Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
The Modern Woman
By William Makepeace Thackeray (18111863)
MY mother is not a countess, said Pen, though she has very good blood in her veins toobut commoner as she is, I have never met a peeress who was more than her peer, Mr. George; and if you will come to Fairoaks Castle you shall judge for yourself of her and of my cousin too. They are not so witty as the London women, but they are certainly as well bred. The thoughts of women in the country are turned to other objects than those which occupy your London ladies. In the country, a woman has her household and her poor, her long calm days and long calm evenings.
The monotony of that existence must be to a certain degree melancholylike the tune of a long ballad; and its harmony grave and gentle, sad and tender: it would be unendurable else. The loneliness of women in the country makes them of necessity soft and sentimental. Leading a life of calm duty, constant routine, mystic reverie,a sort of nuns at largetoo much gaiety or laughter would jar upon their almost sacred quiet, and would be as out of place there as in a church.
You are a professed misogynist, and hate the sex because, I suspect, you know very little about them, Mr. Pen continued, with an air of considerable self-complacency. If you dislike the women in the country for being slow, surely the London women ought to be fast enough for you. The pace of London life is enormous: how do people last at it, I wondermale and female? Take a woman of the world: follow her course through the season; one asks how she can survive it? or if she tumbles into a sleep at the end of August, and lies torpid until the spring? She goes into the world every night, and sits watching her marriageable daughters dancing till long after dawn. She has a nursery of little ones, very likely, at home, to whom she administers example and affection; having an eye likewise to bread-and-milk, catechism, music, and French, and roast leg of mutton at one oclock; she has to call upon ladies of her own station, either domestically or in her public character, in which she sits upon Charity Committees, or Ball Committees, or Emigration Committees, or Queens College Committees, or discharges I dont know what more duties of British stateswomanship. She very likely keeps a poor-visiting list; has conversations with the clergyman about soup or flannel, or proper religious teaching for the parish; and (if she lives in certain districts) probably attends early church. She has the newspapers to read, and, at least, must know what her husbands party is about, so as to be able to talk to her neighbour at dinner; and it is a fact that she reads every new book that comes out; for she can talk, and very smartly and well, about them all, and you see them all upon her drawing-room table. She has the cares of her household besides:to make both ends meet; to make the girls milliners bill appear not too dreadful to the father and paymaster of the family; to snip off, in secret, a little extra article of expenditure here and there, and convey it, in the shape of a bank note, to the boys at college or at sea; to check the encroachments of tradesmen and housekeepers financial fallacies; to keep upper and lower servants from jangling with one another, and the household in order. Add to this, that she has a secret taste for some art or science, models in clay, makes experiments in chemistry, or plays in private on the violoncello,and I say, without exaggeration, many London ladies are doing this,and you have a character before you such as our ancestors never heard of, and such as belongs entirely to our era and period of civilisation. Ye gods! how rapidly we live and grow! In nine months, Mr. Paxton grows you a pine-apple as large as a portmanteau, whereas a little one, no bigger than a Dutch cheese, took three years to attain his majority in old times; and as the race of pine-apples, so is the race of man. Hoiaperwhats the Greek for a pine-apple, Warrington.