excesses of the two rival doctrines.
Observe, moreover, that the traits which we are endeavoring to combine into a single silhouette are scattered almost at random about the writings of Mme. Marholm, who by no means piques herself upon her logical consistency, and follows for the most part the mere guidance of her own fancy. Let us try, however, as best we may, to collect the dispersed elements of her moral portrait, noting first the feature which first strikes the eye.
That predominant feature is a passion for psychology. Mme. Marholm loves to interrogate both souls and books, and to track and capture the se. crets of the human conscience in careless conversations no less than in elaborate treatises. No type of womanhood in all our disjointed and distracted epoch has eluded her piercing eye, and after an exceedingly spirited and bril. liant enumeration, embracing no end of contemporary feminine varieties, she somewhere adds, "In all these multitudes there is not a face which I do not recognize, not one apparition which appears to me strange. I have seen, examined, read them all, as no man can ever see, examine and read. I have been the recipient of such confidences as women make only to women-confidences of which the import lies far deeper than the glance of free-masonry which we give one another when we decipher that hidden writing, just as illegible to the learned as to the ignorant, in which the most refined no less
than the coarsest women naturally express their innermost sensations. Whereas men, whether stupid or intelligent, stand open-mouthed and utterly baffled before these mysterious indications. I know all these women and all the details of their history-both those which they have confessed and those which they have concealed, and those which they have attempted to show me in a false light. I know all this, because I am a woman like themselves and belong to the same epoch."
“I derive the highest pleasure from reading the modern writers, not for what they actually say, but for what they are quite unable to conceal. Their books are the history of their inner lives. . Their inner history is written in their books. You turn a book over carelessly, you read twenty lines, but in the movement and tonality of those twenty lines you feel the beat of the pulse, and the temperature of the blood. As a nice ear can detect a single false note amid the din of the orchestra, so a keen psychological instinct can separate through the most finished poetical execution the sincere from the fictitious, can detect the passages where the author has been strongly moved and those where he has merely simulated warmth, can snatch from the actual temperament of the writer the mask assumed in vain, can decide, in fine, how much is pure metal and how much a vulgar alloy, whereby the artist dupes himself no less than he deceives his hearers."
The very tone of these remarks, the careful selection of words to fit the writer's meaning, would suffice to give the peculiar shade of Mme. Marholm's psychology and the ground on which she elects to exercise her talent.
Her passion is to investigate the innermost recesses of our nature, the fundamental strata of instinctive life, the facts which are ordinarily revealed
only in the most fleeting and unconscious manner-all that, in fact, which modern Christian civilization has endeavored to suppress, even while striving to refine it.
Hers is a delicate and difficult attempt, nor does she, by any means, always acquit herself satisfactorily, chiefly because she is so often inclined to exaggerate the importance of her own investigations. But the attempt of Mme. Marholm is also within certain limits an important and a fruitful attempt; and the region where she works is one where there has been very little methodical exploration; at least, in the way of that historical and literary criticism where Mme. Marholm specially shines. In the field of imaginative literature her rivals are more numer
outbreak of the Revolution; he made a place in letters for the feelings of the plebeian toward the great lady. This man was a sport-one of those phenomena of native perversion, who have more than once exercised an occult and mysterious influence over the direction of human thought and evolution. In the presence of a woman he could never feel simply like a man. He felt like a slave-a being who has been humiliated and chastised. He had no choice but to place woman on a pinnacle far above himself, and there mingled with his amatory sensations an impression of maternal tenderness. It was thus that the 'superior woman' made her entrance into romantic literature, Jean Jacques's influence being all-powerful at the moment of the revival of letters in Germany."
But we must check the tendency to quote, for it is not our purpose to go on multiplying instances of Mme. Marholm's audacity in speech. We prefer to pass lightly over these and to confine ourselves to an inquiry into her convictions and principles.
We have said that the word reaction best expresses the general tendency of her work, and we shall find her at once a reactionary from the social point of view-for she deeply regrets the tone and turn of mind of the women of the past; a reactionary in religious matters, since, though a Protestant in a Proteg. tant country, she does not conceal her partiality for Catholicism, and her preference for the Catholic ideal of woman; a reactionary, finally, in her intellectual and moral preferences, for she despises refined culture, discourages reading altogether, and endeavors, in all matters, to render her sisters obedient to that voice of instinct which she regards as the natural counsellor of her sex. Let us note the progressive stages of her thought on these three different lines.
Mme. Marholm envies the existence
Mme. Marholm fears nothing, and the liberties which she takes are great; yet one is always inclined to forgive her audacities of speech, for the sake of a certain healthful quality in them and an evident good intention which disarms criticism. If she sometimes esaggerates the value of her discoveries in regions which are seldom explored, sh: sometimes makes discoveries, too, wbich she utilizes in a masterly way. For one who is familiar with the strange introduction to Rousseau's "Confessions," for example, what flash of illuminating criticism there is in the following little bit of analysis:
“Rousseau was the writer who first introduced into literature the figure of man on his knees before woman. It was he who first preached the faith in woman's essential superiority; in her virility, so to speak, or, at least, her virile qualities. There were psychological and even physiological reasons for this attitude of his, as we learn from the 'Confessions.' Rousseau-an artisan and a thorough plebeian-opened the way into literature for that new social class, which blossomed on the
of our great-great-grandmothers. The her healthful conception of life. That very look of their portraits as they hang life glided away into a kind of a half on the walls of our museums fills her slumber; in which events were rare and with a glow of admiration, and excites requirements few. Our ancestors of feelings of unfeigned regret. Those both sexes thanked God when they pictures speak straight to her soul. were not unhappy. Misfortune, in Those tranquil matrons over whose lips their eyes, was something positive; a discreet smile hovers perpetually while happinesss bad a comparatively are, above all things, wives and moth- negative character; and one was happy ers. Their prevailing expression bears if one had no pronounced causes for diswitness both to the conscientiousness tress. To-day, on the contrary, the cravof the artist, and the complete absence ing for personal happiness, individualof coquetry in the sitter. We quote the ized, many-hued, and, above all things, concluding phrase only of the minute protracted, chants its hymn in millions study which Mme. Marholm devotes to of souls. It is never confounded with the characteristics of these portraits, transitory enjoyments and mere sensawith their ample waists and modestly- tions. "What is wanted is that pecuveiled busts:
liar and enduring satisfaction with one“In sacred and profane art alike it self and in oneself," which induces a is the function of motherhood which sort of slow, perpetual blossoming. For determines the type of the feminine nowadays men and women live intenseideal."
ly all the time; while formerly intensity
was the exception, and monotony the But the general aspect of these wit- rule. nesses to the past is profoundly modi- In those happy days, if we are to befied by the triumph of the principle of lleve Mme. Marholm, a woman was no absolutism; and, with it, of the modern more exacting about men than she was spirit. The portraits of the last cen- about destiny. Her husband was hardtury are no less significant than those ly, to her, a distinctly-defined personof the middle ages. The sole mission ality. Those ancestresses of ours rarely of the feminine form is now to charm, called their husbands by their first and the child no longer appears as the names, or by any endearing diminutive, natural blossom of maternity. A faint- but rather by the surname or family ly-sweet and tantalizing smile has re- name, and often merely by that simple placed the serene, innocent and repose- word which defines the sex in Gerful expression of former days. It is many-Mann-My Man. The woman the upper part of the figure which is never regarded her husband as someunduly developed and predominates thing belonging to her, but as something over all the rest. Woman is already upon which she was dependent; an intainted. At the end of the eighteenth carnation of race and of sex-a being century we find her perched upon ab- separated from herself by distance and surdly high heels, balancing, like a tow- mystery; a symbol not understood, but er of Babel, her be-feathered and be- before which the feminine creature ribboned coiffure, transformed into a must bow. Life for those women was creature of impulse and caprice-a doll, neither a game of chance, nor a joint but a dangerous one.
account, nor an experiment bound, in Now history teaches us that the grave most cases, to fail. "It was an impeneand calm aspect which distinguishes trable rite, performed above one's head, the counterfeit presentments of the which one attended in a spirit of reverelder woman corresponds perfectly to ential awe, and with an unceasing en