Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title:      A Room of One's Own
Author:     Virginia Woolf
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0200791.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     ASCII
Date first posted:          October 2002
Date most recently updated: October 2002

This eBook was produced by: Col Choat

Production notes: 
              Italics in the book have been converted to upper case.
              Accented characters have been retained.
              Notes inclued in the book are included within square
                brackets [] within the text or at the end of the paragraph.

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      A Room of One's Own
Author:     Virginia Woolf





A ROOM OF ONES OWN

[* This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society at
Newnharn and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too
long to be read in full, and have since been altered and expanded.]



ONE



But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction--what,
has that got to do with a room of one's own? I will try to explain. When
you asked me to speak about women and fiction I sat down on the banks of
a river and began to wonder what the words meant. They might mean simply
a few remarks about Fanny Burney; a few more about Jane Austen; a
tribute to the Brontės and a sketch of Haworth Parsonage under snow;
some witticisms if possible about Miss Mitford; a respectful allusion to
George Eliot; a reference to Mrs Gaskell and one would have done. But at
second sight the words seemed not so simple. The title women and fiction
might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are
like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it
might mean women and the fiction that is written about them, or it might
mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want
me to consider them in that light. But when I began to consider the
subject in this last way, which seemed the most interesting, I soon saw
that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be able to come to a
conclusion. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the
first duty of a lecturer to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget
of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on
the mantelpiece for ever. All I could do was to offer you an opinion
upon one minor point--a woman must have money and a room of her own if
she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great
problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction
unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these
two questions--women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned,
unsolved problems. But in order to make some amends I am going to do
what I can to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and
the money. I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as
I can the train of thought which led me to think this. Perhaps if I lay
bare the ideas, the prejudices, that lie behind this statement you will
find that they have some bearing upon women and some upon fiction. At
any rate, when a subject is highly controversial--and any question about
sex is that--one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how
one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one's
audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the
limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction
here is likely to contain more truth than fact. Therefore I propose,
making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you
the story of the two days that preceded my coming here--how, bowed down
by the weight of the subject which you have laid upon my shoulders, I
pondered it, and made it work in and out of my daily life. I need not
say that what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an
invention; so is Fernham; 'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who
has no real being. Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be
some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and
to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping. If not, you will of
course throw the whole of it into the waste-paper basket and forget all
about it.

Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by
any name you please--it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on
the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in
thought. That collar I have spoken of, women and fiction, the need of
coming to some conclusion on a subject that raises all sorts of
prejudices and passions, bowed my head to the ground. To the right and
left bushes of some sort, golden and crimson, glowed with the colour,
even it seemed burnt with the heat, of fire. On the further bank the
willows wept in perpetual lamentation, their hair about their shoulders.
The river reflected whatever it chose of sky and bridge and burning
tree, and when the undergraduate had oared his boat through the
reflections they closed again, completely, as if he had never been.
There one might have sat the clock round lost in thought. Thought--to
call it by a prouder name than it deserved--had let its line down into
the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the
reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it
until--you know the little tug--the sudden conglomeration of an idea at
the end of one's line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the
careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how
insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good
fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one
day worth cooking and eating. I will not trouble you with that thought
now, though if you look carefully you may find it for yourselves in the
course of what I am going to say.

But however small it was, it had, nevertheless, the mysterious property
of its kind--put back into the mind, it became at once very exciting,
and important; and as it darted and sank, and flashed hither and
thither, set up such a wash and tumult of ideas that it was impossible
to sit still. It was thus that I found myself walking with extreme
rapidity across a grass plot. Instantly a man's figure rose to intercept
me. Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a
curious-looking object, in a cut-away coat and evening shirt, were aimed
at me. His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than
reason came to my help, he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the
turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed
here; the gravel is the place for me. Such thoughts were the work of a
moment. As I regained the path the arms of the Beadle sank, his face
assumed its usual repose, and though turf is better walking than gravel,
no very great harm was done. The only charge I could bring against the
Fellows and Scholars of whatever the college might happen to be was that
in protection of their turf, which has been rolled for 300 years in
succession they had sent my little fish into hiding.

What idea it had been that had sent me so audaciously trespassing I
could not now remember. The spirit of peace descended like a cloud from
heaven, for if the spirit of peace dwells anywhere, it is in the courts
and quadrangles of Oxbridge on a fine October morning. Strolling through
those colleges past those ancient halls the roughness of the present
seemed smoothed away; the body seemed contained in a miraculous glass
cabinet through which no sound could penetrate, and the mind, freed from
any contact with facts (unless one trespassed on the turf again), was at
liberty to settle down upon whatever meditation was in harmony with the
moment. As chance would have it, some stray memory of some old essay
about revisiting Oxbridge in the long vacation brought Charles Lamb to
mind--Saint Charles, said Thackeray, putting a letter of Lamb's to his
forehead. Indeed, among all the dead (I give you my thoughts as they
came to me), Lamb is one of the most congenial; one to whom one would
have liked to say, Tell me then how you wrote your essays? For his
essays are superior even to Max Beerbohm's, I thought, with all their
perfection, because of that wild flash of imagination, that lightning
crack of genius in the middle of them which leaves them flawed and
imperfect, but starred with poetry. Lamb then came to Oxbridge perhaps a
hundred years ago. Certainly he wrote an essay--the name escapes
me--about the manuscript of one of Milton's poems which he saw here. It
was LYCIDAS perhaps, and Lamb wrote how it shocked him to think it
possible that any word in LYCIDAS could have been different from what it
is. To think of Milton changing the words in that poem seemed to him a
sort of sacrilege. This led me to remember what I could of LYCIDAS and
to amuse myself with guessing which word it could have been that Milton
had altered, and why. It then occurred to me that the very manuscript
itself which Lamb had looked at was only a few hundred yards away, so
that one could follow Lamb's footsteps across the quadrangle to that
famous library where the treasure is kept. Moreover, I recollected, as I
put this plan into execution, it is in this famous library that the
manuscript of Thackeray's ESMOND is also preserved. The critics often
say that ESMOND is Thackeray's most perfect novel. But the affectation
of the style, with its imitation of the eighteenth century, hampers one,
so far as I can remember; unless indeed the eighteenth-century style was
natural to Thackeray--a fact that one might prove by looking at the
manuscript and seeing whether the alterations were for the benefit of
the style or of the sense. But then one would have to decide what is
style and what is meaning, a question which--but here I was actually at
the door which leads into the library itself. I must have opened it, for
instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a
flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery,
kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that
ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of
the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.

That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete
indifference to a famous library. Venerable and calm, with all its
treasures safe locked within its breast, it sleeps complacently and
will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep for ever. Never will I wake
those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I
descended the steps in anger. Still an hour remained before luncheon,
and what was one to do? Stroll on the meadows? sit by the river?
Certainly it was a lovely autumn morning; the leaves were fluttering red
to the ground; there was no great hardship in doing either. But the
sound of music reached my ear. Some service or celebration was going
forward. The organ complained magnificently as I passed the chapel door.
Even the sorrow of Christianity sounded in that serene air more like the
recollection of sorrow than sorrow itself; even the groanings of the
ancient organ seemed lapped in peace. I had no wish to enter had I the
right, and this time the verger might have stopped me, demanding perhaps
my baptismal certificate, or a letter of introduction from the Dean. But
the outside of these magnificent buildings is often as beautiful as the
inside. Moreover, it was amusing enough to watch the congregation
assembling, coming in and going out again, busying themselves at the
door of the chapel like bees at the mouth of a hive. Many were in cap
and gown; some had tufts of fur on their shoulders; others were wheeled
in bath-chairs; others, though not past middle age, seemed creased and
crushed into shapes so singular that one was reminded of those giant
crabs and crayfish who heave with difficulty across the sand of an
aquarium. As I leant against the wall the University indeed seemed a
sanctuary in which are preserved rare types which would soon be obsolete
if left to fight for existence on the pavement of the Strand. Old
stories of old deans and old dons came back to mind, but before I had
summoned up courage to whistle--it used to be said that at the sound of
a whistle old Professor ---- instantly broke into a gallop--the venerable
congregation had gone inside. The outside of the chapel remained. As you
know, its high domes and pinnacles can be seen, like a sailing-ship
always voyaging never arriving, lit up at night and visible for miles,
far away across the hills. Once, presumably, this quadrangle with its
smooth lawns, its massive buildings and the chapel itself was marsh too,
where the grasses waved and the swine rootled. Teams of horses and oxen,
I thought, must have hauled the stone in wagons from far countries, and
then with infinite labour the grey blocks in whose shade I was now
standing were poised in order one on top of another. and then the
painters brought their glass for the windows, and the masons were busy
for centuries up on that roof with putty and cement, spade and trowel.
Every Saturday somebody must have poured gold and silver out of a
leathern purse into their ancient fists, for they had their beer and
skittles presumably of an evening. An unending stream of gold and
silver, I thought, must have flowed into this court perpetually to keep
the stones coming and the masons working; to level, to ditch, to dig and
to drain. But it was then the age of faith, and money was poured
liberally to set these stones on a deep foundation, and when the stones
were raised, still more money was poured in from the coffers of kings
and queens and great nobles to ensure that hymns should be sung here and
scholars taught. Lands were granted; tithes were paid. And when the age
of faith was over and the age of reason had come, still the same flow of
gold and silver went on; fellowships were founded; lectureships endowed;
only the gold and silver flowed now, not from the coffers of the king.
but from the chests of merchants and manufacturers, from the purses of
men who had made, say, a fortune from industry, and returned, in their
wills, a bounteous share of it to endow more chairs, more lectureships,
more fellowships in the university where they had learnt their craft.
Hence the libraries and laboratories; the observatories; the splendid
equipment of costly and delicate instruments which now stands on glass
shelves, where centuries ago the grasses waved and the swine rootled.
Certainly, as I strolled round the court, the foundation of gold and
silver seemed deep enough; the pavement laid solidly over the wild
grasses. Men with trays on their heads went busily from staircase to
staircase. Gaudy blossoms flowered in window-boxes. The strains of the
gramophone blared out from the rooms within. It was impossible not to
reflect--the reflection whatever it may have been was cut short. The
clock struck. it was time to find one's way to luncheon.

It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that
luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that
was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom
spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist's convention
not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and
ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a
cigar or drank a glass of wine. Here, however, I shall take the liberty
to defy that convention and to tell you that the lunch on this occasion
began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had
spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here
and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After
that came the partridges, but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown
birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various,
came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and the
sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard;
their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. And no sooner
had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent servingman,
the Beadle himself perhaps in a milder manifestation, set before us,
wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves.
To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an
insult. Meanwhile the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed
crimson; had been emptied; had been filled. And thus by degrees was lit,
half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard
little electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out
upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow which
is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse. No need to hurry. No
need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. We are all going to
heaven and Vandyck is of the company--in other words, how good life
seemed, how sweet its rewards, how trivial this grudge or that
grievance, how admirable friendship and the society of one's kind, as,
lighting a good cigarette, one sunk among the cushions in the
window-seat.

If by good luck there had been an ash-tray handy, if one had not knocked
the ash out of the window in default, if things had been a little
different from what they were, one would not have seen, presumably, a
cat without a tail. The sight of that abrupt and truncated animal
padding softly across the quadrangle changed by some fluke of the
subconscious intelligence the emotional light for me. It was as if
someone had let fall a shade. Perhaps the excellent hock was
relinquishing its hold. Certainly, as I watched the Manx cat pause in
the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something
seemed lacking, something seemed different. But what was lacking, what
was different, I asked myself, listening to the talk? And to answer that
question I had to think myself out of the room, back into the past,
before the war indeed, and to set before my eyes the model of another
luncheon party held in rooms not very far distant from these; but
different. Everything was different. Meanwhile the talk went on among the
guests, who were many and young, some of this sex, some of that; it went
on swimmingly, it went on agreeably, freely, amusingly. And as it went on
I set it against the background of that other talk, and as I matched the
two together I had no doubt that one was the descendant, the legitimate
heir of the other. Nothing was changed; nothing was different save only
here I listened with all my ears not entirely to what was being said,
but to the murmur or current behind it. Yes, that was it--the change was
there. Before the war at a luncheon party like this people would have
said precisely the same things but they would have sounded different,
because in those days they were accompanied by a sort of humming noise,
not articulate, but musical, exciting, which changed the value of
the words themselves. Could one set that humming noise to words? Perhaps
with the help of the poets one could.. A book lay beside me and, opening
it, I turned casually enough to Tennyson. And here I found Tennyson was
singing:


There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near';
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late';
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear';
And the lily whispers, 'I wait.'


Was that what men hummed at luncheon parties before the war? And the
women?


My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit,
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.


Was that what women hummed at luncheon parties before the war?

There was something so ludicrous in thinking of people humming such
things even under their breath at luncheon parties before the war that I
burst out laughing. and had to explain my laughter by pointing at the
Manx cat, who did look a little absurd, poor beast, without a tail, in
the middle   of the lawn. Was he really born so, or had he lost his tail
in an accident? The tailless cat, though some are said to exist in the
Isle of Man, is rarer than one thinks. It is a queer animal, quaint
rather than beautiful. It is strange what a difference a tail makes--you
know the sort of things one says as a lunch party breaks up and people
are finding their coats and hats.

This one, thanks to the hospitality of the host, had lasted far into the
afternoon. The beautiful October day was fading and the leaves were
falling from the trees in the avenue as I walked through it. Gate after
gate seemed to close with gentle finality behind me. Innumerable beadles
were fitting innumerable keys into well-oiled locks; the treasure-house
was being made secure for another night. After the avenue one comes out
upon a road--I forget its name--which leads you, if you take the right
turning, along to Fernham. But there was plenty of time. Dinner was not
till half-past seven. One could almost do without dinner after such a
luncheon. It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and
makes the legs move in time to it along the road. Those words----


There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear----


sang in my blood as I stepped quickly along towards Headingley. And
then, switching off into the other measure, I sang, where the waters are
churned up by the weir:


My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree . . .


What poets, I cried aloud, as one does in the dusk, what poets they
were!

In a sort of jealousy, I suppose, for our own age, silly and absurd
though these comparisons are, I went on to wonder if honestly one could
name two living poets now as great as Tennyson and Christina Rossetti
were then. Obviously it is impossible, I thought, looking into those
foaming waters, to compare them. The very reason why that poetry excites
one to such abandonment, such rapture, is that it celebrates some
feeling that one used to have (at luncheon parties before the war
perhaps), so that one responds easily, familiarly, without troubling to
check the feeling, or to compare it with any that one has now. But the
living poets express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out
of us at the moment. One does not recognize it in the first place; often
for some reason one fears it; one watches it with keenness and compares
it jealously and suspiciously with the old feeling that one knew. Hence
the difficulty of modern poetry; and it is because of this difficulty
that one cannot remember more than two consecutive lines of any good
modern poet. For this reason--that my memory failed me--the argument
flagged for want of material. But why, I continued, moving on towards
Headingley, have we stopped humming under our breath at luncheon
parties? Why has Alfred ceased to sing


    She is coming, my dove, my dear.


Why has Christina ceased to respond


    My heart is gladder than all these
    Because my love is come to me?


Shall we lay the blame on the war? When the guns fired in August 1914,
did the faces of men and women show so plain in each other's eyes that
romance was killed? Certainly it was a shock (to women in particular
with their illusions about education, and so on) to see the faces of our
rulers in the light of the shell-fire. So ugly they looked--German,
English, French--so stupid. But lay the blame where one will, on whom
one will, the illusion which inspired Tennyson and Christina Rossetti to
sing so passionately about the coming of their loves is far rarer now
than then. One has only to read, to look, to listen, to remember. But
why say 'blame'? Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe,
whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place? For
truth . . . those dots mark the spot where, in search of truth, I missed
the turning up to Fernham. Yes indeed, which was truth and which was
illusion? I asked myself. What was the truth about these houses, for
example, dim and festive now with their red windows in the dusk, but raw
and red and squalid, with their sweets and their bootlaces, at nine
o'clock in the morning? And the willows and the river and the gardens
that run down to the river, vague now with the mist stealing over them,
but gold and red in the sunlight--which was the truth, which was the
illusion about them? I spare you the twists and turns of my cogitations,
for no conclusion was found on the road to Headingley, and I ask You to
suppose that I soon found out my mistake about the turning and retraced
my steps to Fernham.

As I have said already that it was an October day, I dare not forfeit
your respect and imperil the fair name of fiction by changing the season
and describing lilacs hanging over garden walls, crocuses, tulips and
other flowers of spring. Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the
facts the better the fiction--so we are told. Therefore it was still
autumn and the leaves were still yellow and falling, if anything, a
little faster than before, because it was now evening (seven
twenty-three to be precise) and a breeze (from the south-west to be
exact) had risen. But for all that there was something odd at work:


My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit--


perhaps the words of Christina Rossetti were partly responsible for the
folly of the fancy--it was nothing of course but a fancy--that the lilac
was shaking its flowers over the garden walls, and the brimstone
butterflies were scudding hither and thither, and the dust of the pollen
was in the air. A wind blew, from what quarter I know not, but it lifted
the half-grown leaves so that there was a flash of silver grey in the
air. It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their
intensification and purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat
of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world
revealed and yet soon to perish (here I pushed into the garden, for,
unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed about), the
beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of
laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. The gardens of
Fernham lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open, and in the
long grass, sprinkled and carelessly flung, were daffodils and
bluebells, not orderly perhaps at the best of times, and now wind-blown
and waving as they tugged at their roots. The windows of the building,
curved like ships' windows among generous waves of red brick, changed
from lemon to silver under the flight of the quick spring clouds.
Somebody was in a hammock, somebody, but in this light they were
phantoms only, half guessed, half seen, raced across the grass--would no
one stop her?--and then on the terrace, as if popping out to breathe the
air, to glance at the garden, came a bent figure, formidable yet humble,
with her great forehead and her shabby dress--could it be the famous
scholar, could it be J---- H---- herself? All was dim, yet intense too,
as if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn
asunder by star or sword--the gash of some terrible reality leaping, as
its way  is, out of the heart of the spring. For youth----

Here was my soup. Dinner was being served in the great dining-hall. Far
from being spring it was in fact an evening in October. Everybody was
assembled in the big dining-room. Dinner was ready. Here was the soup. It
was a plain gravy soup. There was nothing to stir the fancy in that. One
could have seen through the transparent liquid any pattern that there
might have been on the plate itself. But there was no pattern. The plate
was plain. Next came beef with its attendant greens and potatoes--a
homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and
sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge, and bargaining and cheapening
and women with string bags on Monday morning. There was no reason to
complain of human nature's daily food, seeing that the supply was
sufficient and coal-miners doubtless were sitting down to less. Prunes
and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when
mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are
not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run
in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty
years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are
people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came
next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the
nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That
was all. The meal was over. Everybody scraped their chairs back; the
swing-doors swung violently to and fro;  soon the hall was emptied of
every sign of food and made ready no doubt for breakfast next morning.
Down corridors and up staircases the youth of England went banging and
singing. And was it for a guest, a stranger (for I had no more right
here in Fernham than in Trinity or Somerville or Girton or Newnham or
Christchurch), to say, 'The dinner was not good,' or to say (we were
now, Mary Seton and I, in her sitting-room), 'Could we not have dined up
here alone?' for if I had said anything of the kind I should have been
prying and searching into the secret economies of a house which to the
stranger wears so fine a front of gaiety and courage. No, one could say
nothing of the sort. Indeed, conversation for a moment flagged. The
human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together,
and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in
another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good
talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined
well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes. We are
all PROBABLY going to heaven, and Vandyck is, we HOPE, to meet us round
the next corner--that is the dubious and qualifying state of mind that
beef and prunes at the end of the day's work breed between them. Happily
my friend, who taught science, had a cupboard where there was a squat
bottle and little glasses--(but there should have been sole and
partridge to begin with)--so that we were able to draw up to the fire
and repair some of the damages of the day's living. In a minute or so we
were slipping freely in and out among all those objects of curiosity and
interest which form in the mind in the absence of a particular person,
and are naturally to be discussed on coming together again--how somebody
has married, another has not; one thinks this, another that; one has
improved out of all knowledge, the other most amazingly gone to the
bad--with all those speculations upon human nature and the character of
the amazing world we live in which spring naturally from such
beginnings. While these things were being said, however, I became
shamefacedly aware of a current setting in of its own accord  and
carrying everything forward to an end of its own. One might be talking
of Spain or Portugal, of book or racehorse, but the real interest of
whatever was said was none of those things, but a scene of masons on a
high roof some five centuries ago. Kings and nobles brought treasure in
huge sacks and poured it under the earth. This scene was for ever coming
alive in my mind and placing itself by another of lean cows and a muddy
market and withered greens and the stringy hearts of old men--these two
pictures, disjointed and disconnected and nonsensical as they were, were
for ever coming together and combating each other and had me entirely
at their mercy. The best course, unless the whole talk was to be
distorted, was to expose what was in my mind to the air, when with good
luck it would fade and crumble like the head of the dead king when they
opened the coffin at Windsor. Briefly, then, I told Miss Seton about the
masons who had been all those years on the roof of the chapel, and about
the kings and queens and nobles bearing sacks of gold and silver on
their shoulders, which they shovelled into the earth; and then how the
great financial magnates of our own time came and laid cheques and
bonds, I suppose, where the others had laid ingots and rough lumps of
gold. All that lies beneath the colleges down there, I said; but this
college, where we are now sitting, what lies beneath its gallant red
brick and the wild unkempt grasses of the garden? What force is behind
that plain china off which we dined, and (here it popped out of my mouth
before I could stop it) the beef, the custard and the prunes?

Well, said Mary Seton, about the year 1860--Oh, but you know the story,
she said, bored, I suppose, by the recital. And she told me--rooms were
hired. Committees met. Envelopes were addressed. Circulars were drawn
up. Meetings were held; letters were read out; so-and-so has promised so
much; on the contrary, Mr ---- won't give a penny. The SATURDAY REVIEW
has been very rude. How can we raise a fund to pay for offices? Shall we
hold a bazaar? Can't we find a pretty girl to sit in the front row? Let
us look up what John Stuart Mill said on the subject. Can anyone
persuade the editor of the ---- to print a letter? Can we get Lady ----
to sign it? Lady ---- is out of town. That was the way it was done,
presumably, sixty years ago, and it was a prodigious effort, and a great
deal of time was spent on it. And it was only after a long struggle and
with the utmost difficulty that they got thirty thousand pounds
together. [* We are told that we ought to ask for £30,000 at least. . . .
It is not a large sum, considering that there is to be but one college
of this sort for Great Britain, Ireland and the Colonies, and considering
how easy it is to raise immense sums for boys' schools. But considering
how few people really wish women to be educated, it is a good
deal.'--LADY STEPHEN, EMILY DAVIES AND GIRTON COLLEGE.] So
obviously we cannot have wine and partridges and servants carrying tin
dishes on their heads, she said. We cannot have sofas and separate
rooms. 'The amenities,' she said, quoting from some book or other, 'will
have to wait.' [* Every penny which could be scraped together was set
aside for building, and the amenities had to be postponed.--R. STRACHEY,
THE CAUSE.]

At the thought of all those women working year after year and finding it
hard to get two thousand pounds together, and as much as they could do
to get thirty thousand pounds, we burst out in scorn at the
reprehensible poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then
that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in
at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo? There were some
photographs on the mantelpiece. Mary's mother--if that was her
picture--may have been a wastrel in her spare time (she had thirteen
children by a minister of the church), but if so her gay and dissipated
life had left too few traces of its pleasures on her face. She was a
homely body; an old lady in a plaid shawl which was fastened by a large
cameo; and she sat in a basket-chair, encouraging a spaniel to look at
the camera, with the amused, yet strained expression of one who is sure
that the dog will move directly the bulb is pressed. Now if she had gone
into business; had become a manufacturer of artificial silk or a magnate
on the Stock Exchange; if she had left two or three hundred thousand
pounds to Fernham, we could have been sitting at our ease to-night and
the subject of our talk might have been archaeology, botany,
anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy,
relativity, geography. If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother
before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their
money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them, to found
fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to
the use of their own sex, we might have dined very tolerably up here
alone off a bird and a bottle of wine; we might have looked forward
without undue confidence to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in
the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have
been exploring or writing; mooning about the venerable places of the
earth; sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or going at
ten to an office and coming home comfortably at half-past four to write
a little poetry. Only, if Mrs Seton and her like had gone into business
at the age of fifteen, there would have been--that was the snag in the
argument--no Mary. What, I asked, did Mary think of that? There between
the curtains was the October night, calm and lovely, with a star or two
caught in the yellowing trees. Was she ready to resign her share of it
and her memories (for they had been a happy family, though a large one)
of games and quarrels up in Scotland, which she is never tired of
praising for the fineness of its air and the quality of its cakes, in
order that Fernham might have been endowed with fifty thousand pounds or
so by a stroke of the pen? For, to endow a college would necessitate the
suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing
thirteen children--no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we
said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby
is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby.
After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing
with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets.
People who have seen them running wild in Russia say that the sight is
not a pleasant one. People say, too, that human nature takes its shape
in the years between one and five. If Mrs Seton, I said, had been making
money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels?
What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and
all the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because
you would never have come into existence at all. Moreover, it is equally
useless to ask what might have happened if Mrs Seton and her mother and
her mother before her had amassed great wealth and laid it under the
foundations of college and library, because, in the first place, to earn
money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible,
the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned. It is
only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of
her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her
husband's property--a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in
keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I
earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of
according to my husband's wisdom--perhaps to found a scholarship or to
endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings, so that to earn money, even if I
could earn money, is not a matter that interests me very greatly. I had
better leave it to my husband.

At any rate, whether or not the blame rested on the old lady who was
looking at the spaniel, there could be no doubt that for some reason or
other our mothers had mismanaged their affairs very gravely. Not a penny
could be spared for 'amenities'; for partridges and wine, beadles and
turf, books and cigars, libraries and leisure. To raise bare walls out
of bare earth was the utmost they could do.

So we talked standing at the window and looking, as so many thousands
look every night, down on the domes and towers of the famous city
beneath us. It was very beautiful, very mysterious in the autumn
moonlight. The old stone looked very white and venerable. One thought of
all the books that were assembled down there; of the pictures of old
prelates and worthies hanging in the panelled rooms; of the painted
windows that would be throwing strange globes and crescents on the
pavement; of the tablets and memorials and inscriptions; of the
fountains and the grass; of the quiet rooms looking across the quiet
quadrangles. And (pardon me the thought) I thought, too, of the
admirable smoke and drink and the deep armchairs and the pleasant
carpets: of the urbanity, the geniality, the dignity which are the
offspring of luxury and privacy and space. Certainly our mothers had not
provided us with any thing comparable to all this--our mothers who found
it difficult to scrape together thirty thousand pounds, our mothers who
bore thirteen children to ministers of religion at St Andrews.

So I went back to my inn, and as I walked through the dark streets I
pondered this and that, as one does at the end of the day's work. I
pondered why it was that Mrs Seton had no money to leave us; and what
effect poverty has on the mind; and what effect wealth has on the mind;
and I thought of the queer old gentlemen I had seen that morning with
tufts of fur upon their shoulders; and I remembered how if one whistled
one of them ran; and I thought of the organ booming in the chapel and of
the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be
locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in; and,
thinking of the safety and prosperity of the one sex and of the poverty
and insecurity of the other and of the effect of tradition and of the
lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer, I thought at last that it
was time to roll up the crumpled skin of the day, with its arguments and
its impressions and its anger and its laughter, and cast it into the
hedge. A thousand stars were flashing across the blue wastes of the sky.
One seemed alone with an inscrutable society. All human beings were laid
asleep--prone, horizontal, dumb. Nobody seemed stirring in the streets
of Oxbridge. Even the door of the hotel sprang open at the touch of an
invisible hand--not a boots was sitting up to light me to bed, it was so
late.




TWO



The scene, if I may ask you to follow me, was now changed. The leaves
were still falling, but in London now, not Oxbridge; and I must ask you
to imagine a room, like many thousands, with a window looking across
people's hats and vans and motor-cars to other windows, and on the table
inside the room a blank sheet of paper on which was written in large
letters WOMEN AND FICTION, but no more. The inevitable sequel to
lunching and dining at Oxbridge seemed, unfortunately, to be a visit to
the British Museum. One must strain off what was personal and accidental
in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil
of truth. For that visit to Oxbridge and the luncheon and the dinner had
started a swarm of questions. Why did men drink wine and women water?
Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has
poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of
works of art?--a thousand questions at once suggested themselves. But
one needed answers, not questions; and an answer was only to be had by
consulting the learned and the unprejudiced, who have removed themselves
above the strife of tongue and the confusion of body and issued the
result of their reasoning and research in books which are to be found
in the British Museum. If truth is not to be found on the shelves of
the British Museum, where, I asked myself, picking up a notebook and a
pencil, is truth?

Thus provided, thus confident and enquiring, I set out in the pursuit of
truth. The day, though not actually wet, was dismal, and the streets in
the neighbourhood of the Museum were full of open coal-holes, down which
sacks were showering; four-wheeled cabs were drawing up and depositing
on the pavement corded boxes containing, presumably, the entire wardrobe
of some Swiss or Italian family seeking fortune or refuge or some other
desirable commodity which is to be found in the boarding-houses of
Bloomsbury in the winter. The usual hoarse-voiced men paraded the
streets with plants on barrows. Some shouted; others sang. London was
like a workshop. London was like a machine. We were all being shot
backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern.
The British Museum was another department of the factory. The
swing-doors swung open; and there one stood under the vast dome, as if
one were a thought in the huge bald forehead which is so splendidly
encircled by a band of famous names. One went to the counter; one took a
slip of paper; one opened a volume of the catalogue, and the five dots
here indicate five separate minutes of stupefaction, wonder and
bewilderment. Have you any notion of how many books are written about
women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are
written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed
animal in the universe? Here had I come with a notebook and a pencil
proposing to spend a morning reading, supposing that at the end of the
morning I should have transferred the truth to my notebook. But I should
need to be a herd of elephants, I thought, and a wilderness of spiders,
desperately referring to the animals that are reputed longest lived and
most multitudinously eyed, to cope with all this. I should need claws of
steel and beak of brass even to penetrate the husk. How shall I ever
find the grains of truth embedded in all this mass of paper? I asked
myself, and in despair began running my eye up and down the long list of
titles. Even the names of the books gave me food for thought. Sex and
its nature might well attract doctors and biologists; but what was
surprising and difficult of explanation was the fact that sex--woman,
that is to say--also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered
novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken
no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not
women. Some of these books were, on the face of it, frivolous and
facetious; but many, on the other hand, were serious and prophetic,
moral and hortatory. Merely to read the titles suggested innumerable
schoolmasters, innumerable clergymen mounting their platforms and
pulpits and holding forth with loquacity which far exceeded the hour
usually alloted to such discourse on this one subject. It was a most
strange phenomenon; and apparently--here I consulted the letter M--one
confined to the male sex. Women do not write books about men--a fact
that I could not help welcoming with relief, for if I had first to read
all that men have written about women, then all that women have written
about men, the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower
twice before I could set pen to paper. So, making a perfectly arbitrary
choice of a dozen volumes or so, I sent my slips of paper to lie in the
wire tray, and waited in my stall, among the other seekers for the
essential oil of truth.

What could be the reason, then, of this curious disparity, I wondered,
drawing cart-wheels on the slips of paper provided by the British
taxpayer for other purposes. Why are women, judging from this catalogue,
so much more interesting to men than men are to women? A very curious
fact it seemed, and my mind wandered to picture the lives of men who
spend their time in writing books about women; whether they were old or
young, married or unmarried, red-nosed or hump-backed--anyhow, it was
flattering, vaguely, to feel oneself the object of such attention
provided that it was not entirely bestowed by the crippled and the
infirm--so I pondered until all such frivolous thoughts were ended by an
avalanche of books sliding down on to the desk in front of me. Now the
trouble began. The student who has been trained in research at Oxbridge
has no doubt some method of shepherding his question past all
distractions till it runs into his answer as a sheep runs into its pen.
The student by my side, for instance, who was copying assiduously from a
scientific manual, was, I felt sure, extracting pure nuggets of the
essential ore every ten minutes or so. His little grunts of satisfaction
indicated so much. But if, unfortunately, one has had no training in a
university, the question far from being shepherded to its pen flies like
a frightened flock hither and thither, helter-skelter, pursued by a
whole pack of hounds. Professors, schoolmasters, sociologists,
clergymen, novelists, essayists, journalists, men who had no
qualification save that they were not women, chased my simple and single
question--Why are some women poor?--until it became fifty questions;
until the fifty questions leapt frantically into midstream and were
carried away. Every page in my notebook was scribbled over with notes.
To show the state of mind I was in, I will read you a few of them,
explaining that the page was headed quite simply, WOMEN AND POVERTY, in
block letters; but what followed was something like this:


Condition in Middle Ages of,
Habits in the Fiji Islands of,
Worshipped as goddesses by,
Weaker in moral sense than,
Idealism of,
Greater conscientiousness of,
South Sea Islanders, age of puberty among,
Attractiveness of,
Offered as sacrifice to,
Small size of brain of,
Profounder sub-consciousness of,
Less hair on the body of,
Mental, moral and physical inferiority of,
Love of children of,
Greater length of life of,
Weaker muscles of,
Strength of affections of,
Vanity of,
Higher education of,
Shakespeare's opinion of,
Lord Birkenhead's opinion of,
Dean Inge's opinion of,
La Bruyere's opinion of,
Dr Johnson's opinion of,
Mr Oscar Browning's opinion of, . . .


Here I drew breath and added, indeed, in the margin, Why does Samuel
Butler say, 'Wise men never say what they think of women'? Wise men
never say anything else apparently. But, I continued, leaning back in my
chair and looking at the vast dome in which I was a single but by now
somewhat harassed thought, what is so unfortunate is that wise men never
think the same thing about women. Here is Pope:


    Most women have no character at all.


And here is La Bruyčre:


    Les femmes sont extrźmes, elles sont meilleures ou pires que les
hommes----


a direct contradiction by keen observers who were contemporary. Are they
capable of education or incapable? Napoleon thought them incapable. Dr
Johnson thought the opposite. [* '"Men know that women are an overmatch
for them, and therefore they choose the weakest or the most ignorant. If
they did not think so, they never could be afraid of women knowing as
much as themselves." . . . In justice to the sex, I think it but candid
to acknowledge that, in a subsequent conversation, he told me that he
was serious in what he said.'--BOSWELL, THE JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE
HEBRIDES.] Have they souls or have they not souls? Some savages say they
have none. Others, on the contrary, maintain that women are half divine
and worship them on that account. [* The ancient Germans believed that
there was something holy in women, and accordingly consulted them as
oracles.'--FRAZER, GOLDEN BOUGH.] Some sages hold that they are
shallower in the brain; others that they are deeper in the
consciousness. Goethe honoured them; Mussolini despises them. Wherever
one looked men thought about women and thought differently. It was
impossible to make head or tail of it all, I decided, glancing with envy
at the reader next door who was making the neatest abstracts, headed
often with an A or a B or a C, while my own notebook rioted with the
wildest scribble of contradictory jottings. It was distressing, it was
bewildering, it was humiliating. Truth had run through my fingers. Every
drop had escaped.

I could not possibly go home, I reflected, and add as a serious
contribution to the study of women and fiction that women have less hair
on their bodies than men, or that the age of puberty among the South Sea
Islanders is nine--or is it ninety?--even the handwriting had become in
its distraction indecipherable. It was disgraceful to have nothing more
weighty or respectable to show after a whole morning's work. And if I
could not grasp the truth about W. (as for brevity's sake I had come to
call her) in the past, why bother about W. in the future? It seemed pure
waste of time to consult all those gentlemen who specialize in woman and
her effect on whatever it may be--politics, children, wages,
morality--numerous and learned as they are. One might as well leave
their books unopened.

But while I pondered I had unconsciously, in my listlessness, in my
desperation, been drawing a picture where I should, like my neighbour,
have been writing a conclusion. I had been drawing a face, a figure. It
was the face and the figure of Professor von X engaged in writing his
monumental work entitled THE MENTAL, MORAL, AND PHYSICAL INFERIORITY OF
THE FEMALE SEX. He was not in my picture a man attractive to women. He
was heavily built; he had a great jowl; to balance that he had very
small eyes; he was very red in the face. His expression suggested that
he was labouring under some emotion that made him jab his pen on the
paper as if he were killing some noxious insect as he wrote, but even
when he had killed it that did not satisfy him; he must go on killing
it; and even so, some cause for anger and irritation remained. Could it
be his wife, I asked, looking at my picture? Was she in love with a
cavalry officer? Was the cavalry officer slim and elegant and dressed in
astrakhan? Had he been laughed at, to adopt the Freudian theory, in his
cradle by a pretty girl? For even in his cradle the professor, I
thought, could not have been an attractive child. Whatever the reason,
the professor was made to look very angry and very ugly in my sketch, as
he wrote his great book upon the mental, moral and physical inferiority
of women. Drawing pictures was an idle way of finishing an unprofitable
morning's work. Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the
submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. A very elementary exercise
in psychology, not to be dignified by the name of psychoanalysis, showed
me, on looking at my notebook, that the sketch of the angry professor
had been made in anger. Anger had snatched my pencil while I dreamt. But
what was anger doing there? Interest, confusion, amusement, boredom--all
these emotions I could trace and name as they succeeded each other
throughout the morning. Had anger, the black snake, been lurking among
them? Yes, said the sketch, anger had. It referred me unmistakably to
the one book, to the one phrase, which had roused the demon; it was the
professor's statement about the mental, moral and physical inferiority
of women. My heart had leapt. My cheeks had burnt. I had flushed with
anger. There was nothing specially remarkable, however foolish, in that.
One does not like to be told that one is naturally the inferior of a
little man--I looked at the student next me--who breathes hard, wears a
ready-made tie, and has not shaved this fortnight. One has certain
foolish vanities. It is only human nature, I reflected, and began
drawing cartwheels and circles over the angry professor's face till he
looked like a burning bush or a flaming comet--anyhow, an apparition
without human semblance or significance. The professor was nothing now
but a faggot burning on the top of Hampstead Heath. Soon my own anger
was explained and done with; but curiosity remained. How explain the
anger of the professors? Why were they angry? For when it came to
analysing the impression left by these books there was always an element
of heat. This heat took many forms; it showed itself in satire, in
sentiment, in curiosity, in reprobation. But there was another element
which was often present and could not immediately be identified. Anger,
I called it. But it was anger that had gone underground and mixed itself
with all kinds of other emotions. To judge from its odd effects, it was
anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.

Whatever the reason, all these books, I thought, surveying the pile on
the desk, are worthless for my purposes. They were worthless
scientifically, that is to say, though humanly they were full of
instruction, interest, boredom, and very queer facts about the habits of
the Fiji Islanders. They had been written in the red light of emotion
and not in the white light of truth. Therefore they must be returned to
the central desk and restored each to his own cell in the enormous
honeycomb. All that I had retrieved from that morning's work had been
the one fact of anger. The professors--I lumped them together thus--were
angry. But why, I asked myself, having returned the books, why, I
repeated, standing under the colonnade among the pigeons and the
prehistoric canoes, why are they angry? And, asking myself this
question, I strolled off to find a place for luncheon. What is the real
nature of what I call for the moment their anger? I asked. Here was a
puzzle that would last all the time that it takes to be served with food
in a small restaurant somewhere near the British Museum. Some previous
luncher had left the lunch edition of the evening paper on a chair, and,
waiting to be served, I began idly reading the headlines. A ribbon of
very large letters ran across the page. Somebody had made a big score in
South Africa. Lesser ribbons announced that Sir Austen Chamberlain was
at Geneva. A meat axe with human hair on it had been found in a cellar.
Mr justice ---- commented in the Divorce Courts upon the Shamelessness
of Women. Sprinkled about the paper were other pieces of news. A film
actress had been lowered from a peak in California and hung suspended in
mid-air. The weather was going to be foggy. The most transient visitor
to this planet, I thought, who picked up this paper could not fail to be
aware, even from this scattered testimony, that England is under the
rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the
dominance of the professor. His was the power and the money and the
influence. He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and
sub-editor. He was the Foreign Secretary and the judge. He was the
cricketer; he owned the racehorses and the yachts. He was the director
of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders. He
left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself. He
suspended the film actress in mid-air. He will decide if the hair on the
meat axe is human; he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and
hang him, or let him go free. With the exception of the fog he seemed to
control everything. Yet he was angry. I knew that he was angry by this
token. When I read what he wrote about women--I thought, not of what he
was saying, but of himself. When an arguer argues dispassionately he
thinks only of the argument; and the reader cannot help thinking of the
argument too. If he had written dispassionately about women, had used
indisputable proofs to establish his argument and had shown no trace of
wishing that the result should be one thing rather than another, one
would not have been angry either. One would have accepted the fact, as
one accepts the fact that a pea is green or a canary yellow. So be it, I
should have said. But I had been angry because he was angry. Yet it
seemed absurd, I thought, turning over the evening paper, that a man
with all this power should be angry. Or is anger, I wondered, somehow,
the familiar, the attendant sprite on power? Rich people, for example,
are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their
wealth. The professors, or patriarchs, as it might be more accurate to
call them, might be angry for that reason partly, but partly for one
that lies a little less obviously on the surface. Possibly they were not
'angry' at all; often, indeed, they were admiring, devoted, exemplary
in the relations of private life. Possibly when the professor insisted a
little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned
not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what
he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis,
because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both
sexes--and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the
pavement--is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for
gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of
illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without
self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate
this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By
thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one
has some innate superiority--it may be wealth, or rank, a straight
nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney--for there is no end to
the pathetic devices of the human imagination--over other people. Hence
the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to
rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race
indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the
chief sources of his power. But let me turn the light of this
observation on to real life, I thought. Does it help to explain some of
those psychological puzzles that one notes in the margin of daily life?
Does it explain my astonishment of the other day when Z, most humane,
most modest of men, taking up some book by Rebecca West and reading a
passage in it, exclaimed, 'The arrant feminist! She says that men are
snobs!' The exclamation, to me so surprising--for why was Miss West an
arrant feminist for making a possibly true if uncomplimentary statement
about the other sex?--was not merely the cry of wounded vanity; it was a
protest against some infringement of his power to believe in himself.
Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the
magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its
natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp
and jungle. The glories of all our wars would he unknown. We should
still be scratching the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones
and bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took
our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never
have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or
lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are
essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and
Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for
if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to
explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it
serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how
impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture
is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and
rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism.
For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass
shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving
judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up
and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and
at dinner at least twice the size he really is? So I reflected,
crumbling my bread and stirring my coffee and now and again looking at
the people in the street. The looking-glass vision is of supreme
importance because it charges the vitality; it stimulates the nervous
system. Take it away and man may die, like the drug fiend deprived of
his cocaine. Under the spell of that illusion, I thought, looking out of
the window, half the people on the pavement are striding to work. They
put on their hats and coats in the morning under its agreeable rays.
They start the day confident, braced, believing themselves desired at
Miss Smith's tea party; they say to themselves as they go into the room,
I am the superior of half the people here, and it is thus that they
speak with that self-confidence, that self-assurance, which have had such
profound consequences in public life and lead to such curious notes in
the margin of the private mind.

But these contributions to the dangerous and fascinating subject of the
psychology of the other sex--it is one, I hope, that you will
investigate when you have five hundred a year of your own--were
interrupted by the necessity of paying the bill. It came to five
shillings and ninepence. I gave the waiter a ten-shilling note and he
went to bring me change. There was another ten-shilling note in my
purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath
away the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. I
open it and there they are. Society gives me chicken and coffee, bed and
lodging, in return for a certain number of pieces of paper which were
left me by an aunt, for no other reason than that I share her name.

My aunt, Mary Beton, I must tell you, died by a fall from her horse when
she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. The news of my legacy
reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that
gave votes to women. A solicitor's letter fell into the post-box and
when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year
for ever. Of the two--the vote and the money--the money, I own, seemed
infinitely the more important. Before that I had made my living by
cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here or a
wedding there; I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes,
reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet
to small children in a kindergarten. Such were the chief occupations
that were open to women before 1918. I need not, I am afraid, describe
in any detail the hardness of the work, for you know perhaps women who
have done it; nor the difficulty of living on the money when it was
earned, for you may have tried. But what still remains with me as a
worse infliction than either was the poison of fear and bitterness which
those days bred in me. To begin with, always to be doing work that one
did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning,
not always necessarily perhaps, but it seemed necessary and the stakes
were too great to run risks; and then the thought of that one gift which
it was death to hide--a small one but dear to the possessor--perishing
and with it my self, my soul,--all this became like a rust eating away
the bloom of the spring, destroying the tree at its heart. However, as I
say, my aunt died; and whenever I change a ten-shilling note a little of
that rust and corrosion is rubbed off, fear and bitterness go. Indeed, I
thought, slipping the silver into my purse, it is remarkable,
remembering the bitterness of those days, what a change of temper a
fixed income will bring about. No force in the world can take from me my
five hundred pounds. Food, house and clothing are mine forever.
Therefore not merely do effort and labour cease, but also hatred and
bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not
flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. So imperceptibly I found
myself adopting a new attitude towards the other half of the human race.
It was absurd to blame any class or any sex, as a whole. Great bodies of
people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by
instincts which are not within their control. They too, the patriarchs,
the professors, had endless difficulties, terrible drawbacks to contend
with. Their education had been in some ways as faulty as my own. It had
bred in them defects as great. True, they had money and power, but only
at the cost of harbouring in their breasts an eagle, a vulture, forever
tearing the liver out and plucking at the lungs--the instinct for
possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other
people's fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and flags;
battleships and poison gas; to offer up their own lives and their
children's lives. Walk through the Admiralty Arch (I had reached that
monument), or any other avenue given up to trophies and cannon, and
reflect upon the kind of glory celebrated there. Or watch in the spring
sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make
money and more money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred
pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine. These are unpleasant
instincts to harbour, I reflected. They are bred of the conditions of
life; of the lack of civilization, I thought, looking at the statue of
the Duke of Cambridge, and in particular at the feathers in his cocked
hat, with a fixity that they have scarcely ever received before. And, as
I realized these drawbacks, by degrees fear and bitterness modified
themselves into pity and toleration; and then in a year or two, pity and
toleration went, and the greatest release of all came, which is freedom
to think of things in themselves. That building, for example, do I like
it or not? Is that picture beautiful or not? Is that in my opinion a
good book or a bad? Indeed my aunt's legacy unveiled the sky to me, and
substituted for the large and imposing figure of a gentleman, which
Milton recommended for my perpetual adoration, a view of the open sky.

So thinking, so speculating I found my way back to my house by the
river. Lamps were being lit and an indescribable change had come over
London since the morning hour. It was as if the great machine after
labouring all day had made with our help a few yards of something very
exciting and beautiful--a fiery fabric flashing with red eyes, a tawny
monster roaring with hot breath. Even the wind seemed flung like a flag
as it lashed the houses and rattled the hoardings.

In my little street, however, domesticity prevailed. The house painter
was descending his ladder; the nursemaid was wheeling the perambulator
carefully in and out back to nursery tea; the coal-heaver was folding
his empty sacks on top of each other; the woman who keeps the green
grocer's shop was adding up the day's takings with her hands in red
mittens. But so engrossed was I with the problem you have laid upon my
shoulders that I could not see even these usual sights without referring
them to one centre. I thought how much harder it is now than it must
have been even a century ago to say which of these em ployments is the
higher, the more necessary. Is it better to be a coal-heaver or a
nursemaid; is the charwoman who has brought up eight children of less
value to the world than, the barrister who has made a hundred thousand
pounds?  it is useless to ask such questions; for nobody can answer
them. Not only do the comparative values of charwomen and lawyers rise
and fall from decade to decade, but we have no rods with which to
measure them even as they are at the moment. I had been foolish to ask
my professor to furnish me with 'indisputable proofs' of this or that in
his argument about women. Even if one could state the value of any one
gift at the moment, those values will change; in a century's time very
possibly they will have changed completely. Moreover, in a hundred
years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be
the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities
and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal.
The shopwoman will drive an engine. All assumptions founded on the facts
observed when women were the protected sex will have disappeared--as,
for example (here a squad of soldiers marched down the street), that
women and clergymen and gardeners live longer than other people. Remove
that protection, expose them to the same exertions and activities, make
them soldiers and sailors and engine-drivers and dock labourers, and
will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker, than men that
one will say, 'I saw a woman to-day', as one used to say, 'I saw an
aeroplane'. Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a
protected occupation, I thought, opening the door. But what bearing has
all this upon the subject of my paper, Women and Fiction? I asked, going
indoors.




THREE



It was disappointing not to have brought back in the evening some
important statement, some authentic fact. Women are poorer than men
because--this or that. Perhaps now it would be better to give up seeking
for the truth, and receiving on one's head an avalanche of opinion hot
as lava, discoloured as dish-water. It would be better to draw the
curtains; to shut out distractions; to light the lamp; to narrow the
enquiry and to ask the historian, who records not opinions but facts, to
describe under what conditions women lived, not throughout the ages, but
in England, say, in the time of Elizabeth.

For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that
extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of
song or sonnet. What were the conditions in which women lived? I asked
myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a
pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider's
web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all
four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible;
Shakespeare's plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by
themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge,
torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in
mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human
beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and
money and the houses we live in.

I went, therefore, to the shelf where the histories stand and took down
one of the latest, Professor Trevelyan's HISTORY OF ENGLAND. Once more I
looked up Women, found 'position of' and turned to the pages indicated.
'Wife-beating', I read, 'was a recognized right of man, and was
practised without shame by high as well as low. . . . Similarly,' the
historian goes on, 'the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of
her parents' choice was liable to be locked up, beaten and flung about
the room, without any shock being inflicted on public opinion. Marriage
was not an affair of personal affection, but of family avarice,
particularly in the "chivalrous" upper classes. . . . Betrothal often
took place while one or both of the parties was in the cradle, and
marriage when they were scarcely out of the nurses' charge.' That was
about 1470, soon after Chaucer's time. The next reference to the
position of women is some two hundred years later, in the time of the
Stuarts. 'It was still the exception for women of the upper and middle
class to choose their own husbands, and when the husband had been
assigned, he was lord and master, so far at least as law and custom
could make him. Yet even so,' Professor Trevelyan concludes, 'neither
Shakespeare's women nor those of authentic seventeenth-century memoirs,
like the Verneys and the Hutchinsons, seem wanting in personality and
character.' Certainly, if we consider it, Cleopatra must have had a way
with her; Lady Macbeth, one would suppose, had a will of her own;
Rosalind, one might conclude, was an attractive girl. Professor
Trevelyan is speaking no more than the truth when he remarks that
Shakespeare's women do not seem wanting in personality and character.
Not being a historian, one might go even further and say that women have
burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning
of time--Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phedre,
Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi, among the
dramatists; then among the prose writers: Millamant, Clarissa, Becky
Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Madame de Guermantes--the names flock
to mind, nor do they recall women 'lacking in personality and
character.' Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction
written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance;
very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful
and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even
greater [1*]. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor
Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room.

[1* 'It remains a strange and almost inexplicable fact that in Athena's
city, where women were kept in almost Oriental suppression as
odalisques or drudges, the stage should yet have produced figures like
Clytemnestra and Cassandra Atossa and Antigone, Phedre and Medea, and
all the other heroines who dominate play after play of the "misogynist"
Euripides. But the paradox of this world where in real life a
respectable woman could hardly show her face alone in the street, and
yet on the stage woman equals or surpasses man, has never been
satisfactorily explained. In modern tragedy the same predominance
exists. At all events, a very cursory survey of Shakespeare's work
(similarly with Webster, though not with Marlowe or Jonson) suffices to
reveal how this dominance, this initiative of women, persists from
Rosalind to Lady Macbeth. So too in Racine; six of his tragedies bear
their heroines' names; and what male characters of his shall we set
against Hermione and Andromaque, Berenice and Roxane, Phedre and
Athalie? So again with Ibsen; what men shall we match with Solveig and
Nora, Heda and Hilda Wangel and Rebecca West?'--F. L. LUCAS, TRAGEDY,
pp. 114-15.]

A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the
highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She
pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.
She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she
was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger.
Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in
literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could
scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.

It was certainly an odd monster that one made up by reading the
historians first and the poets afterwards--a worm winged like an eagle;
the spirit of life and beauty in a kitchen chopping up suet. But these
monsters, however amusing to the imagination, have no existence in fact.
What one must do to bring her to life was to think poetically and
prosaically at one and the same moment, thus keeping in touch with
fact--that she is Mrs Martin, aged thirty-six, dressed in blue, wearing
a black hat and brown shoes; but not losing sight of fiction
either--that she is a vessel in which all sorts of spirits and forces
are coursing and flashing perpetually. The moment, however, that one
tries this method with the Elizabethan woman, one branch of illumination
fails; one is held up by the scarcity of facts. One knows nothing
detailed, nothing perfectly true and substantial about her. History
scarcely mentions her. And I turned to Professor Trevelyan again to see
what history meant to him. I found by looking at his chapter headings
that it meant----

'The Manor Court and the Methods of Open-field Agriculture . . . The
Cistercians and Sheep-farming . . . The Crusades . . . The University
. . . The House of Commons . . . The Hundred Years' War . . . The Wars of
the Roses . . . The Renaissance Scholars . . . The Dissolution of the
Monasteries . . . Agrarian and Religious Strife . . . The Origin of
English Sea-power. . . The Armada. . .' and so on. Occasionally an
individual woman is mentioned, an Elizabeth, or a Mary; a queen or a
great lady. But by no possible means could middle-class women with
nothing but brains and character at their command have taken part in any
one of the great movements which, brought together, constitute the
historian's view of the past. Nor shall we find her in  collection of
anecdotes. Aubrey hardly mentions her. She never writes her own life
and scarcely keeps a diary; there are only a handful of her letters
in existence. She left no plays or poems by which we can judge her. What
one wants, I thought--and why does not some brilliant student at Newnham
or Girton supply it?--is a mass of information; at what age did she
marry; how many children had she as a rule; what was her house like, had
she a room to herself; did she do the cooking; would she be likely to
have a servant? All these facts lie somewhere, presumably, in parish
registers and account books; the life of the average Elizabethan woman
must be scattered about somewhere, could one collect it and make a book
of it. It would be ambitious beyond my daring, I thought, looking about
the shelves for books that were not there, to suggest to the students of
those famous colleges that they should rewrite history, though I own
that it often seems a little queer as it is, unreal, lop-sided; but why
should they not add a supplement to history, calling it, of course, by
some inconspicuous name so that women might figure there without
impropriety? For one often catches a glimpse of them in the lives of the
great, whisking away into the back ground, concealing, I sometimes
think, a  wink, a laugh, perhaps a tear. And, after all, we have lives
enough of Jane Austen; it scarcely seems necessary to consider again the
influence of the tragedies of Joanna Baillie upon the poetry of Edgar
Allan Poe; as for myself, I should not mind if the homes and haunts of
Mary Russell Mitford were closed to the public for a century at least.
But what I find deplorable, I continued, looking about the bookshelves
again, is that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth
century. I have no model in my mind to turn about this way and that.
Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age,
and I am not sure how they were educated; whether they were taught to
write; whether they had sitting-rooms to themselves; how many women had
children before they were twenty-one; what, in short, they did from
eight in the morning till eight at night. They had no money evidently;
according to Professor Trevelyan they were married whether they liked it
or not before they were out of the nursery, at fifteen or sixteen very
likely. It would have been extremely odd, even upon this showing, had
one of them suddenly written the plays of Shakespeare, I concluded, and
I thought of that old gentleman, who is dead now, but was a bishop, I
think, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present,
or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. He wrote to the papers
about it. He also told a lady who applied to him for information that
cats do not as a matter of fact go to heaven, though they have, he
added, souls of a sort. How much thinking those old gentlemen used to
save one! How the borders of ignorance shrank back at their approach!
Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare.

Be that as it may, I could not help thinking, as I looked at the works
of Shakespeare on the shelf, that the bishop was right at least in this;
it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to
have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Let me
imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened
had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us
say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably,--his mother was an
heiress--to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin--Ovid,
Virgil and Horace--and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is
well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and
had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the
neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That
escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a
taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door.
Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and
lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody,
practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets,
and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his
extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was
as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But
she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and
logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now
and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then
her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew
and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply
but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of
life for a woman and loved their daughter--indeed, more likely than not
she was the apple of her father's eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages
up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire
to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be
betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that
marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her
father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt
him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a
chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his
eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force
of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her
belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the
road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge
were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift
like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for
the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said.
Men laughed in her face. The manager--a fat, looselipped man--guffawed.
He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting--no woman,
he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted--you can imagine what.
She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner
in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for
fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women
and the study of their ways. At last--for she was very young, oddly like
Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded
brows--at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found
herself with child by that gentleman and so--who shall measure the heat
and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's
body?--killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some
cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and
Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in
Shakespeare's day had had Shakespeare's genius. But for my part, I agree
with the deceased bishop, if such he was--it is unthinkable that any
woman in Shakespeare's day should have had Shakespeare's genius. For
genius like Shakespeare's is not born among labouring, uneducated,
servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the
Britons. It is not born to-day among the working classes. How, then,
could it have been born among women whose work began, according to
Professor Trevelyan, almost before they were out of the nursery, who
were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of
law and custom? Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it
must have existed among the working classes. Now and again an Emily
Brontė or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But
certainly it  never got itself on to paper. When, however, one reads of
a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman
selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I
think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some
mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontė who dashed her brains
out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the
torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess
that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a
woman. It was a woman Edward Fitzgerald, I think, suggested who made the
ballads and the folk-songs, crooning them to her children, beguiling her
spinning with them, or the length of the winter's night.

This may be true or it may be false--who can say?--but what is true in
it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare's sister as I
had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth
century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her
days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half
wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology
to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for
poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so
tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must
have lost her health and sanity to a certainty. No girl could have
walked to London and stood at a stage door and forced her way into the
presence of actor-managers without doing herself a violence and
suffering an anguish which may have been irrational--for chastity may be
a fetish invented by certain societies for unknown reasons--but were
none the less inevitable. Chastity had then, it has even now, a
religious importance in a woman's life, and has so wrapped itself round
with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light
of day demands courage of the rarest. To have lived a free life in
London in the six teenth century would have meant for a woman who was
poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have
killed her. Had she survived, whatever she had written would have been
twisted and deformed, issuing from a strained and morbid imagination.
And undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no
plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned. That refuge she would
have sought certainly. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that
dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century.
Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife
as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by
using the name of a man. Thus they did homage to the convention, which
if not implanted by the other sex was liberally encouraged by them (the
chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of, said Pericles, himself a
much-talked-of man) that publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity
runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them. They
are not even now as concerned about the health of their fame as men are,
and, speaking generally, will pass a tombstone or a signpost without
feeling an irresistible desire to cut their names on it, as Alf, Bert or
Chas. must do in obedience to their instinct, which murmurs if it sees a
fine woman go by, or even a dog, Ce chien est a moi. And, of course, it
may not be a dog, I thought, remembering Parliament Square, the Sieges
Allee and other avenues; it may be a piece of land or a man with curly
black hair. It is one of the great advantages of being a woman that one
can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwoman
of her.

That woman, then, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth
century, was an unhappy woman, a woman at strife against herself. All
the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the
state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain. But
what is the state of mind that is most propitious to the act of
creation? I asked. Can one come by any notion of the state that furthers
and makes possible that strange activity? Here I opened the volume
containing the Tragedies of Shakespeare. What was Shakespeare's state of
mind, for instance, when he wrote LEAR and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA? It was
certainly the state of mind most favourable to poetry that there has
ever existed. But Shakespeare himself said nothing about it. We only
know casually and by chance that he 'never blotted a line'. Nothing
indeed was ever said by the artist himself about his state of mind until
the eighteenth century perhaps. Rousseau perhaps began it. At any rate,
by the nineteenth century self-consciousness had developed so far that it
was the habit for men of letters to describe their minds in confessions
and autobiographies. Their lives also were written, and their letters
were printed after their deaths. Thus, though we do not know what
Shakespeare went through when he wrote LEAR, we do know what Carlyle
went through when he wrote the FRENCH REVOLUTION; what Flaubert went
through when he wrote MADAME BOVARY; what Keats was going through when
he tried to write poetry against the coming death and the indifference
of the world.

And one gathers from this enormous modern literature of confession and
self-analysis that to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of
prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will
come from the writer's mind whole and entire. Generally material
circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt;
money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all
these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world's
notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels
and histories; it does not need them. It does not care whether Flaubert
finds the right word or whether Carlyle scrupulously verifies this or
that fact. Naturally, it will not pay for what it does not want. And so
the writer, Keats, Flaubert, Carlyle, suffers, especially in the
creative years of youth, every form of distraction and discouragement. A
curse, a cry of agony, rises from those books of analysis and
confession. 'Mighty poets in their misery dead'--that is the burden of
their song. If anything comes through in spite of all this, it is a
miracle, and probably no book is born entire and uncrippled as it was
conceived.

But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these
difficulties were infinitely more formidable. In the first place, to
have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room,
was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or
very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since
her pin money, which depended on the goodwill of her father, was only
enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as
came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking
tour, a little journey to France, from the separate lodging which, even
if it were miserable enough, sheltered them from the claims and
tyrannies of their families. Such material difficulties were formidable;
but much worse were the immaterial. The indifference of the world which
Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear
was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to
her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to
me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What's the good of your
writing? Here the psychologists of Newnham and Girton might come to our
help, I thought, looking again at the blank spaces on the shelves. For
surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the
artist should be measured, as I have seen a dairy company measure the
effect of ordinary milk and Grade A milk upon the body of the rat. They
set two rats in cages side by side, and of the two one was furtive,
timid and small, and the other was glossy, bold and big. Now what food
do we feed women as artists upon? I asked, remembering, I suppose, that
dinner of prunes and custard. To answer that question I had only to open
the evening paper and to read that Lord Birkenhead is of opinion--but
really I am not going to trouble to copy out Lord Birkenhead's opinion
upon the writing of women. What Dean Inge says I will leave in peace.
The Harley Street specialist may be allowed to rouse the echoes of
Harley Street with his vociferations without raising a hair on my head.
I will quote, however, Mr Oscar Browning, because Mr Oscar Browning was
a great figure in Cambridge at one time, and used to examine the
students at Girton and Newnham. Mr Oscar Browning was wont to declare
'that the impression left on his mind, after looking over any set of
examination papers, was that, irrespective of the marks he might give,
the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man'. After
saying that Mr Browning went back to his rooms--and it is this sequel
that endears him and makes him a human figure of some bulk and
majesty--he went back to his rooms and found a stable-boy lying on the
sofa--'a mere skeleton, his cheeks were cavernous and sallow, his teeth
were black, and he did not appear to have the full use of his limbs. . . .
"That's Arthur" [said Mr Browning]. "He's a dear boy really and most
high-minded."' The two pictures always seem to me to complete each
other. And happily in this age of biography the two pictures often do
complete each other, so that we are able to interpret the opinions of
great men not only by what they say, but by what they do.

But though this is possible now, such opinions coming from the lips of
important people must have been formidable enough even fifty years ago.
Let us suppose that a father from the highest motives did not wish his
daughter to leave home and become writer, painter or scholar. 'See what
Mr Oscar Browning says,' he would say; and there so was not only Mr
Oscar Browning; there was the SATURDAY REVIEW; there was Mr Greg--the
'essentials of a woman's being', said Mr Greg emphatically, 'are that
THEY ARE SUPPORTED BY, AND THEY MINISTER TO, MEN'--there was an enormous
body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected
of women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these
opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in
the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told
profoundly upon her work. There would always have been that
assertion--you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that--to
protest against, to overcome. Probably for a novelist this germ is no
longer of much effect; for there have been women novelists of merit. But
for painters it must still have some sting in it; and for musicians, I
imagine, is even now active and poisonous in the extreme. The woman
composer stands where the actress stood in the time of Shakespeare. Nick
Greene, I thought, remembering the story I had made about Shakespeare's
sister, said that a woman acting put him in mind of a dog dancing.
Johnson repeated the phrase two hundred years later of women preaching.
And here, I said, opening a book about music, we have the very words
used again in this year of grace, 1928, of women who try to write music.
'Of Mlle. Germaine Tailleferre one can only repeat Dr Johnson's dictum
concerning, a woman preacher, transposed into terms of music. "Sir, a
woman's composing is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not
done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."' [* A SURVEY OF
CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, Cecil Gray, P. 246.] So accurately does history
repeat itself.

Thus, I concluded, shutting Mr Oscar Browning's life and pushing away
the rest, it is fairly evident that even in the nineteenth century a
woman was not encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was
snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted. Her mind must have been
strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of
disproving that. For here again we come within range of that very
interesting and obscure masculine complex which has had so much
influence upon the woman's movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much
that SHE shall be inferior as that HE shall be superior, which plants
him wherever one looks, not only in front of the arts, but barring the
way to politics too, even when the risk to himself seems infinitesimal
and the suppliant humble and devoted. Even Lady Bessborough, I
remembered, with all her passion for politics, must humbly bow herself
and write to Lord Granville Leveson-Gower: '. . . notwithstanding all my
violence in politicks and talking so much on that subject, I perfectly
agree with you that no woman has any business to meddle with that or any
other serious business, farther than giving her opinion (if she is
ask'd).' And so she goes on to spend her enthusiasm where it meets with
no obstacle whatsoever, upon that immensely important subject, Lord
Granville's maiden speech in the House of Commons. The spectacle is
certainly a strange one, I thought. The history of men's opposition to
women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that
emancipation itself. An amusing book might be made of it if some young
student at Girton or Newnham would collect examples and deduce a
theory,--but she would need thick gloves on her hands, and bars to
protect her of solid gold.

But what is amusing now, I recollected, shutting Lady Bessborough, had
to be taken in desperate earnest once. Opinions that one now pastes in a
book labelled cock-a-doodledum and keeps for reading to select audiences
on summer nights once drew tears, I can assure you. Among your
grandmothers and great-grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes
out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. [* See CASSANDRA,
by Florence Nightingale, printed in THE CAUSE, by R. Strachey.]
Moreover, it is all very well for you, who have got yourselves to
college and enjoy sitting-rooms--or is it only bed-sitting-rooms?--of
your own to say that genius should disregard such opinions; that genius
should be above caring what is said of it. Unfortunately, it is
precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them.
Remember Keats. Remember the words he had cut on his tombstone. Think of
Tennyson; think but I need hardly multiply instances of the undeniable,
if very fortunate, fact that it is the nature of the artist to mind
excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the
wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

And this susceptibility of theirs is doubly unfortunate, I thought,
returning again to my original enquiry into what state of mind is most
propitious for creative work, because the mind of an artist, in order to
achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that
is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare's mind, I conjectured,
looking at the book which lay open at ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. There must
be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed.

For though we say that we know nothing about Shakespeare's state of
mind, even as we say that, we are saying something about Shakespeare's
state of mind. The reason perhaps why we know so little of
Shakespeare--compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton--is that his
grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not held
up by some 'revelation' which reminds us of the writer. All desire to
protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make
the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him
and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded. If
ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was
Shakespeare. If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought,
turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare's mind.




FOUR



That one would find any woman in that state of mind in the sixteenth
century was obviously impossible. One has only to think of the
Elizabethan tombstones with all those children kneeling with clasped
hands; and their early deaths; and to see their houses with their dark,
cramped rooms, to realize that no woman could have written poetry then.
What one would expect to find would be that rather later perhaps some
great lady would take advantage of her comparative freedom and comfort
to publish something with her name to it and risk being thought a
monster. Men, of course, are not snobs, I continued, carefully eschewing
'the arrant feminism' of Miss Rebecca West; but they appreciate with
sympathy for the most part the efforts of a countess to write verse. One
would expect to find a lady of title meeting with far greater
encouragement than an unknown Miss Austen or a Miss Brontė at that time
would have met with. But one would also expect to find that her mind was
disturbed by alien emotions like fear and hatred and that her poems
showed traces of that disturbance. Here is Lady Winchilsea, for example,
I thought, taking down her poems. She was born in the year 1661; she was
noble both by birth and by marriage; she was childless; she wrote
poetry, and one has only to open her poetry to find her bursting out in
indignation against the position of women:


How we are fallen! fallen by mistaken rules,
And Education's more than Nature's fools;
Debarred from all improvements of the mind,
And to be dull, expected and designed;

And if someone would soar above the rest,
With warmer fancy, and ambition pressed,
So strong the opposing faction still appears,
The hopes to thrive can ne'er outweigh the fears.


Clearly her mind has by no means 'consumed all impediments and become
incandescent'. On the contrary, it is harassed and distracted with hates
and grievances. The human race is split up for her into two parties. Men
are the 'opposing faction'; men are hated and feared, because they have
the power to bar her way to what she wants to do--which is to write.

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
They tell us we mistake our sex and way;
Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play,
Are the accomplishments we should desire;
To write, or read, or think, or to enquire,
Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,
And interrupt the conquests of our prime.
Whilst the dull manage of a servile house
Is held by some our utmost art and use.


Indeed she has to encourage herself to write by supposing that what she
writes will never be published; to soothe herself with the sad chant:


To some few friends, and to thy sorrows sing,
For groves of laurel thou wert never meant;
Be dark enough thy shades, and be thou there content.


Yet it is clear that could she have freed her mind from hate and fear
and not heaped it with bitterness and resentment, the fire was hot
within her. Now and again words issue of pure poetry:


Nor will in fading silks compose,
Faintly the inimitable rose.


--they are rightly praised by Mr Murry, and Pope, it is thought,
remembered and appropriated those others:


Now the jonquille o'ercomes the feeble brain;
We faint beneath the aromatic pain.


It was a thousand pities that the woman who could write like that, whose
mind was tuned to nature and reflection, should have been forced to
anger and bitterness. But how could she have helped herself? I asked,
imagining the sneers and the laughter, the adulation of the toadies, the
scepticism of the professional poet. She must have shut herself up in a
room in the country to write, and been torn asunder by bitterness and
scruples perhaps, though her husband was of the kindest, and their
married life perfection. She 'must have', I say, because when one comes
to seek out the facts about Lady Winchilsea, one finds, as usual, that
almost nothing is known about her. She suffered terribly from
melancholy, which we can explain at least to some extent when we find
her telling us how in the grip of it she would imagine:


My lines decried, and my employment thought
An useless folly or presumptuous fault:


The employment, which was thus censured, was, as far as one can see, the
harmless one of rambling about the fields and dreaming:


My hand delights to trace unusual things,
And deviates from the known and common way,
Nor will in fading silks compose,
Faintly the inimitable rose.


Naturally, if that was her habit and that was her delight, she could
only expect to be laughed at; and, accordingly, Pope or Gay is said to
have satirized her 'as a blue-stocking with an itch for scribbling'.
Also it is thought that she offended Gay by laughing at him. She said
that his TRIVIA showed that 'he was more proper to walk before a chair
than to ride in one'. But this is all 'dubious gossip' and, says Mr
Murry, 'uninteresting'. But there I do not agree with him, for I should
have liked to have had more even of dubious gossip so that I might have
found out or made up some image of this melancholy lady, who loved
wandering in the fields and thinking about unusual things and scorned,
so rashly, so unwisely, 'the dull manage of a servile house'. But she
became diffuse, Mr Murry says. Her gift is all grown about with weeds
and bound with briars. It had no chance of showing itself for the fine
distinguished gift it was. And so, putting, her back on the shelf, I
turned to the other great lady, the Duchess whom Lamb loved,
hare-brained, fantastical Margaret of Newcastle, her elder, but her
contemporary. They were very different, but alike in this that both were
noble and both childless, and both were married to the best of husbands.
In both burnt the same passion for poetry and both are disfigured and
deformed by the same causes. Open the Duchess and one finds the same
outburst of rage. 'Women live like Bats or Owls, labour like Beasts, and
die like Worms. . . .' Margaret too might have been a poet; in our day
all that activity would have turned a wheel of some sort. As it was,
what could bind, tame or civilize for human use that wild, generous,
untutored intelligence? It poured itself out, higgledy-piggledy, in
torrents of rhyme and prose, poetry and philosophy which stand congealed
in quartos and folios that nobody ever reads. She should have had a
microscope put in her hand. She should have been taught to look at the
stars and reason scientifically. Her wits were turned with solitude and
freedom. No one checked her. No one taught her. The professors fawned on
her. At Court they jeered at her. Sir Egerton Brydges complained of her
coarseness--'as flowing from a female of high rank brought up in the
Courts'. She shut herself up at Welbeck alone.

What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish
brings to mind! as if some giant cucumber had spread itself over all the
roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death. What a
waste that the woman who wrote 'the best bred women are those whose
minds are civilest' should have frittered her time away scribbling
nonsense and plunging ever deeper into obscurity and folly till the
people crowded round her coach when she issued out. Evidently the crazy
Duchess became a bogey to frighten clever girls with. Here, I
remembered, putting away the Duchess and opening Dorothy Osborne's
letters, is Dorothy writing to Temple about the Duchess's new book.
'Sure the poore woman is a little distracted, shee could never bee soe
rediculous else as to venture at writeing book's and in verse too, if I
should not sleep this fortnight I should not come to that.'

And so, since no woman of sense and modesty could write books, Dorothy,
who was sensitive and melancholy, the very opposite of the Duchess in
temper, wrote nothing. Letters did not count. A woman might write
letters while she was sitting by her father's sick-bed. She could write
them by the fire whilst the men talked without disturbing them. The
strange thing is, I thought, turning over the pages of Dorothy's
letters, what a gift that untaught and solitary girl had for the framing
of a sentence, for the fashioning of a scene. Listen to her running on:

'After dinner wee sitt and talk till Mr B. com's in question and then I
am gon. the heat of the day is spent in reading or working and about
sixe or seven a Clock, I walke out into a Common that lyes hard by the
house where a great many young wenches keep Sheep and Cow's and sitt in
the shades singing of Ballads; I goe to them and compare their voyces
and Beauty's to some Ancient Shepherdesses that I have read of and finde
a vaste difference there, but trust mee I think these are as innocent as
those could bee. I talke to them, and finde they want nothing to make
them the happiest People in the world, but the knoledge that they are
soe. most commonly when we are in the middest of our discourse one looks
aboute her and spyes her Cow's goeing into the Corne and then away they
all run, as if they had wing's at theire heels. I that am not soe nimble
stay behinde, and when I see them driveing home theire Cattle I think
tis time for mee to retyre too. when I have supped I goe into the Garden
and soe to the syde of a small River that runs by it where I sitt downe
and wish you with mee. . . .'

One could have sworn that she had the makings of a writer in her. But
'if I should not sleep this fortnight I should not come to that'--one
can measure the opposition that was in the air to a woman writing when
one finds that even a woman with a great turn for writing has brought
herself to believe that to write a book was to be ridiculous, even to
show oneself distracted. And so we come, I continued, replacing the
single short volume of Dorothy Osborne's letters upon the shelf, to Mrs
Behn.

And with Mrs Behn we turn a very important corner on the road. We leave
behind, shut up in their parks among their folios, those solitary great
ladies who wrote without audience or criticism, for their own delight
alone. We come to town and rub shoulders with ordinary people in the
streets. Mrs Behn was a middle-class woman with all the plebeian virtues
of humour, vitality and courage; a woman forced by the death of her
husband and some unfortunate adventures of her own to make her living by
her wits. She had to work on equal terms with men. She made, by working
very hard, enough to live on. The importance of that fact outweighs
anything that she actually wrote, even the splendid 'A Thousand Martyrs
I have made', or 'Love in Fantastic Triumph sat', for here begins the
freedom of the mind, or rather the possibility that in the course of
time the mind will be free to write what it likes. For now that Aphra
Behn had done it, girls could go to their parents and say, You need not
give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen. Of course the answer
for many years to come was, Yes, by living the life of Aphra Behn! Death
would be better! and the door was slammed faster than ever. That
profoundly interesting subject, the value that men set upon women's
chastity and its effect upon their education, here suggests itself for
discussion, and might provide an interesting book if any student at
Girton or Newnham cared to go into the matter. Lady Dudley, sitting in
diamonds among the midges of a Scottish moor, might serve for
frontispiece. Lord Dudley, THE TIMES said when Lady Dudley died the
other day, 'a man of cultivated taste and many accomplishments, was
benevolent and bountiful, but whimsically despotic. He insisted upon his
wife's wearing full dress, even at the remotest shooting-lodge in the
Highlands; he loaded her with gorgeous jewels', and so on, 'he gave her
everything--always excepting any measure of responsibility'. Then Lord
Dudley had a stroke and she nursed him and ruled his estates with
supreme competence for ever after. That whimsical despotism was in the
nineteenth century too.

But to return. Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing at
the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by
degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind,
but was of practical importance. A husband might die, or some disaster
overtake the family. Hundreds of women began as the eighteenth century
drew on to add to their pin money, or to come to the rescue of their
families by making translations or writing the innumerable bad novels
which have ceased to be recorded even in text-books, but are to be
picked up in the fourpenny boxes in the Charing Cross Road. The extreme
activity of mind which showed itself in the later eighteenth century
among women--the talking, and the meeting, the writing of essays on
Shakespeare, the translating of the classics--was founded on the solid
fact that women could make money by writing. Money dignifies what is
frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at 'blue
stockings with an itch for scribbling', but it could not be denied that
they could put money in their purses. Thus, towards the end of the
eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting
history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance
than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses.

The middle-class woman began to write. For if PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
matters, and MIDDLEMARCH and VILLETTE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS matter, then
it matters far more than I can prove in an hour's discourse that women
generally, and not merely the lonely aristocrat shut up in her country
house among her folios and her flatterers, took to writing. Without
those forerunners, Jane Austen and the Brontės and George Eliot could no
more have written than Shakespeare could have written without Marlowe,
or Marlowe without Chaucer, or Chaucer without those forgotten poets who
paved the ways and tamed the natural savagery of the tongue. For
masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of
many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people,
so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. Jane
Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney, and
George Eliot done homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter--the
valiant old woman who tied a bell to her bedstead in order that she
might wake early and learn Greek. All women together ought to let
flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously
but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who
earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she--shady and amorous
as she was--who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you
to-night: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.

Here, then, one had reached the early nineteenth century. And here, for
the first time, I found several shelves given up entirely to the works
of women. But why, I could not help asking, as I ran my eyes over them,
were they, with very few exceptions, all novels? The original impulse
was to poetry. The 'supreme head of song' was a poetess. Both in France
and in England the women poets precede the women novelists. Moreover, I
thought, looking at the four famous names, what had George Eliot in
common with Emily Brontė? Did not Charlotte Brontė fail entirely to
understand Jane Austen? Save for the possibly relevant fact that not one
of them had a child, four more incongruous characters could not have met
together in a room--so much so that it is tempting to invent a meeting
and a dialogue between them. Yet by some strange force they were all
compelled when they wrote, to write novels. Had it something to do with
being born of the middle class, I asked; and with the fact, which Miss
Emily Davies a little later was so strikingly to demonstrate, that the
middle-class family in the early nineteenth century was possessed only of
a single sitting-room between them? If a woman wrote, she would have to
write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so
vehemently to complain,--"women never have an half hour . . . that they
can call their own"--she was always interrupted. Still it would be
easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play.
Less concentration is required. Jane Austen wrote like that to the end
of her days. 'How she was able to effect all this', her nephew writes in
his Memoir, 'is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to,
and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room,
subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her
occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any
persons beyond her own family party. [* MEMOIR OF JANE AUSTEN, by her
nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh.] Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or
covered them with a piece of blotting-paper. Then, again, all the
literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was
training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.
Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the
common sitting-room. People's feelings were impressed on her; personal
relations were always before her eyes. Therefore, when the middle-class
woman took to writing, she naturally wrote novels, even though, as seems
evident enough, two of the four famous women here named were not by
nature novelists. Emily Brontė should have written poetic plays; the
overflow of George Eliot's capacious mind should have spread itself when
the creative impulse was spent upon history or biography. They wrote
novels, however; one may even go further, I said, taking PRIDE AND
PREJUDICE from the shelf, and say that they wrote good novels. Without
boasting or giving pain to the opposite sex, one may say that PRIDE AND
PREJUDICE is a good book. At any rate, one would not have been ashamed
to have been caught in the act of writing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Yet Jane
Austen was glad that a hinge creaked, so that she might hide her
manuscript before anyone came in. To Jane Austen there was something
discreditable in writing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. And, I wondered, would
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not
thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors? I read a
page or two to see; but I could not find any signs that her
circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest. That, perhaps, was
the chief miracle about it. Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing
without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without
preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at ANTONY
AND CLEOPATRA; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they
may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for
that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare,
and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and
so does Shakespeare. If Jane Austen suffered in any way from her
circumstances it was in the narrowness of life that was imposed upon
her. It was impossible for a woman to go about alone. She never
travelled; she never drove through London in an omnibus or had luncheon
in a shop by herself. But perhaps it was the nature of Jane Austen not
to want what she had not. Her gift and her circumstances matched each
other completely. But I doubt whether that was true of Charlotte Brontė,
I said, opening JANE EYRE and laying it beside PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

I opened it at chapter twelve and my eye was caught by the phrase
'Anybody may blame me who likes'. What were they blaming Charlotte
Brontė for? I wondered. And I read how Jane Eyre used to go up on to the
roof when Mrs Fairfax was making jellies and looked over the fields at
the distant view. And then she longed--and it was for this that they
blamed her--that 'then I longed for a power of vision which might
overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions
full of life I had heard of but never seen: that then I desired more of
practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind,
of acquaintance with variety of character than was here within my reach.
I valued what was good in Mrs Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I
believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and
what I believed in I wished to behold.

'Who blames me? Many, no doubt, and I shall he called discontented. I
could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to
pain sometimes. . . .

'It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity:
they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in
silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions
ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to
be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need
exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as
their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute
a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in
their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine
themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the
piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh
at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has
pronounced necessary for their sex.

'When thus alone I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh. . . .'

That is an awkward break, I thought. It is upsetting to come upon Grace
Poole all of a sudden. The continuity is disturbed. One might say, I
continued, laying the book down beside PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, that the
woman who wrote those pages had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but
if one reads them over and marks that jerk in them, that indignation,
one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire.
Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where
she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write
wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her
characters. She is at war with her lot. How could she help but die
young, cramped and thwarted?

One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have
happened if Charlotte Brontė had possessed say three hundred a year--but
the foolish woman sold the copyright of her novels outright for fifteen
hundred pounds; had somehow possessed more knowledge of the busy world,
and towns and regions full of life; more practical experience, and
intercourse with her kind and acquaintance with a variety of character.
In those words she puts her finger exactly not only upon her own defects
as a novelist but upon those of her sex at that time. She knew, no one
better, how enormously her genius would have profited if it had not
spent itself in solitary visions over distant fields; if experience and
intercourse and travel had been granted her. But they were not granted;
they were withheld; and we must accept the fact that all those good
novels, VILLETTE, EMMA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, MIDDLEMARCH, were written by
women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a
respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that
respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to
buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write
WUTHERING HEIGHTS or JANE EYRE. One of them, it is true, George Eliot,
escaped after much tribulation, but only to a secluded villa in St
John's Wood. And there she settled down in the shadow of the world's
disapproval. 'I wish it to be understood', she wrote, 'that I should
never invite anyone to come and see me who did not ask for the
invitation'; for was she not living in sin with a married man and might
not the sight of her damage the chastity of Mrs Smith or whoever it
might be that chanced to call? One must submit to the social convention,
and be 'cut off from what is called the world'. At the same time,
on the other side of Europe, there was a young man living freely
with this gypsy or with that great lady; going to the wars; picking up
unhindered and uncensored all that varied experience of human life which
served him so splendidly later when he came to write his books. Had
Tolstoi lived at the Priory in seclusion with a married lady 'cut off
from what is called the world', however edifying the moral lesson, he
could scarcely, I thought, have written WAR AND PEACE.

But one could perhaps go a little deeper into the question of
novel-writing and the effect of sex upon the novelist. If one shuts
one's eyes and thinks of the novel as a whole, it would seem to be a
creation owning a certain looking-glass likeness to life, though of
course with simplifications and distortions innumerable. At any rate, it
is a structure leaving a shape on the mind's eye, built now in squares,
now pagoda shaped, now throwing out wings and arcades, now solidly
compact and domed like the Cathedral of Saint Sofia at Constantinople.
This shape, I thought, thinking back over certain famous novels, starts
in one the kind of emotion that is appropriate to it. But that emotion
at once blends itself with others, for the 'shape' is not made by the
relation of stone to stone, but by the relation of human being to human
being. Thus a novel starts in us all sorts of antagonistic and opposed
emotions. Life conflicts with something that is not life. Hence the
difficulty of coming to any agreement about novels, and the immense sway
that our private prejudices have upon us. On the one hand we feel
You--John the hero--must live, or I shall be in the depths of despair.
On the other, we feel, Alas, John, you must die, because the shape of
the book requires it. Life conflicts with something that is not life.
Then since life it is in part, we judge it as life. James is the sort of
man I most detest, one says. Or, This is a farrago of absurdity. I could
never feel anything of the sort myself. The whole structure, it is
obvious, thinking back on any famous novel, is one of infinite
complexity, because it is thus made up of so many different judgements,
of so many different kinds of emotion. The wonder is that any book so
composed holds together for more than a year or two, or can possibly
mean to the English reader what it means for the Russian or the Chinese.
But they do hold together occasionally very remarkably. And what holds
them together in these rare instances of survival (I was thinking of WAR
AND PEACE) is something that one calls integrity, though it has nothing
to do with paying one's bills or behaving honourably in an emergency.
What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the
conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes, one feels, I
should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known
people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is, so
it happens. One holds every phrase, every scene to the light as one
reads--for Nature seems, very oddly, to have provided us with an inner
light by which to judge of the novelist's integrity or disintegrity. Or
perhaps it is rather that Nature, in her most irrational mood, has
traced in invisible ink on the walls of the mind a premonition which
these great artists confirm; a sketch which only needs to be held to the
fire of genius to become visible. When one so exposes it and sees it
come to life one exclaims in rapture, But this is what I have always
felt and known and desired! And one boils over with excitement, and,
shutting the book even with a kind of reverence as if it were something
very precious, a stand-by to return to as long as one lives, one puts it
back on the shelf, I said, taking WAR AND PEACE and putting it back in
its place. If, on the other hand, these poor sentences that one takes
and tests rouse first a quick and eager response with their bright
colouring and their dashing gestures but there they stop: something
seems to check them in their development: or if they bring to light only
a faint scribble in that corner and a blot over there, and nothing
appears whole and entire, then one heaves a sigh of disappointment and
says. Another failure. This novel has come to grief somewhere.

And for the most part, of course, novels do come to grief somewhere. The
imagination falters under the enormous strain. The insight is confused;
it can no longer distinguish between the true and the false, it has no
longer the strength to go on with the vast labour that calls at every
moment for the use of so many different faculties. But how would all
this be affected by the sex of the novelist, I wondered, looking at JANE
EYRE and the others. Would the fact of her sex in any way interfere with
the integrity of a woman novelist--that integrity which I take to be the
backbone of the writer? Now, in the passages I have quoted from JANE
EYRE, it is clear that anger was tampering with the integrity of
Charlotte Brontė the novelist. She left her story, to which her entire
devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance. She remembered
that she had been starved of her proper due of experience--she had been
made to stagnate in a parsonage mending stockings when she wanted to
wander free over the world. Her imagination swerved from indignation and
we feel it swerve. But there were many more influences than anger
tugging at her imagination and deflecting it from its path. Ignorance,
for instance. The portrait of Rochester is drawn in the dark. We feel
the influence of fear in it; just as we constantly feel an acidity which
is the result of oppression, a buried suffering smouldering beneath her
passion, a rancour which contracts those books, splendid as they are,
with a spasm of pain.

And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are
to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of
women differ very often from the values which have been made by the
other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that
prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are 'important'; the
worship of fashion, the buying of clothes 'trivial'. And these values
are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important
book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an
insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a
drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene
in a shop--everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value
persists. The whole structure, therefore, of the early
nineteenth-century novel was raised, if one was a woman, by a mind which
was slightly pulled from the straight, and made to alter its clear
vision in deference to external authority. One has only to skim those
old forgotten novels and listen to the tone of voice in which they are
written to divine that the writer was meeting criticism; she was saying
this by way of aggression, or that by way of conciliation. She was
admitting that she was 'only a woman', or protesting that she was 'as
good as a man'. She met that criticism as her temperament dictated, with
docility and diffidence, or with anger and emphasis. It does not matter
which it was; she was thinking of something other than the thing itself.
Down comes her book upon our heads. There was a flaw in the centre of
it. And I thought of all the women's novels that lie scattered, like
small pock-marked apples in an orchard, about the second-hand book shops
of London. It was the flaw in the centre that had rotted them. She had
altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.

But how impossible it must have been for them not to budge either to the
right or to the left. What genius, what integrity it must have required
in face of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal
society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking.
Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontė. It is another feather, perhaps
the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write.
Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely
ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue--write this,
think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now
grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked,
now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but
must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them,
like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined; dragging even into the
criticism of poetry criticism of sex; [*1] admonishing them, if they
would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within
certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable--'. . .
female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously
acknowledging the limitations of their sex'. [*2] That puts the matter
in a nutshell, and when I tell you, rather to your surprise, that this
sentence was written not in August 1828 but in August 1928, you will
agree, I think, that however delightful it is to us now, it represents a
vast body of opinion--I am not going to stir those old pools; I take
only what chance has floated to my feet--that was far more vigorous and
far more vocal a century ago. It would have needed a very stalwart young
woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs and chidings and promises of
prizes. One must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself,
Oh, but they can't buy literature too. Literature is open to everybody.
I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass.
Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no
bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

[*1 [She] has a metaphysical purpose, and that is a dangerous obsession,
especially with a woman, for women rarely possess men's healthy love of
rhetoric. It is a strange lack in the sex which is in other things more
primitive and more materialistic.'--NEW CRITERION, June 1928.]

[*2 'If, like the reporter, you believe that female novelists should
only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations
of their sex (Jane Austen [has] demonstrated how gracefully this gesture
can be accomplished . . .).'--LIFE AND LETTERS, August 1928.]

But whatever effect discouragement and criticism had upon their
writing--and I believe that they had a very great effect--that was
unimportant compared with the other difficulty which faced them (I was
still considering those early nineteenth-century novelists) when they
came to set their thoughts on paper--that is that they had no tradition
behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For
we think back through our mothers if we are women. It is useless to go
to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for
pleasure. Lamb, Browne, Thackeray, Newman, Sterne, Dickens, De
Quincey--whoever it may be--never helped a woman yet, though she may
have learnt a few tricks of them and adapted them to her use. The
weight, the pace, the stride of a man's mind are too unlike her own for
her to lift anything substantial from him successfully. The ape is too
distant to be sedulous. Perhaps the first thing she would find, setting
pen to paper, was that there was no common sentence ready for her use.
All the great novelists like Thackeray and Dickens and Balzac have
written a natural prose, swift but not slovenly, expressive but not
precious, taking their own tint without ceasing to be common property.
They have based it on the sentence that was current at the time. The
sentence that was current at the beginning of the nineteenth century ran
something like this perhaps: 'The grandeur of their works was an
argument with them, not to stop short, but to proceed. They could have
no higher excitement or satisfaction than in the exercise of their art
and endless generations of truth and beauty. Success prompts to
exertion; and habit facilitates success.' That is a man's sentence;
behind it one can see Johnson, Gibbon and the rest. It was a sentence
that was unsuited for a woman's use. Charlotte Brontė, with all her
splendid gift for prose, stumbled and fell with that clumsy weapon in
her hands. George Eliot committed atrocities with it that beggar
description. Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a
perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never
departed from it. Thus, with less genius for writing than Charlotte
Brontė, she got infinitely more said. Indeed, since freedom and fullness
of expression are of the essence of the art, such a lack of tradition,
such a scarcity and inadequacy of tools, must have told enormously upon
the writing of women. Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end
to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or
domes. And this shape too has been made by men out of their own needs
for their own uses. There is no reason to think that the form of the
epic or of the poetic play suit a woman any more than the sentence suits
her. But all the older forms of literature were hardened and set by the
time she became a writer. The novel alone was young enough to be soft in
her hands another reason, perhaps, why she wrote novels. Yet who shall
say that even now 'the novel' (I give it inverted commas to mark my
sense of the words' inadequacy), who shall say that even this most
pliable of all forms is rightly shaped for her use? No doubt we shall
find her knocking that into shape for herself when she has the free use
of her limbs; and providing some new vehicle, not necessarily in verse,
for the poetry in her. For it is the poetry that is still denied outlet.
And I went on to ponder how a woman nowadays would write a poetic
tragedy in five acts. Would she use verse?--would she not use prose
rather?

But these are difficult questions which lie in the twilight of the
future. I must leave them, if only because they stimulate me to wander
from my subject into trackless forests where I shall be lost and, very
likely, devoured by wild beasts. I do not want, and I am sure that you
do not want me, to broach that very dismal subject, the future of
fiction. so that I will only pause here one moment to draw your
attention to the great part which must be played in that future so far
as women are concerned by physical conditions. The book has somehow to
be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women's
books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and
framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted
work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that
feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are
going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what
treatment suits them--whether these hours of lectures, for instance,
which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit
them--what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest
not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is
different; and what should that difference be? All this should be
discussed and discovered; all this is part of the question of women and
fiction. And yet, I continued, approaching the bookcase again, where
shall I find that elaborate study of the psychology of women by a woman?
If through their incapacity to play football women are not going to be
allowed to practise medicine--

Happily my thoughts were now given another turn.




FIVE



I had come at last, in the course of this rambling, to the shelves which
hold books by the living; by women and by men; for there are almost as
many books written by women now as by men. Or if that is not yet quite
true, if the male is still the voluble sex, it is certainly true that
women no longer write novels solely. There are Jane Harrison's books on
Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee's books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell's
books on Persia. There are books on all sorts of subjects which a
generation ago no woman could have touched. There are poems and plays
and criticism; there are histories and biographies, books of travel and
books of scholarship and research; there are even a few philosophies and
books about science and economics. And though novels predominate, novels
themselves may very well have changed from association with books of a
different feather. The natural simplicity, the epic age of women's
writing, may have gone. Reading and criticism may have given her a wider
range, a greater subtlety. The impulse towards autobiography may be
spent. She may be beginning to use writing as an art, not as a method of
selfexpression. Among these new novels one might find an answer to
several such questions.

I took down one of them at random. It stood at the very end of the
shelf, was called LIFE'S ADVENTURE, or some such title, by Mary
Carmichael, and was published in this very month of October. It seems to
be her first book, I said to myself, but one must read it as if it were
the last volume in a fairly long series, continuing all those other
books that I have been glancing at--Lady Winchilsea's poems and Aphra
Behn's plays and the novels of the four great novelists. For books
continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.
And I must also consider her--this unknown woman--as the descendant of
all those other women whose circumstances I have been glancing at and
see what she inherits of their characteristics and restrictions. So,
with a sigh, because novels so often provide an anodyne and not an
antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a
burning brand, I settled down with a notebook and a pencil to make what
I could of Mary Carmichael's first novel, LIFE'S ADVENTURE.

To begin with, I ran my eye up and down the page. I am going to get the
hang of her sentences first, I said, before I load my memory with blue
eyes and brown and the relationship that there may be between Chloe and
Roger. There will be time for that when I have decided whether she has a
pen in her hand or a pickaxe. So I tried a sentence or two on my tongue.
Soon it was obvious that something was not quite in order. The smooth
gliding of sentence after sentence was interrupted. Something tore,
something scratched; a single word here and there flashed its torch in
my eyes. She was 'unhanding' herself as they say in the old plays. She
is like a person striking a match that will not light, I thought. But
why, I asked her as if she were present, are Jane Austen's sentences not
of the right shape for you? Must they all be scrapped because Emma and
Mr Woodhouse are dead? Alas, I sighed, that it should be so. For while
Jane Austen breaks from melody to melody as Mozart from song to song, to
read this writing was like being out at sea in an open boat. Up one
went, down one sank. This terseness, this short-windedness, might mean
that she was afraid of something; afraid of being called 'sentimental'
perhaps; or she remembers that women's writing has been called flowery
and so provides a superfluity of thorns; but until I have read a scene
with some care, I cannot be surewhether she is being herself or someone
else. At any rate, she does not lower one's vitality, I thought, reading
more carefully. But she is heaping up too many facts. She will not be
able to use half of them in a book of this size. (It was about half the
length of JANE EYRE.) However, by some means or other she succeeded in
getting us all--Roger, Chloe, Olivia, Tony and Mr Bigham--in a canoe up
the river. Wait a moment, I said, leaning back in my chair, I must
consider the whole thing more carefully before I go any further.

I am almost sure, I said to myself, that Mary Carmichael is playing a
trick on us. For I feel as one feels on a switchback railway when the
car, instead of sinking, as one has been led to expect, swerves up
again. Mary is tampering with the expected sequence. First she broke the
sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every
right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of
breaking, but for the sake of creating. Which of the two it is I cannot
be sure until she has faced herself with a situation. I will give her
every liberty, I said, to choose what that situation shall be; she shall
make it of tin cans and old kettles if she likes; but she must convince
me that she believes it to be a situation; and then when she has made it
she must face it. She must jump. And, determined to do my duty by her as
reader if she would do her duty by me as writer, I turned the page and
read . . . I am sorry to break off so abruptly. Are there no men
present? Do you promise me that behind that red curtain over there the
figure of Sir Charles Biron is not concealed? We are all women you
assure me? Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were
these--'Chloe liked Olivia . . .' Do not start. Do not blush. Let us
admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes
happen. Sometimes women do like women.

'Chloe liked Olivia,' I read. And then it struck me how immense a change
was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.
Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought, letting
my mind, I am afraid, wander a little from LIFE'S ADVENTURE, the whole
thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly.
Cleopatra's only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller
than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no
more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between
the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between
women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious
women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I
tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women
are represented as friends. There is an attempt at it in DIANA OF THE
CROSSWAYS. They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek
tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost
without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was
strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane
Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation
to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman's life is that; and
how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the
black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose. Hence, perhaps,
the peculiar nature of woman in fiction; the astonishing extremes of her
beauty and horror; her alternations between heavenly goodness and
hellish depravity--for so a lover would see her as his love rose or
sank, was prosperous or unhappy. This is not so true of the
nineteenth-century novelists, of course. Woman becomes much more various
and complicated there. Indeed it was the desire to write about women
perhaps that led men by degrees to abandon the poetic drama which, with
its violence, could make so little use of them, and to devise the novel
as a more fitting receptacle. Even so it remains obvious, even in the
writing of Proust, that a man is terribly hampered and partial in his
knowledge of women, as a woman in her knowledge of men.

Also, I continued, looking down at the page again, it is becoming
evident that women, like men, have other interests besides the perennial
interests of domesticity. 'Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a laboratory
together. . ..' I read on and discovered that these two young women were
engaged in mincing liver, which is, it seems, a cure for pernicious
anaemia; although one of them was married and had--I think I am right in
stating--two small children. Now all that, of course, has had to be left
out, and thus the splendid portrait of the fictitious woman is much too
simple and much too monotonous. Suppose, for instance, that men were
only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never
the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the
plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would
suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of
Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no
Jaques--literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed
literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have
been shut upon women. Married against their will, kept in one room, and
to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or
truthful account of them? Love was the only possible interpreter. The
poet was forced to be passionate or bitter, unless indeed he chose to
'hate women', which meant more often than not that he was unattractive
to them.

Now if Chloe likes Olivia and they share a laboratory, which of itself
will make their friendship more varied and lasting because it will be
less personal; if Mary Carmichael knows how to write, and I was
beginning to enjoy some quality in her style; if she has a room to
herself, of which I am not quite sure; if she has five hundred a year of
her own--but that remains to be proved--then I think that something of
great importance has happened.

For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it
she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been.
It is all half lights and profound shadows like those serpentine caves
where one goes with a candle peering up and down, not knowing where one
is stepping. And I began to read the book again, and read how Chloe
watched Olivia put a jar on a shelf and say how it was time to go home
to her children. That is a sight that has never been seen since the
world began, I exclaimed. And I watched too, very curiously. For I
wanted to see how Mary Carmichael set to work to catch those unrecorded
gestures, those unsaid or half-said words, which form themselves, no
more palpably than the shadows of moths on the ceiling, when women are
alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex. She
will need to hold her breath, I said, reading on, if she is to do it;
for women are so suspicious of any interest that has not some obvious
motive behind it, so terribly accustomed to concealment and suppression,
that they are off at the flicker of an eye turned observingly in their
direction. The only way for you to do it, I thought, addressing Mary
Carmichael as if she were there, would be to talk of something else,
looking steadily out of the window, and thus note, not with a pencil in
a notebook, but in the shortest of shorthand, in words that are hardly
syllabled yet, what happens when Olivia--this organism that has been
under the shadow of the rock these million years--feels the light fall
on it, and sees coming her way a piece of strange food--knowledge,
adventure, art. And she reaches out for it, I thought, again raising my
eyes from the page, and has to devise some entirely new combination of
her resources, so highly developed for other purposes, so as to absorb
the new into the old without disturbing the infinitely intricate and
elaborate balance of the whole.

But, alas, I had done what I had determined not to do; I had slipped
unthinkingly into praise of my own sex. 'Highly developed'--'infinitely
intricate'--such are undeniably terms of praise, and to praise one's own
sex is always suspect, often silly; moreover, in this case, how could
one justify it? One could not go to the map and say Columbus discovered
America and Columbus was a woman; or take an apple and remark, Newton
discovered the laws of gravitation and Newton was a woman; or look into
the sky and say aeroplanes are flying overhead and aeroplanes were
invented by women. There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise
height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the
fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good
mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or
the capacity of a housekeeper. Few women even now have been graded at
the universities; the great trials of the professions, army and navy,
trade, politics and diplomacy have hardly tested them. They remain even
at this moment almost unclassified. But if I want to know all that a
human being can tell me about Sir Hawley Butts, for instance, I have
only to open Burke or Debrett and I shall find that he took such and
such a degree; owns a hall; has an heir; was Secretary to a Board;
represented Great Britain in Canada; and has received a certain number
of degrees, offices, medals and other distinctions by which his merits
are stamped upon him indelibly. Only Providence can know more about Sir
Hawley Butts than that.

When, therefore, I say 'highly developed', 'infinitely intricate' of
women, I am unable to verify my words either in Whitaker, Debrett or the
University Calendar. In this predicament what can I do? And I looked at
the bookcase again. There were the biographies: Johnson and Goethe and
Carlyle and Sterne and Cowper and Shelley and Voltaire and Browning and
many others. And I began thinking of all those great men who have for
one reason or another admired, sought out, lived with, confided in, made
love to, written of, trusted in, and shown what can only be described as
some need of and dependence upon certain persons of the opposite sex.
That all these relationships were absolutely Platonic I would not
affirm, and Sir William Joynson Hicks would probably deny. But we should
wrong these illustrious men very greatly if we insisted that they got
nothing from these alliances but comfort, flattery and the pleasures of
the body. What they got, it is obvious, was something that their own sex
was unable to supply; and it would not be rash, perhaps, to define it
further, without quoting the doubtless rhapsodical words of the poets,
as some stimulus; some renewal of creative power which is in the gift
only of the opposite sex to bestow. He would open the door of
drawing-room or nursery, I thought, and find her among her children
perhaps, or with a piece of embroidery on her knee--at any rate, the
centre of some different order and system of life, and the contrast
between this world and his own, which might be the law courts or the
House of Commons, would at once refresh and invigorate; and there would
follow, even in the simplest talk, such a natural difference of opinion
that the dried ideas in him would be fertilized anew; and the sight of
her creating in a different medium from his own would so quicken his
creative power that insensibly his sterile mind would begin to plot
again, and he would find the phrase or the scene which was lacking when
he put on his hat to visit her. Every Johnson has his Thrale, and holds
fast to her for some such reasons as these, and when the Thrale marries
her Italian music master Johnson goes half mad with rage and disgust,
not merely that he will miss his pleasant evenings at Streatham, but
that the light of his life will be 'as if gone out'.

And without being Dr Johnson or Goethe or Carlyle or Voltaire, one may
feel, though very differently from these great men, the nature of this
intricacy and the power of this highly developed creative faculty among
women. One goes into the room--but the resources of the English language
would he much put to the stretch, and whole flights of words would need
to wing their way illegitimately into existence before a woman could say
what happens when she goes into a room. The rooms differ so completely;
they are calm or thunderous; open on to the sea, or, on the contrary,
give on to a prison yard; are hung with washing; or alive with opals and
silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers--one has only to go
into any room in any street for the whole of that extremely complex
force of femininity to fly in one's face. How should it be otherwise?
For women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this
time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has,
indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must
needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics. But
this creative power differs greatly from the creative power of men. And
one must conclude that it would be a thousand pities if it were hindered
or wasted, for it was won by centuries of the most drastic discipline,
and there is nothing to take its place. It would be a thousand pities if
women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two
sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the
world, how should we manage with one only? Ought not education to bring
out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities? For we
have too much likeness as it is, and if an explorer should come back and
bring word of other sexes looking through the branches of other trees at
other skies, nothing would he of greater service to humanity; and we
should have the immense pleasure into the bargain of watching Professor
X rush for his measuring-rods to prove himself 'superior'.

Mary Carmichael, I thought, still hovering at a little distance above
the page, will have her work cut out for her merely as an observer. I am
afraid indeed that she will be tempted to become, what I think the less
interesting branch of the species--the naturalist-novelist, and not the
contemplative. There are so many new facts for her to observe. She will
not need to limit herself any longer to the respectable houses of the
upper middle classes. She will go without kindness or condescension, but
in the spirit of fellowship, into those small, scented rooms where sit
the courtesan, the harlot and the lady with the pug dog. There they
still sit in the rough and ready-made clothes that the male writer has
had perforce to clap upon their shoulders. But Mary Carmichael will have
out her scissors and fit them close to every hollow and angle. It will
be a curious sight, when it comes, to see these women as they are, but
we must wait a little, for Mary Carmichael will still be encumbered with
that self-consciousness in the presence of 'sin' which is the legacy of
our sexual barbarity. She will still wear the shoddy old fetters of
class on her feet.

However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor
do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer
afternoon. But what do they do then? and there came to my mind's eye one
of those long streets somewhere south of the river whose infinite rows
are innumerably populated. With the eye of the imagination I saw a very
ancient lady crossing the street on the arm of a middle-aged woman, her
daughter, perhaps, both so respectably booted and furred that their
dressing in the afternoon must be a ritual, and the clothes themselves
put away in cupboards with camphor, year after year, throughout the
summer months. They cross the road when the lamps are being lit (for the
dusk is their favourite hour), as they must have done year after year.
The elder is close on eighty; but if one asked her what her life has
meant to her, she would say that she remembered the streets lit for the
battle of Balaclava, or had heard the guns fire in Hyde Park for the
birth of King Edward the Seventh. And if one asked her, longing to pin
down the moment with date and season, but what were you doing on the
fifth of April 1868, or the second of November 1875, she would look
vague and say that she could remember nothing. For all the dinners are
cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and gone
out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No
biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without
meaning to, inevitably lie.

All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said,
addressing Mary Carmichael as if she were present; and went on in
thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the
pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from
the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo, and the rings
embedded in their fat swollen fingers, talking with a gesticulation like
the swing of Shakespeare's words; or from the violet-sellers and
match-sellers and old crones stationed under doorways; or from drifting
girls whose faces, like waves in sun and cloud, signal the coming of men
and women and the flickering lights of shop windows. All that you will
have to explore, I said to Mary Carmichael, holding your torch firm in
your hand. Above all, you must illumine your own soul with its
profundities and its shallows, and its vanities and its generosities,
and say what your beauty means to you or your plainness, and what is
your relation to the everchanging and turning world of gloves and shoes
and stuffs swaying up and down among the faint scents that come through
chemists' bottles down arcades of dress material over a floor of
pseudo-marble. For in imagination I had gone into a shop; it was laid
with black and white paving; it was hung, astonishingly beautifully,
with coloured ribbons. Mary Carmichael might well have a look at that in
passing, I thought, for it is a sight that would lend itself to the pen
as fittingly as any snowy peak or rocky gorge in the Andes. And there is
the girl behind the counter too--I would as soon have her true history
as the hundred and fiftieth life of Napoleon or seventieth study of
Keats and his use of Miltonic inversion which old Professor Z and his
like are now inditing. And then I went on very warily, on the very tips
of my toes (so cowardly am I, so afraid of the lash that was once almost
laid on my own shoulders), to murmur that she should also learn to
laugh, without bitterness, at the vanities--say rather at the
peculiarities, for it is a less offensive word--of the other sex. For
there is a spot the size of a shilling at the back of the head which one
can never see for oneself. It is one of the good offices that sex can
discharge for sex--to describe that spot the size of a shilling at the
back of the head. Think how much women have profited by the comments of
Juvenal; by the criticism of Strindberg. Think with what humanity and
brilliancy men, from the earliest ages, have pointed out to women that
dark place at the back of the head! And if Mary were very brave and very
honest, she would go behind the other sex and tell us what she found
there. A true picture of man as a whole can never be painted until a
woman has described that spot the size of a shilling. Mr Woodhouse and
Mr Casuabon are spots of that size and nature. Not of course that anyone
in their senses would counsel her to hold up to scorn and ridicule of
set purpose--literature shows the futility of what is written in that
spirit. Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be
amazingly interesting. Comedy is bound to be enriched. New facts are
bound to be discovered.

However, it was high time to lower my eyes to the page again. It would
be better, instead of speculating what Mary Carmichael might write and
should write, to see what in fact Mary Carmichael did write. So I began
to read again. I remembered that I had certain grievances against her.
She had broken up Jane Austen's sentence, and thus given me no chance of
pluming myself upon my impeccable taste, my fastidious ear. For it was
useless to say, 'Yes, yes, this is very nice; but Jane Austen wrote much
better than you do', when I had to admit that there was no point of
likeness between them. Then she had gone further and broken the
sequence--the expected order. Perhaps she had done this unconsciously,
merely giving things their natural order, as a woman would, if she wrote
like a woman. But the effect was somehow baffling; one could not see a
wave heaping itself, a crisis coming round the next corner. Therefore I
could not plume myself either upon the depths of my feelings and my
profound knowledge of the human heart. For whenever I was about to feel
the usual things in the usual places, about love, about death, the
annoying creature twitched me away, as if the important point were just
a little further on. And thus she made it impossible for me to roll out
my sonorous phrases about 'elemental feelings', the 'common stuff of
humanity', 'the depths of the human heart', and ail those other phrases
which support us in our belief that, however clever we may be on top, we
are very serious, very profound and very humane underneath. She made me
feel, on the contrary, that instead of being serious and profound and
humane, one might be--and the thought was far less seductive--merely
lazy minded and conventional into the bargain.

But I read on, and noted certain other facts. She was no 'genius' that
was evident. She had nothing like the love of Nature, the fiery
imagination, the wild poetry, the brilliant wit, the brooding wisdom of
her great predecessors, Lady Winchilsea, Charlotte Brontė, Emily Brontė,
Jane Austen and George Eliot; she could not write with the melody and
the dignity of Dorothy Osborne--indeed she was no more than a clever
girl whose books will no doubt be pulped by the publishers in ten years'
time. But, nevertheless, she had certain advantages which women of far
greater gift lacked even half a century ago. Men were no longer to her
'the opposing faction'; she need not waste her time railing against
them; she need not climb on to the roof and ruin her peace of mind
longing for travel, experience and a knowledge of the world and
character that were denied her. Fear and hatred were almost gone, or
traces of them showed only in a slight exaggeration of the joy of
freedom, a tendency to the caustic and satirical, rather than to the
romantic, in her treatment of the other sex. Then there could be no
doubt that as a novelist she enjoyed some natural advantages of a high
order. She had a sensibility that was very wide, eager and free. It
responded to an almost imperceptible touch on it. It feasted like a
plant newly stood in the air on every sight and sound that came its way.
It ranged, too, very subtly and curiously, among almost unknown or
unrecorded things; it lighted on small things and showed that perhaps
they were not small after all. It brought buried things to light and
made one wonder what need there had been to bury them. Awkward though
she was and without the unconscious bearing of long descent which makes
the least turn of the pen of a Thackeray or a Lamb delightful to the
ear, she had--I began to think--mastered the first great lesson; she
wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman,
so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes
only when sex is unconscious of itself.

All this was to the good. But no abundance of sensation or fineness of
perception would avail unless she could build up out of the fleeting and
the personal the lasting edifice which remains unthrown. I had said that
I would wait until she faced herself with 'a situation'. And I meant by
that until she proved by summoning, beckoning and getting together that
she was not a skimmer of surfaces merely, but had looked beneath into
the depths. Now is the time, she would say to herself at a certain
moment, when without doing anything violent I can show the meaning of
all this. And she would begin--how unmistakable that quickening
is!--beckoning and summoning, and there would rise up in memory, half
forgotten, perhaps quite trivial things in other chapters dropped by the
way. And she would make their presence felt while someone sewed or
smoked a pipe as naturally as possible, and one would feel, as she went
on writing, as if one had gone to the top of the world and seen it laid
out, very majestically, beneath.

At any rate, she was making the attempt. And as I watched her
lengthening out for the test, I saw, but hoped that she did not see, the
bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs
and the pedagogues all at her shouting warning and advice. You can't do
this and you shan't do that! Fellows and scholars only allowed on the
grass! Ladies not admitted without a letter of introduction! Aspiring
and graceful female novelists this way! So they kept at her like the
crowd at a fence on the racecourse, and it was her trial to take her
fence without looking to right or to left. If you stop to curse you are
lost, I said to her; equally, if you stop to laugh. Hesitate or fumble
and you are done for. Think only of the jump, I implored her, as if I
had put the whole of my money on her back; and she went over it like a
bird. But there was a fence beyond that and a fence beyond that. Whether
she had the staying power I was doubtful, for the clapping and the
crying were fraying to the nerves. But she did her best. Considering
that Mary Carmichael was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her
first novel in a bed-sitting-room, without enough of those desirable
things, time, money and idleness, she did not do so badly, I thought.

Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last
chapter--people's noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry
sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing-room--give her
a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and
leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book
one of these days. She will be a poet, I said, putting LIFE'S ADVENTURE,
by Mary Carmichael, at the end of the shelf, in another hundred years'
time.




SIX



Next day the light of the October morning was falling in dusty shafts
through the uncurtained windows, and the hum of traffic rose from the
street. London then was winding itself up again; the factory was astir;
the machines were beginning. It was tempting, after all this reading, to
look out of the window and see what London was doing on the morning of
the 26th of October 1928. And what was London doing? Nobody, it seemed,
was reading ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. London was wholly indifferent, it
appeared, to Shakespeare's plays. Nobody cared a straw--and I do not
blame them--for the future of fiction, the death of poetry or the
development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive
of her mind. If opinions upon any of these matters had been chalked on
the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them. The nonchalance of
the hurrying feet would have rubbed them out in half an hour. Here came
an errand-boy; here a woman with a dog on a lead. The fascination of the
London street is that no two people are ever alike; each seems bound on
some private affair of his own. There were the business-like, with their
little bags; there were the drifters rattling sticks upon area railings;
there were affable characters to whom the streets serve for clubroom,
hailing men in carts and giving information without being asked for it.
Also there were funerals to which men, thus suddenly reminded of the
passing of their own bodies, lifted their hats. And then a very
distinguished gentleman came slowly down a doorstep and paused to avoid
collision with a bustling lady who had, by some means or other, acquired
a splendid fur coat and a bunch of Parma violets. They all seemed
separate, self-absorbed, on business of their own.

At this moment, as so often happens in London, there was a complete lull
and suspension of traffic. Nothing came down the street; nobody passed.
A single leaf detached itself from the plane tree at the end of the
street, and in that pause and suspension fell. Somehow it was like a
signal falling, a signal pointing to a force in things which one had
overlooked. It seemed to point to a river, which flowed past, invisibly,
round the corner, down the street,  and took people and eddied them
along, as the stream at Oxbridge had taken the undergraduate in his boat
and the dead leaves. Now it was bringing from one side of the street to
the other diagonally a girl in patent leather boots, and then a young
man in a maroon overcoat; it was also bringing a taxi-cab; and it
brought all three together at a point directly beneath my window; where
the taxi stopped; and the girl and the young man stopped; and they got
into the taxi; and then the cab glided off as if it were swept on by the
current elsewhere.

The sight was ordinary enough; what was strange was the rhythmical order
with which my imagination had invested it; and the fact that the
ordinary sight of two people getting into a cab had the power to
communicate something of their own seeming satisfaction. The sight of
two people coming down the street and meeting at the corner seems to
ease the mind of some strain, I thought, watching the taxi turn and make
off. Perhaps to think, as I had been thinking these two days, of one sex
as distinct from the other is an effort. It interferes with the unity of
the mind. Now that effort had ceased and that unity had been restored by
seeing two people come together and get into a taxicab. The mind is
certainly a very mysterious organ, I reflected, drawing my head in from
the window, about which nothing whatever is known, though we depend upon
it so completely. Why do I feel that there are severances and
oppositions in the mind, as there are strains from obvious causes on the
body? What does one mean by 'the unity of the mind'? I pondered, for
clearly the mind has so great a power of concentrating at any point at
any moment that it seems to have no single state of being. It can
separate itself from the people in the street, for example, and think of
itself as apart from them, at an upper window looking down on them. Or
it can think with other people spontaneously, as, for instance, in a
crowd waiting to hear some piece of news read out. it can think back
through its fathers or through its mothers, as I have said that a woman
writing thinks back through her mothers. Again if one is a woman one is
often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in
walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of that
civilization, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and
critical. Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing
the world into different perspectives. But some of these states of mind
seem, even if adopted spontaneously, to be less comfortable than others.
In order to keep oneself continuing in them one is unconsciously holding
something back, and gradually the repression becomes an effort. But
there may be some state of mind in which one could continue without
effort because nothing is required to be held back. And this perhaps, I
thought, coming in from the window, is one of them. For certainly when I
saw the couple get into the taxicab the mind felt as if, after being
divided, it had come together again in a natural fusion. The obvious
reason would be that it is natural for the sexes to co-operate. One has
a profound, if irrational, instinct in favour of the theory that the
union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most
complete happiness. But the sight of the two people getting into the
taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are
two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and
whether they also require to be united in order to get complete
satisfaction and happiness? And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan
of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one
female; and in the man's brain the man predominates over the woman, and
in the woman's brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and
comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony
together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman
part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have
intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he
said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes
place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties.
Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a
mind that is purely feminine, I thought. But it would he well to test
what one meant by man-womanly, and conversely by woman-manly, by pausing
and looking at a book or two.

Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is
androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women;
a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their
interpretation. Perhaps the androgynous mind is less apt to make these
distinctions than the single-sexed mind. He meant, perhaps, that the
androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion
without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and
undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare's mind as the type of
the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind, though it would be impossible
to say what Shakespeare thought of women. And if it be true that it is
one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think
specially or separately of sex, how much harder it is to attain that
condition now than ever before. Here I came to the books by living
writers, and there paused and wondered if this fact were not at the root
of something that had long puzzled me. No age can ever have been as
stridently sex-conscious as our own; those innumerable books by men
about women in the British Museum are a proof of it. The Suffrage
campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an
extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an
emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not
have troubled to think about had they not been challenged. And when one
is challenged, even by a few women in black bonnets, one retaliates, if
one has never been challenged before, rather excessively. That perhaps
accounts for some of the characteristics that I remember to have found
here, I thought, taking down a new novel by Mr A, who is in the prime of
life and very well thought of, apparently, by the reviewers. I opened
it. Indeed, it was delightful to read a man's writing again. It was so
direct, so straightforward after the writing of women. It indicated such
freedom of mind, such liberty of person, such confidence in himself. One
had a sense of physical well-being in the presence of this
well-nourished, well-educated, free mind, which had never been thwarted
or opposed, but had had full liberty from birth to stretch itself in
whatever way it liked. All this was admirable. But after reading a
chapter or two a shadow seemed to lie across the page. it was a straight
dark bar, a shadow shaped something like the letter 'I'. One began
dodging this way and that to catch a glimpse of the landscape behind it.
Whether that was indeed a tree or a woman walking I was not quite sure.
Back one was always hailed to the letter 'I'. One began to be tired of
'I'. Not but what this 'I' was a most respectable 'I'; honest and
logical; as hard as a nut, and polished for centuries by good teaching
and good feeding. I respect and admire that 'I' from the bottom of my
heart. But--here I turned a page or two, looking for something or
other--the worst of it is that in the shadow of the letter 'I' all is
shapeless as mist. Is that a tree? No, it is a woman. But . . . she has
not a bone in her body, I thought, watching Phoebe, for that was her name,
coming across the beach. Then Alan got up and the shadow of Alan at once
obliterated Phoebe. For Alan had views and Phoebe was quenched in the
flood of his views. And then Alan, I thought, has passions; and here I
turned page after page very fast, feeling that the crisis was
approaching, and so it was. It took place on the beach under the sun. It
was done very openly. It was done very vigorously. Nothing could have
been more indecent. But . . . I had said 'but' too often. One cannot go
on saying 'but'. One must finish the sentence somehow, I rebuked myself.
Shall I finish it, 'But--I am bored!' But why was I bored? Partly
because of the dominance of the letter 'I' and the aridity, which, like
the giant beech tree, it casts within its shade. Nothing will grow
there. And partly for some more obscure reason. There seemed to be some
obstacle, some impediment in Mr A's mind which blocked the fountain of
creative energy and shored it within narrow limits. And remembering the
lunch party at Oxbridge, and the cigarette ash and the Manx cat and
Tennyson and Christina Rossetti all in a bunch, it seemed possible that
the impediment lay there. As he no longer hums under his breath, 'There
has fallen a splendid tear from the passion-flower at the gate', when
Phoebe crosses the beach, and she no longer replies, 'My heart is like a
singing bird whose nest is in a water'd shoot', when Alan approaches
what can he do? Being honest as the day and logical as the sun, there is
only one thing he can do. And that he does, to do him justice, over and
over (I said turning the pages) and over again. And that, I added, aware
of the awful nature of the confession, seems somehow dull. Shakespeare's
indecency uproots a thousand other things in one's mind, and is far from
being dull. But Shakespeare does it for pleasure; Mr A, as the nurses
say, does it on purpose. He does it in protest. He is protesting against
the equality of the other sex by asserting his own superiority. He is
therefore impeded and inhibited and self-conscious as Shakespeare might
have been if he too had known Miss Clough and Miss Davies. Doubtless
Elizabethan literature would have been very different from what it is if
the women's movement had begun in the sixteenth century and not in the
nineteenth.

What, then, it amounts to, if this theory of the two sides of the mind
holds good, is that virility has now become self-conscious--men, that is
to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains. It is a
mistake for a woman to read them, for she will inevitably look for
something that she will not find. It is the power of suggestion that one
most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading,
very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.
Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was
that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into
different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other. Thus,
when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the
ground--dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind,
it explodes and gives birth   to all kinds of other ideas, and that is
the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of
perpetual life.

But whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that one must deplore. For
it means--here I had come to rows of books by Mr Galsworthy and Mr
Kipling--that some of the finest works of our greatest living writers
fall upon deaf ears. Do what she will a woman cannot find in them that
fountain of perpetual life which the critics assure her is there. It is
not only that they celebrate male virtues, enforce male values and
describe the world of men; it is that the emotion with which these books
are permeated is to a woman incomprehensible. It is coming, it is
gathering, it is about to burst on one's head, one begins saying long
before the end. That picture will fall on old Jolyon's head; he will die
of the shock; the old clerk will speak over him two or three obituary
words; and all the swans on the Thames will simultaneously burst out
singing. But one will rush away before that happens and hide in the
gooseberry bushes, for the emotion which is so deep, so subtle, so
symbolical to a man moves a woman to wonder. So with Mr Kipling's
officers who turn their Backs; and his Sowers who sow the Seed; and his
Men who are alone with their Work; and the Flag--one blushes at all
these capital letters as if one had been caught eavesdropping at some
purely masculine orgy. The fact is that neither Mr Galsworthy nor Mr
Kipling has a spark of the woman in him. Thus all their qualities seem
to a woman, if one may generalize, crude and immature. They lack
suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard
it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within.

And in that restless mood in which one takes books out and puts them
back again without looking at them I began to envisage an age to come of
pure, of self-assertive virility, such as the letters of professors
(take Sir Walter Raleigh's letters, for instance) seem to forebode, and
the rulers of Italy have already brought into being. For one can hardly
fail to be impressed in Rome by the sense of unmitigated masculinity;
and whatever the value of unmitigated masculinity upon the state, one
may question the effect of it upon the art of poetry. At any rate,
according to the newspapers, there is a certain anxiety about fiction in
Italy. There has been a meeting of academicians whose object it is 'to
develop the Italian novel'. 'Men famous by birth, or in finance,
industry or the Fascist corporations' came together the other day and
discussed the matter, and a telegram was sent to the Duce expressing the
hope 'that the Fascist era would soon give birth to a poet worthy of
it'. We may all join in that pious hope, but it is doubtful whether
poetry can come of an incubator. Poetry ought to have a mother as well
as a father. The Fascist poem, one may fear, will be a horrid little
abortion such as one sees in a glass jar in the museum of some county
town. Such monsters never live long, it is said; one has never seen a
prodigy of that sort cropping grass in a field. Two heads on one body do
not make for length of life.

However, the blame for all this, if one is anxious to lay blame, rests
no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are
responsible: Lady Bessborough when she lied to Lord Granville; Miss
Davies when she told the truth to Mr Greg. All who have brought about a
state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me,
when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy
age, before Miss Davies and Miss Clough were born, when the writer used
both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare then,
for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so were Keats and Sterne and Cowper
and Lamb and Coleridge. Shelley perhaps was sexless. Milton and Ben
Jonson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and
Tolstoi. In our time Proust was wholly androgynous, if not perhaps a
little too much of a woman. But that failing is too rare for one to
complain of it, since without some mixture of the kind the intellect
seems to predominate and the other faculties of the mind harden and
become barren. However, I consoled myself with the reflection that this
is perhaps a passing phase; much of what I have said in obedience to my
promise to give you the course of my thoughts will seem out of date;
much of what flames in my eyes will seem dubious to you who have not yet
come of age.

Even so, the very first sentence that I would write here, I said,
crossing over to the writing-table and taking up the page headed Women
and Fiction, is that it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their
sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be
woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least
stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any
way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech;
for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It
ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly,
as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it
cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place
in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can
be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The
whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the
writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must
be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light
glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, I thought, once
his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its
nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done.
Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float
calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat
and the under-graduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man
and the woman, I thought, seeing them come together across the street,
and the current swept them away, I thought, hearing far off the roar of
London's traffic, into that tremendous stream.



Here, then, Mary Beton ceases to speak. She has told you how she reached
the conclusion--the prosaic conclusion--that it is necessary to have five
hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write
fiction or poetry. She has tried to lay bare the thoughts and
impressions that led her to think this. She has asked you to follow her
flying into the arms of a Beadle, lunching here, dining there, drawing
pictures in the British Museum, taking books from the shelf, looking out
of the window. While she has been doing all these things, you no doubt
have been observing her failings and foibles and deciding what effect
they have had on her opinions. You have been contradicting her and
making whatever additions and deductions seem good to you. That is all
as it should be, for in a question like this truth is only to be had by
laying together many varieties of error. And I will end now in my own
person by anticipating two criticisms, so obvious that you can hardly
fail to make them.

No opinion has been expressed, you may say, upon the comparative merits
of the sexes even as writers. That was done purposely, because, even if
the time had come for such a valuation--and it is far more important at
the moment to know how much money women had and how many rooms than to
theorize about their capacities--even if the time had come I do not
believe that gifts, whether of mind or character, can be weighed like
sugar and butter, not even in Cambridge, where they are so adept at
putting people into classes and fixing caps on their heads and letters
after their names. I do not believe that even the Table of Precedency
which you will find in Whitaker's ALMANAC represents a final order of
values, or that there is any sound reason to suppose that a Commander of
the Bath will ultimately walk in to dinner behind a Master in Lunacy.
All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all
this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the
private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides', and it
is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost
importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the
Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot. As people mature they cease
to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots. At
any rate, where books are concerned, it is notoriously difficult to fix
labels of merit in such a way that they do not come off. Are not reviews
of current literature a perpetual illustration of the difficulty of
judgement? 'This great book', 'this worthless book', the same book is
called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing. No,
delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of
all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most
servile of attitudes. So long as you write what you wish to write, that
is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours,
nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a
shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot
in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is
the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity
which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere
flea-bite in comparison.

Next I think that you may object that in all this I have made too much
of the importance of material things. Even allowing a generous margin
for symbolism, that five hundred a year stands for the power to
contemplate, that a lock on the door means the power to think for
oneself, still you may say that the mind should rise above such things;
and that great poets have often been poor men. Let me then quote to you
the words of your own Professor of Literature, who knows better than I
do what goes to the making of a poet. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch writes:'
[* THE ART OF WRITING, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.]

'What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so?
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson,
Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne--we may stop there. Of
these, all but Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men, and of
these three, Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only
one not fairly well to do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is
a sad thing to say: but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that
poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich,
holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact, nine out of those twelve
were University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the
means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard
fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well to do, and
I challenge you that, if he had not been well to do, he would no more
have attained to write SAUL or THE RING AND THE BOOK than Ruskin would
have attained to writing MODERN PAINTERS if his father had not dealt
prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income; and,
moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats; whom Atropos slew young,
as she slew John Clare in a mad-house, and James Thomson by the laudanum
he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us
face them. It is--however dishonouring to us as a nation--certain that,
by some fault in our commonwealth, the poor poet has not in these days,
nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance. Believe me--and I
have spent a great part of ten years in watching some three hundred and
twenty elementary schools, we may prate of democracy, but actually, a
poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an
Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which
great writings are born.'

Nobody could put the point more plainly. 'The poor poet has not in these
days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance . . . a poor
child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian
slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great
writings are born.' That is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon
material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women
have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the
beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the
sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of
writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a
room of one's own. However, thanks to the toils of those obscure women
in the past, of whom I wish we knew more, thanks, curiously enough to
two wars, the Crimean which let Florence Nightingale out of her
drawing-room, and the European War which opened the doors to the average
woman some sixty years later, these evils are in the way to be bettered.
Otherwise you would not be here tonight, and your chance of earning five
hundred pounds a year, precarious as I am afraid that it still is, would
be minute in the extreme.

Still, you may object, why do you attach so much importance to this
writing of books by women when, according to you, it requires so much
effort, leads perhaps to the murder of one's aunts, will make one almost
certainly late for luncheon, and may bring one into very grave disputes
with certain very good fellows? My motives, let me admit, are partly
selfish. Like most uneducated Englishwomen, I like reading--I like
reading books in the bulk. Lately my diet has become a trifle
monotonous; history is too much about wars; biography too much about
great men; poetry has shown, I think, a tendency to sterility, and
fiction but I have sufficiently exposed my disabilities as a critic of
modern fiction and will say no more about it. Therefore I would ask you
to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or
however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess
yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the
future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at
street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For
I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me--and
there are thousands like me--you would write books of travel and
adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and
criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly
profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each
other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with
poetry and philosophy. Moreover, if you consider any great figure of the
past, like Sappho, like the Lady Murasaki, like Emily Brontė, you will
find that she is an inheritor as well as an originator, and has come
into existence because women have come to have the habit of writing
naturally; so that even as a prelude to poetry such activity on your
part would be invaluable.

But when I look back through these notes and criticize my own train of
thought as I made them, I find that my motives were not altogether
selfish. There runs through these comments and discursions the
conviction--or is it the instinct?--that good books are desirable and
that good writers, even if they show every variety of human depravity,
are still good human beings. Thus when I ask you to write more books I
am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the
world at large. How to justify this instinct or belief I do not know,
for philosophic words, if one has not been educated at a university, are
apt to play one false. What is meant by 'reality'? It would seem to be
something very erratic, very undependable--now to be found in a dusty
road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the
sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It
overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world
more real than the world of speech--and then there it is again in an
omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell
in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But
whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains
over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what
is left of past time and of our loves and hates. Now the writer, as I
think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of
this reality. It is his business to find it and collect it and
communicate it to the rest of us. So at least I infer from reading LEAR
or EMMA or LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU. For the reading of these books
seems to perform a curious couching operation on the senses; one sees
more intensely afterwards; the world seems bared of its covering and
given an intenser life. Those are the enviable people who live at enmity
with unreality; and those are the pitiable who are knocked on the head
by the thing done without knowing or caring. So that when I ask you to
earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the
presence of reality, an invigorating life, it would appear, whether one
can impart it or not.

Here I would stop, but the pressure of convention decrees that every
speech must end with a peroration. And a peroration addressed to women
should have something, you will agree, particularly exalting and
ennobling about it. I should implore you to remember your
responsibilities, to be higher, more spiritual; I should remind, you how
much depends upon you, and what an influence you can exert upon the
future. But those exhortations can safely, I think, be left to the other
sex, who will put them, and indeed have put them, with far greater
eloquence than I can compass. When I rummage in my own mind I find no
noble sentiments about being companions and equals and influencing the
world to higher ends. I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that
it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream
of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound
exalted. Think of things in themselves.

And again I am reminded by dipping into newspapers and novels and
biographies that when a woman speaks to women she should have something
very unpleasant up her sleeve. Women are hard on women. Women dislike
women. Women--but are you not sick to death of the word? I can assure
you that I am. Let us agree, then, that a paper read by a woman to women
should end with something particularly disagreeable.

But how does it go? What can I think of? The truth is, I often like
women. I like their unconventionality. I like their completeness. I like
their anonymity. I like--but I must not run on in this way. That
cupboard there,--you say it holds clean table-napkins only; but what if
Sir Archibald Bodkin were concealed among them? Let me then adopt a
sterner tone. Have I, in the preceding words, conveyed to you
sufficiently the warnings and reprobation of mankind? I have told you
the very low opinion in which you were held by Mr Oscar Browning. I have
indicated what Napoleon once thought of you and what Mussolini thinks
now. Then, in case any of you aspire to fiction, I have copied out for
your benefit the advice of the critic about courageously acknowledging
the limitations of your sex. I have referred to Professor X and given
prominence to his statement that women are intellectually, morally and
physically inferior to men. I have handed on all that has come my way
without going in search of it, and here is a final warning--from Mr John
Langdon Davies. [* A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN, by John Langdon Davies.] Mr
John Langdon Davies warns women 'that when children cease to be
altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary'. I hope
you will make a note of it.

How can I further encourage you to go about the business of life? Young
women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning,
you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a
discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or
led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and
you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of
civilization. What is your excuse? It is all very well for you to say,
pointing to the streets and squares and forests of the globe swarming
with black and white and coffee-coloured inhabitants, all busily engaged
in traffic and enterprise and love-making, we have had other work on our
hands. Without our doing, those seas would be unsailed and those fertile
lands a desert. We have borne and bred and washed and taught, perhaps to
the age of six or seven years, the one thousand six hundred and
twenty-three million human beings who are, according to statistics, at
present in existence, and that, allowing that some had help, takes time.

There is truth in what you say--I will not deny it. But at the same time
may I remind you that there have been at least two colleges for women in
existence in England since the year 1866; that after the year 1880 a
married woman was allowed by law to possess her own property; and that
in 1919--which is a whole nine years ago she was given a vote? May I
also remind you that most of the professions have been open to you for
close on ten years now? When you reflect upon these immense privileges
and the length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact
that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of
earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree
that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure
and money no longer holds good. Moreover, the economists are telling us
that Mrs Seton has had too many children. You must, of course, go on
bearing children, but, so they say, in twos and threes, not in tens and
twelves.

Thus, with some time on your hands and with some book learning in your
brains--you have had enough of the other kind, and are sent to college
partly, I suspect, to be uneducated--surely you should embark upon
another stage of your very long, very laborious and highly obscure
career. A thousand pens are ready to suggest what you should do and what
effect you will have. My own suggestion is a little fantastic, I admit;
I prefer, therefore, to put it in the form of fiction.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister;
but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died
young--alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses
now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this
poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still
lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not
here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the
children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are
continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in
the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your
power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or
so--I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of
the little separate lives which we live as individuals--and have five
hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of
freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a
little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in
their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky,
too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past
Milton's bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face
the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that
we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not
only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and
the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which
she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the
unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she
will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that
effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born
again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we
cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she
would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty
and obscurity, is worth while.



THE END





This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia