The rights of women: 1892 “emanscipation” (1892)

The rights of women: 1892 “emanscipation”

(By Mrs Lynn Linton)

Sitting in the Mall by the side of her lynx-eyed mother, sweet Mistress Dorothy dreamed of the love as yet did not know and wondered what the liberties of marriage and maturity was be like. Something of the old Puritan spirit of self repression still lingered in the home a hundred years ago, as something of the old seigniorial sentiment animated society and under the chastening influence of this spirit, sweet Mistress Dorothy found her restricted life both pleasant and sufficing and was content to wait in patience for the day of her social emancipation. Meanwhile, her thoughts were free to wander where they would; and if they chose to idealise some pretty fellow in a cocked hat and periwig, who stopped his vitals by way of emphasis and interlarded his conversation with oaths minced down to mere harmless figures of speech, there was no one to prevent her. And the sweet little poem did her no mischief. Pure, fair and innocent, sweet Mistress Dorothy understood like her mother, the uses of time and the fitness of knowledge to age. She knew that her life’s business was to be a good housekeeper, an amiable wife, a devoted mother, a just and well-ordering mistress. Hence she learnt betimes the mysteries of the still-room and the right care of the linen closet; she understood the management of the dairy and the poultry yard, was well versed in the methods of making brawn and collard bead, could toss up a pancake with the best, could make pastry and jellies, custards and cheese cake and that cook would have been a cleverer wench than most who could have cheated her in the commissariat. Thus far for the housekeeping. For the pleasantness of her wifehood she could play simple airs on the harpsichord, perhaps she could play on the harp or lute. She could sing in a fresh and artless way, but she could not recite, nor “attack” bravura songs, nor accomplish vocal gymnastics anyhow. She could dance with grace, precision and spirit, but she would have died rather than have danced on a stage or in any place more public than Almack’s or a county ball. She read grave books as well as such fiction as was abroad, her talk was intelligent if not learned and her manner was animated if not bold. She had a certain fear and a pronounced respect for her husband and she thought his will should be her will. When she had children she attended to them herself and she soon became an adept in treating their little ailments. The respect and obedience she had paid her parents she demanded from her own children and she did not find that they loved her less, or she them; because they were obedient and respectful and not familiar. She governed her maids and they did not govern her; and she lived a life of blameless purity and active well-doing, as well as of quiet domesticity and gentle self-restraint. Her great- great-granddaughter, Miss Dolly, with her friend Madge, is quite another person. Dolly is a girl with no nonsense about her and no prejudices. Home duties she has discarded as degrading to an educated woman, wifely respect she despises as the sign of craven submission to an inferior, children she dislikes as hindrances and nuisances, love is a dream fit only for lunacies and idiots. What she wants is freedom to do as she likes – the key of all the fields of life, not barring one; and then – “oof.” She does not want to do anything immoral, but she wants to show that she can if she chooses. She likes to feel her own mistress, free to come and go, no one knowing when she comes or where she goes. She likes to imitate the men she professes to despise as moral cowards when they are not brutes, as “duffers” when they are not “prigs.” She cultivates her nerves and her biceps, plays cricket and golf, rows, rides and hunts, fishes and shoots, drives a pair in the park and goes on a bicycle through the crowded streets of London. She shows neither fear nor bashfulness, neither nervous tremor nor maidenly hesitation. She knows that she is beautiful, and she is quite content that all the world shall know it too. She would laugh to scorn the silly notion that only one man and that her husband, should rejoice in her loveliness. In a crowded theatre she bares her neck and arms, her shoulders, her bust, for the delectation of ‘Arry in the gallery, and, perhaps, for the jealousy and baser imitation of Arriet. If she has a gift that way, she will dance a breakdown at semi-public theatricals and she is generally mad about drawing-room recitations or the theatre. She makes a book on the Derby and besieges her “dear boys” for straight tips. Possibly she breeds dogs and she knows more about foals and fillies than she does about babes and children. If she is “earnest” she visits hospitals and the slums. Maiden as she is, she knows to the last line all the hideous vice which abounds in large cities. She has her favourites among the unfortunates, whom she visits in their homes as well as in their hospitals; and she receives their confidences with sympathy and without horror. If to earnestness she adds energy and consequent dissatisfaction with her home life, she makes herself a doctor, a hospital nurse,or a missionary. If these professions do not suit her, she opens a shop and plays at shop keeping till she has danced into the Court of Bankruptcy; any place rather than home, anything rather than the home life, any exercise of virtue rather than that respect for authority, that attention to duty, that modesty of habit, and that patient, sweet and tranquil unselfishness which used to be the distinctive characteristics of the sex. She has thrown off all these restraints of sex and is now the close copy of the brother she dominates; of the lover she accepts or rejects on the basis of his fortune only; of the mashers at whom she laughs; of those with whom she walks. The two objects of her ambition are – to have plenty of “oof,” no matter by what means and to be as much like a man as it is possible for a woman to make herself. Between emancipated Dolly and sweet Mistress Dorothy, which is more beautiful? And which best fulfils her natural destiny?

“In Custody” and “Emancipation, Mrs. Lynn Linton,  Illustrated London News, February 06, 1892; pg. 172

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