Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

sophic, and, as the French term it, “positive' fashion, she took the possible sum of pleasures in life, artistic and sentimental. Her ‘Lucrezia Floriani’ pleads, like Mr. Ellis, that maternity should never be accounted a crime; but she goes farther, and would justify no union that lasted a moment longer than it was “consecrated –admire the revolutionary use of words!—by instinctive passion. Yet in her ‘struggles for emancipation’ did this “great soul, which was ‘so hard to satisfy, demand anything beyond ‘the freedom of which men have long enjoyed the privilege’? So runs the argument in a well-known dispute between two German ladies on this thorny subject; and Bebel, who is, perhaps, the most celebrated woman's champion of our time, replies that conduct, which in Goethe was not dishonourable, may fairly be exempt from blame in a George Sand, as in a Lucretia of the modern make. Here, then, is the New Woman. Like the ‘noble savage’ of Dryden and Rousseau, she condemns law as tyranny; the social contract itself she deems irreconcilable with her changing moods; and her lover's oaths, everlasting as they sound, are but the eloquence of a stage-scene or a parliamentary programme. She is in complete accord with the anarchist who assures us that “nothing has yielded him a standard which does not vary.’ Like him, she perceives “the panorama of life rolling incessantly on, and realities in their season appearing under different lights.” She declines, as he does, “to resist the seductions of contradictory views.’ Yesterday, Leibnitz; to-day, Pierre Leroux or the Abbé de la Mennais; to-morrow, the Hussites, and the men of the Eternal Gospel, may furnish a text on which George Sand will pour forth burning and shining words, with a dramatic air of conviction, as subduing as it is evanescent. For what can be more simple than the dilettantism of impulse, the argument of novelty and freedom ? The heart is to be judge and jury, witness and advocate; religion, law, custom, and authority make up the old despotic rule from which woman is now, by her individual and combined efforts, to be emancipated. She will indite for herself a Gospel and an Apocalypse, a Code which is to express her sovereign will, a philosophy corresponding to her aspirations. And she will revolutionize fashion and its manner of distinguishing the sexes. Rosalind shall walk undisguised along Piccadilly in doublet and hose, not masquerading in a play, but in deadly earnest, bent upon winning that equal friendship where the absurd homage formerly paid to the sex shall have no part. O rerum mira conversio ! As comedy grows dull, life gives us compensation with its multiplying touches of the grotesque, with its olumbine

[graphic][graphic]

Columbine turned to Pantaloon, and Pulcinella setting up her
show at the corner of the next street. There is an Ari-
stophanic revolt of women, and the “Heavenly Twins' play
such pranks before high Heaven, as make the serious smile with
undesigned amusement. All this, however, those who have
studied their ‘Indiana, their ‘Jacques, their ‘Lélia, their ‘Elle
et Lui,' will seem to have beheld in the visions of the night,
when Mrs. Sarah Grand invites them to look on at her

marionettes disporting.
Yet a change has come over society during the last fifteen or
twenty years which the author of “Valentine’ could scarcely
have foreboded. Women are now graduates in half-a-dozen
professions, and disciples in all. They practise medicine as well
as novel-writing ; the forceps is familiar to them no less than
the bicycle; even dress-cutting advertises itself as ‘scientific’ at
six guineas the course. Instead of attending to deportment and
‘Mangnall's Questions, Miss Evadne, before she is nineteen,
has studied, without a master, “anatomy and physiology,’ has
taken up ‘pathology,’ and gone on to ‘prophylactics and thera-
peutics’; she has ‘read of all the diseases to which the heart is
subject, and thought of them familiarly as cardiac affections';
she has even “obtained an extraordinary knowledge of the
digestive processes and their ailments, though not applying the
new-found information to her own case. Such intemperate
cleverness would have alarmed Burdach, and confirmed him in
the view that women, if they leave the average, are apt to fall
into an extreme. Shakespeare has observed, from his play-
actor's point of sight, that “All the world's a stage’; the New
Woman, who delights in pathology, bids him leave his jesting,
“All the world's a hospital, she says with Heine, ‘and all the
men and women merely patients.' The late Dr. Anna Kings-
ford, whose published works proclaim her to have been a medical
practitioner, a vegetarian, a trance-writer, and an ecstatic, was
not solely singular in this complication of civilizing functions,
Accomplishments have given way before science; senior
wranglers must look to their laurels, worn upon occasion simply
by leave of their more learned sisters; the girl-graduate
is a proficient in Greek, and Mrs. Humphry Ward scatters the
shafts of German criticism through the picturesque pages of
the novel. Angelica, no more the gentle Angelina of Gold-
smith's ballad, insists on being taught by a tutor—for she
disdains a “squeaking governess,'—and her knowledge is to be
wholly masculine, Latin, mathematics, and pugilism. Is she
not heavier, stronger, and more mischievous than her somewhat
effeminate brother, Diavolo? The fine old English prudery, so
irreproachable

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][graphic]

irreproachable and proper, is evidently passing into another stage,_not pathological, let us hope, nor in need of therapeutics. So grave a question requires examination. The copy of “The Heavenly Twins’ which is lying before us, announces that thirty-six thousand of its various issues have come into the market. What is the charm to which so many readers have yielded ? Style? But the language is seldom choice; and the manner is self-conscious, or even pedantic, sometimes recalling the broad touches, not by any means beautiful, of “Tom Jones’ and “Roderick Random,'—books which the accurate Evadne declares to be “of the putrid kind.” Sentiment? There is, strictly speaking, no sentiment in the book, neither love nor hate, except in its single artistic episode, the friendship of the Tenor and the supposed Boy. Elsewhere, declamation, argument, caricature, interminable prosing of every one to his neighbour, and absolute farce, make amends for the absence of genuine humour, of wit and comedy, of refinement and ease in the dialogue. Tragedy, then P But how can a violent and improbable story like that of Edith be called, in any true sense, a tragedy? It is a horrible incident, a stroke without meaning, ‘Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.' No purifying of the passions, whether of pity or fear, nay, or of the baser appetites, will follow upon the atrocious spectacle of this poor girl, stricken with madness by an all but impossible adventure. It may suit M. Zola to confound the tragic and the pathological ; in art there is a degree of mental as of physical agony which must not be shown, or the audience will turn away their eyes. Let the asylum, the sick-bed, keep its dreadful secrets; the curtain which divides them from the art of literature is, happily, impenetrable. In mere shrieking who will look for a note of music? Yet the author has filled pages with shrieking. Is it her appeal to the Red Indian delight in seeing a victim at the stake that has made her the fashion ? “No ; but “The Heavenly Twins” are so original.’ Let us adapt the word slightly, and say ‘aboriginal.’ Their views of life betray the savage element glorified by Diderot. As M. Zo d'Axa, the more than anarchist (whose real name is Galland), has remarked, ‘It is simple enough. If our extraordinary flights (nos fugues inattendues) throw people out a little, the reason is that we speak of everyday things, as the primitive barbarian would, were he brought across them.’ Men like Evadne's father may hold that women's views should all be of masculine origin: this it is to be “well educated in the ideas of the ancients’; but Mrs. Grand assures him sarcastically that - he

he is ‘hardly intellectual.’ It may be so, yet what are views
and opinions except some form of religion, of philosophy, of
constructive science? Now no women above the rank of Joanna
Southcott, Anne Leese the Shaker, and other hypnotic or
hysterical subjects, have founded a religion. In metaphysics
the single name of Constance Naden is quoted; and in
psychology 2—but the observation which women claim as their
gift has expended itself in story-telling, where their most
admirable achievements are a work of instinct rather than of
exact mensuration. The aboriginal in them, accordingly, will
never be scientific; it will be passion seizing the weapons of
the male, and brandishing them for stage effect.
Revolt is the key-note of ‘The Heavenly Twins, so resound-
ing or so discordant that every ear is pierced and becomes
attentive. We seem to be hearkening to a prophetess when
Ideala speaks. ‘The true spirit of God is in us women, she
declares, solemnly, though “without emphasis,'—being careful
to spare the nerves of men already a little shaken by her
abolition of dogma, Theism, and the “established order of
iniquity.” Can we be surprised if Evadne, during her first and
only interesting stage, when she is a free woman (though
married in church), lays down the law to her husband, the
‘returned convict, with a mild infallible air, as of one speaking
from the Pythian tripod When she was but a girl she always
‘wanted to know.' After such intimate acquaintance with
‘histology, botany, ancient and outspoken history, not to mention
the modern writers and the various philosophies, who could be
so well-qualified to read the “moral leper’ a course of sermons
and, as the French have it, to tell him his truths? For though
“her eyes were long, and apparently narrow—but not so in
reality,'—and though she had a trick of holding them half
shut, which “gave a false impression of their size, she could,
when you were least expecting it, “open them to the full’;
and these transient but startling flashes suggested to Lady
Adeline—the advanced and helpless mother of the twins—that
Evadne was “Egypt with an intellect.' Now Egypt without
an intellect was quite aboriginal enough to interest and
surprise even the Roman warrior. Cleopatra written out in a
book would have run through many editions. But give her the
'ologies and the histories, teach her to be direct in word,
audacious in the matter of religion, diffuse on subjects kept as
a rule to themselves by medical students; let her, as Angelica,
wear the flannels of the cricket eleven, and play the violin like
an old master, and the outcome may be neither pleasing nor
precisely classic, but assuredly many will hasten to view it.

The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The pedantry will offend, the lack of reticence amaze, the dull
humour be skipped; no one admires Falstaff in his borrowed
petticoats, and a woman with the doctor's beard and spectacles
was never winning. But the aboriginal is sure to draw crowds.
Mr. George Meredith often satirizes the primitive male
monster, emerging from his woods like an untrimmed Hercules.
His primitive partner shows in ‘The Heavenly Twins, leaving
the covert in which she had hitherto kept close. Her language
is as new as hard study and George Eliot can make it; the
message and the moral are of ancient date. Those who choose
may read them in Greek comedies, in Latin satires, in deca-
dent literature of every age. The anarchist woman revolts
against man, claiming as her own, if not the club of Alcides,
yet the lyre and the glittering darts of Apollo. “Crure tenus
medio tunicas succingere debet,' is a verse of Juvenal's which
she cheerfully echoes. She will be ‘strong and lonely, as Ibsen
recommends, a rival not a helpmeet, and the source of her ideas
shall no longer be outside her. Evadne, in the language of
Mr. B. Price, comes forward as ‘one of the New Women who
are just appearing among us, with a higher ideal of duty than
any which men have constructed for women.” She is the
seventh wave of an incoming tide. Hence she is popular.
‘You shall behold a world reversed, says Diana of the Cross-
ways, mockingly; and this, though a ‘monstrous and untimely

growth,’ will fasten men's eyes upon it.
Religion, as in the Prologue we are poetically told, is the
noble music, floating like a chime above our daily lives, that
gives to them a rhythm and a meaning. When, however, we
ask what that meaning is, the New Woman bethinks herself of
the famous agnostics who have championed her cause. Shall
she be less infidel than they 2 and is religion knowledge? is it
not simply emotion? To Mr. Arnold, the deity worshipped
by Philistines was a magnified, non-natural man. If we may
presume to criticize the image set up by Mrs. Grand on the
plain of Dura, we seem to discern therein the outlines of a
magnified, non-natural woman. At any rate, the collective
voice of humanity, we are assured, has, in these latter days,
‘seriously threatened the great masculine idea.' Perhaps Evadne
was not aware that hundreds of years ago the Elkesaites,
and afterwards certain of the medieval heretics, indulged, as
Mr. Thomas Lake Harris now also indulges, the fantastic
notion of a Heavenly Father-Mother, “without whom, in perfect
accord and exact equality, the government of the universe would
have fallen into chaos. This “new voice of extraordinary
sweetness’ is more ancient than Oriental mysticism. Have we
now

« AnteriorContinuar »