[This e-text comes in three forms: Unicode (UTF-8), Latin-1 and ASCII. Use the one that works best on your text reader.
—If "oe" displays as a single character, and apostrophes and quotation marks are "curly" or angled, you have the UTF-8 version (best). If any part of this paragraph displays as garbage, try changing your text reader's "character set" or "file encoding". If that doesn't work, proceed to: —In the Latin-1 version, "oe" is two letters, but French words like "etude" have accents and "ae" is a single letter. Apostrophes and quotation marks will be straight ("typewriter" form). Again, if you see any garbage in this paragraph and can't get it to display properly, use: —The ascii-7 or rock-bottom version. All necessary text will still be there; it just won't be as pretty.]
MODERN MARRIAGE And How To Bear It
BY MAUD CHURTON BRABY
AUTHOR OF "DOWNWARD"
* * * * * * * * *
MODERN MARRIAGE AND HOW TO BEAR IT
* * * * * * * * *
NEW SHILLING REPRINTS
LOVE INTRIGUES OF ROYAL COURTS. By THORNTON HALL. FALLEN AMONG THIEVES. By STANLEY PORTAL HYATT. THE UNCOUNTED COST. By MARY GAUNT. SIX WOMEN. By VICTORIA CROSS. DOWNWARD. By MAUD CHURTON BRABY. SCARLET KISS. By GERTIE DE S. WENTWORTH-JAMES. MISS FERRIBY'S CLIENTS. By FLORENCE WARDEN. RED LOVE. By GERTIE DE S. WENTWORTH-JAMES. MODERN MARRIAGE AND HOW TO BEAR IT. By MAUD CHURTON BRABY. BIOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS. By G. K. CHESTERTON. With 48 Illustrations. WHAT MEN LIKE IN WOMEN. By the Author of "How to be Happy though Married." THE SALVING OF A DERELICT. By MAURICE DRAKE. THE NIGHT-SIDE OF LONDON. By ROBERT MACKRAY. With 65 Pictures by TOM BROWNE. LADY JIM OF CURZON STREET. By FERGUS HUME. 2835 MAYFAIR. By FRANK RICHARDSON. THE WILD WIDOW. By GERTIE DE S. WENTWORTH-JAMES. LETTERS TO A DAUGHTER. By HUBERT BLAND. THE GAME OF BRIDGE. By "CUT CAVENDISH." With New Rules of Bridge and Auction Bridge. THE NIGHT-SIDE OF PARIS. By E. B. D'AUVERGNE. 20 Plates. THE WEANING. By JAMES BLYTH. THE METHODS OF MR AMES. By the Author of "John Johns." THE HAPPY MORALIST. By HUBERT BLAND. THE KING AND ISABEL. By the Author of "John Johns." THE SINEWS OF WAR. By EDEN PHILLPOTTS and ARNOLD BENNETT. MODERN WOMAN AND HOW TO MANAGE HER. By WALTER GALLICHAN.
Press Notices Of
MODERN MARRIAGE And How to Bear it
W. T. Stead in the Review of Reviews.—"Mrs Maud Churton Braby has achieved a remarkable success. She has written an original book upon the most threadbare of all subjects, in which she has been as witty as she is wise . . . packed full of good sense, sound morality, and admirable advice. It is a book naked and unashamed, written by a woman of the world with the naive simplicity of an innocent child, and arriving on the whole at conclusions worthy of any mother in Israel; a book full of profound wisdom irradiated by a pleasant wit and suffused with the glow of a genuine human sympathy."
"Hubert" in the Sunday Chronicle.—"On the whole I congratulate Mrs Braby on her book . . . it is the only book on the subject of Modern Marriage that has not made me feel rather ill . . . frank, without the slightest indelicacy, and bold without the least impertinence . . . a real contribution towards the solution of an intolerably difficult problem."
Daily Telegraph.—"Lively and frank . . . should prove instructive as well as readable and provide people with plenty to think about. The author has read widely, and thought deeply, and has a sufficiently broad mind to give her conclusions real value . . . should be read by all who think seriously on this most serious subject."
Standard.—"A good deal of sound thinking has gone to the book's composition and it is also illumined by a very kind and tender spirit."
Bystander.—"A clever and most entertaining volume . . . the reader may be assured of much that is sage and sound, and much that is witty."
Black & White.—"No one has gone so fully and vigorously into the various problems connected with marriage as Mrs Braby in her extremely readable book . . . one of the most vivid and original contributions to the discussion of a great problem that have appeared for a long time."
Literary World.—"Very brightly written, and even when most audacious is full of good feeling and good sense . . . amusing and shrewd . . . clever and stimulating."
By The Same Author
An Attempt To Portray A "Slice Of Life."
By MAUD CHURTON BRABY (Author of "MODERN MARRIAGE AND HOW TO BEAR IT.")
This is a powerful study of modern life in London, and concerns the hearts and passions of live men and women. Being the first novel by Mrs Maud Churton Braby, author of that vivacious and daring book, "Modern Marriage and How to Bear it." As might be expected, some of the serious problems of women are dealt with in its pages. The story concerns the fortunes of brilliant and undisciplined Dolly who, on the death of her mother, an actress, is compelled by the decree of a mysterious trustee to go first to a convent-school and afterwards become a hospital nurse. Her temptations and adventures at the Wimpole Street Nursing Home— (in which environment other characters of much interest appear) —her tragic love affair, and the depths to which it brings her, together with her subsequent redemption, are related in a manner which makes a special appeal to the heart.
* * * * * * * * *
MODERN MARRIAGE AND HOW TO BEAR IT
MAUD CHURTON BRABY
"Marriage is the origin and summit of all civilisation."—GOETHE.
T. WERNER LAURIE Clifford's Inn London
PART I SIGNS OF UNREST
I. The Mutual Dissatisfaction of the Sexes 3 II. Why Men Don't Marry 14 III. Why Women Don't Marry 26 IV. The Tragedy of the Undesired 42
PART II CAUSES OF FAILURE
I. The Various Kinds of Marriage 57 II. Why We Fall Out: Divers Discords 68 III. The Age to Marry 85 IV. Wild Oats for Wives 89 V. A Plea for the Wiser Training of Girls 101 VI. 'Keeping Only to Her'—The Crux of Matrimony 109
PART III SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVES
I. Leasehold Marriage a la Meredith 119 II. Leasehold Marriage in Practice: A Dialogue in 1999 129 III. The Fiasco of Free Love 141 IV. Polygamy at the Polite Dinner-Table 146 V. Is Legalised Polyandry the Solution? 159 VI. A Word for 'Duogamy' 161 VII. The Advantages of the Preliminary Canter 171
PART IV CHILDREN—THE CUL-DE-SAC OF ALL REFORMS
I. To Beget or Not to Beget—the Question of the Day 177 II. The Pros and Cons of the Limited Family 184 III. Parenthood: The Highest Destiny 193
PART V HOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH MARRIED
I. A Few Suggestions for Reform 203 II. Some Practical Advice to Husbands and Wives 209
C. STANLEY CHURTON
The Best Father in the World
With Deep Gratitude
for a Lifetime of Loving-Kindness
SIGNS OF UNREST
'The Subject of Marriage is kept too much in the dark. Air it! Air it!'—GEORGE MEREDITH.
THE MUTUAL DISSATISFACTION OF THE SEXES
'The shadow of marriage waits, resolute and awful, at the cross-roads.' —R. L. STEVENSON.
Ever since the time, nineteen years ago, when Mrs Mona Caird attacked the institution of matrimony in the Westminster Review and led the way for the great discussion on 'Is Marriage a Failure?' in the Daily Telegraph—marriage has been the hardy perennial of newspaper correspondence, and an unfailing resource to worried sub-editors. When seasons are slack and silly, the humblest member of the staff has but to turn out a column on this subject, and whether it be a serious dissertation on 'The Perfections of Polygamy' or a banal discussion on 'Should husbands have tea at home?' it will inevitably achieve the desired result, and fill the spare columns of the papers with letters for weeks to come. People are always interested in matrimony, whether from the objective or subjective point of view, and that is my excuse for perpetrating yet another book on this well-worn, but ever fertile topic.
Marriage indeed seems to be in the air more than ever in this year of grace; everywhere it is discussed, and very few people seem to have a good word to say for it. The most superficial observer must have noticed that there is being gradually built up in the community a growing dread of the conjugal bond, especially among men; and a condition of discontent and unrest among married people, particularly women. What is the matter with this generation that wedlock has come to assume so distasteful an aspect in their eyes? On every side one hears it vilified and its very necessity called in question. From the pulpit, the clergy endeavour to uphold the sanctity of the institution, and unceasingly exhort their congregations to respect it and abide by its laws. But the Divorce Court returns make ominous reading; every family solicitor will tell you his personal experience goes to prove that happy unions are considerably on the decrease, and some of the greatest thinkers of our day join in a chorus of condemnation against latter-day marriage.
Tolstoy says: 'The relations between the sexes are searching for a new form, the old one is falling to pieces.' Among the manuscript 'remains' of Ibsen, that profound student of human nature, the following noteworthy passage occurs: '"Free-born men" is a phrase of rhetoric. They do not exist, for marriage, the relation between man and wife, has corrupted the race and impressed the mark of slavery upon all.' Not long ago, too, our greatest living novelist, George Meredith, created an immense sensation by his suggestion that marriage should become a temporary arrangement, with a minimum lease of, say, ten years.
That the time has not yet come for any such revolutionary change is obvious, but if the signs and portents of the last decade or two do not lie, we may safely assume that the time will come, and that the present legal conditions of wedlock will be altered in some way or other.
Fifteen years ago there was a sudden wave of rebellion against these conditions, and a renewed interest in the sex question showed itself in an outbreak of problem novels—a term which later came to be used as one of reproach. Perhaps the most important of these was Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did. I can recall as a schoolgirl the excitement it aroused and my acute disappointment when it was forcibly commandeered from me by an irate governess who apparently took no interest in these enthralling subjects. A host of imitators followed The Woman Who Did; some of them entirely illiterate, all of them offering some infallible key to the difficult maze of marriage.
Worse still was the reaction that inevitably followed, when realism was tabooed in fiction, and sickly romance possessed the field. The Yellow Book and similar strange exotics of the first period withered and died, and the cult of literature (!) for the British Home was shortly afterwards in full blast. There followed an avalanche of insufferably dull and puerile magazines, in which the word Sex was strictly taboo, and the ideal aimed at was apparently the extreme opposite to real life. It was odd how suddenly the sex note—(as I will call it for want of a better word)—disappeared from the press. Psychology was pronounced 'off,' and plots were the order of the day. Many names well-known at that time and associated with a flair for delicate delineation of character, disappeared from the magazine contents bill and the publisher's list, whilst facile writers who could turn out mild detective yarns or tales of adventure and gore were in clover.
Signs are not wanting that the pendulum of public interest has now swung back again, and another wave of realism in fiction and inquiry into the re-adjustment of the conjugal bond is imminent. But the pendulum will have to swing back and forth a good many times however, before the relations between the sexes succeed in finding that new form of which Tolstoy speaks. What the revival I have foretold will accomplish remains to be seen. What did the last agitation achieve? Practically nothing; a few women may have been impelled to follow in the footsteps of Grant Allen's Herminia to their undying sorrow, and possibly a good many precocious young girls, who read the literature of that day, may have given their parents some anxiety by their revolutionary ideas on the value of the holy estate. But when that trio so irresistible to the feminine heart came along—the Ring, the Trousseau, and the House of My Own, to say nothing of the solid, twelve-stone, prospective husband—which among these advanced damsels remembered the sermon on the hill-top?
Yet in the fourteen years that have elapsed since the publication of The Woman Who Did, there have certainly been some changes. For one thing, it is still harder apparently to earn a decent living. Times are bad and money scarce; men are even more reluctant than before to 'domesticate the recording angel' by marrying, and a type of woman has sprung up amongst us who is shy of matrimony and honestly reluctant to risk its many perils for the sake of its problematical joys. Most noticeable of all is the growing dissatisfaction of the sexes with each other. Men do not shun marriage only because of unfavourable financial conditions, or because the restrictions of wedlock are any more irksome to them than formerly, but because they cannot find a wife sufficiently near their ideal. Woman has progressed to such an extent within the last generation or two: her outlook has so broadened, her intellect so developed that she has strayed very far from man's ideal and, consequently, man hesitates to marry her. There is something comic about the situation, and at Olympian dinner-tables I feel sure the gods would laugh at this twentieth-century conjugal deadlock.
Another reason why men fall in love so much less than they used to do is largely due to the decay of the imaginative faculty. As for women, although they are in the main as anxious to marry as ever, although it is universally acknowledged that the modern young woman does cultivate the modern young man unduly, their reasons for doing so are less and less concerned with the time-honoured motives of love. Marriage brings independence and a certain social importance; for these reasons women desire it. H. B. Marriot Watson has put the case neatly thus: 'Women desire to marry a man; men to marry the woman.' Nevertheless women are even now more prone to fall in love than are men, because they have better preserved this imaginative faculty, which is possibly also the cause of the disillusionment and discontent of wives after marriage.
The upshot of it all is that men and women appear to have become antagonistic to each other. However much they love the individual of their fancy, a kind of veiled distrust seems to obtain between the sexes collectively, but more especially on the part of men—perhaps because man is more necessary to woman than woman is to man. This hostility towards woman is particularly noticeable in the pages of the press. Scarcely a week passes but some journalist of the nobler sex pours out his scorn for the inferior one of his mother in columns of masterly abuse on one score or another. Each article is followed by a passionate correspondence in which 'Disgusted Dad,' 'Hopeless Hubby,' 'Browbeaten Brother,' and the inevitable 'Cynicus' express high approval of the writer, whilst 'Happy Mother of Seven Girls' and 'Lover of the Sex' write to demand his instant execution and public disgrace.
The range of men's fault-finding is endless; one will assert that women are mere domestic machines, unfit companions for any intelligent man, and with no soul above conversation about their servants and children; another that they are mere blue-stockings striving after an unattainable intellectuality; a third that they are mere frivolous dolls without brain or heart, engrossed in the pursuit of pleasure, a fourth that they are sexless, slangy, misclad masculine monsters.
Judged by the assertions of newspaper correspondents, women are at one and the same time preposterously masculine, contemptibly feminine, ridiculously intellectual, repulsively athletic, and revoltingly frivolous. In appearance they are either lank, gaunt, flat-footed lamp-posts, or else over-dressed, unnaturally-shaped, painted dolls. Their extravagance exhausts expletive! When they belong to the class of society generally denoted with a capital S, they invariably smoke, drink, gamble and swear. They neglect their homes and their children. They have little principle and less sense, no morals, no heart and absolutely no sense of humour!
'But,' the observant reader may possibly exclaim, 'there is nothing new about this. Woman has ever been man's favourite grumble-vent, from the day when the first man got out of his first scrape by blaming the only available woman!' True enough, age cannot stale the infinite variety of women's misdemeanours, as viewed by men; tradition has hallowed the subject, custom carries it on; and probably when the last trump shall sound, the last living man will be found grumbling loudly at the abominable selfishness of woman for leaving him alone, and the last dead man to rise will awake cursing because his wife did not call him sooner!
But formerly man's fault-finding was more of the nature of genial chaff, as when we affectionately laugh at those we love. There was nearly always a certain good humour about his diatribes, which now is lacking. In its stead can be noted a bitterness, a distinct animus. Men apparently take with an ill-grace women's rebellion against the old man-made conditions, and they retaliate by falling in love less frequently, and showing still more reluctance to enter the arena of matrimony.
Nevertheless, they get there all the same, albeit in a different spirit. Timorous and trembling, our faint-hearted modern lovers gird on their new frock-coats and step shrinkingly into the arena where awaits them—radiant and triumphant—the determined being whose will has brought them thither. No, not her will, but the mysterious will of Nature which remains steadfast and of unswerving purpose, indifferent to our sex-warfare and the progress of our petty loves and hates. The institution of marriage battered, abused, scarred with countless thousands of attacks, stained with the sins of centuries still continues to flourish, for, as Schopenhauer says; 'It is the future generation in its entire individual determination which forces itself into existence through the medium of all this strife and trouble.'
The Will-to-Live will always have the last word!
WHY MEN DON'T MARRY
'If you wish the pick of mankind, take a good bachelor and a good wife.'
'There is probably no other act in a man's life so hot-headed and foolish as this of marriage.' —R. L. STEVENSON.
'Whatever may be said against marriage, it is certainly an experience.' —OSCAR WILDE.
'All the men are getting married and none of the girls,' a volatile lady is once reported to have said, and one understands what she meant to convey. In a newspaper correspondence on marriage I once noted the following significant passage: 'But in these days it is different from what it was when I was a girl. Then every boy had his sweetheart and every girl her chap. Now it seems to me the boys don't want sweethearts and the girls can't get chaps. For one youth who means honestly to marry a girl, you will find twenty whose game is mere flirtation, regardless of how the girl may be injured. The times are ungallant and they want mending.'
This letter is signed 'A Workman's Wife,' but it bears ample evidence of having been written by a member of the staff, who seemed to consider sufficient vraisemblance had been given to the signature by the inclusion of an occasional vulgarism, such as 'chap.' But in spite of being penned to order, the statements expressed appear to be only too true. The times are ungallant indeed and growing more so every year.
Not long ago I was at a cheery social gathering where the non-marrying tendency of modern men was being discussed. Someone put all the men into a good humour with the reminder that 'by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation,' and as there were fifteen bachelors present, the conversation naturally became personal.
One whom I will call Vivian, gallantly remarked that all the nice women were married, so he perforce remained single. I happen to know that he is deeply in love with a married woman. Another, Lucian, a very handsome and popular man of thirty, said he fully meant to marry some day, but wanted a few more years' freedom first. Dorian gravely asserted that he was waiting for my daughter (aged eighteen months), but being in his confidence, I know that his case is similar to Vivian's. Hadrian's health would make his marriage a crime; we are all aware of that fortunately, so no one asked him. The same discretion was observed with regard to Julien of whom it is well known that he has formed an 'unfortunate' attachment and has practically not the right to marry. Florian was jilted years ago, and is shy and distrustful of the sex, which is a great pity, as he is the kind of man born for fireside and nursery joys, and would make a wife very happy.
Of Augustin and Fabian it may be truly said that 'the more they have known of the others, the less they will settle to one;' and indeed I fear they have spoilt themselves for matrimony, unless there is truth in the old saying that a reformed rake makes the best husband. Endymion is altogether too ineligible, his blue eyes and broad shoulders being his only fortune; he makes plenty of capital out of these adjuncts: they bring him in a rich return of feminine favour, but are nevertheless hardly sufficient to support a wife.
Claudian is really anxious to marry, but suffers from a fatal faithlessness and, as he engagingly explains, can't love a girl long enough to get the preliminaries settled. One day he is sure to be caught by some determined and probably very unsuitable woman and led reluctant to the altar. Galahad won't marry until he has found 'the one woman,' and I fear he will prove a husband wasted, for poor Galahad already wears spectacles and a bald spot; his devotion to an unrealisable ideal bids fair to spoil his life.
When I put the question to Aurelian, he smiled his evil smile, which makes him more like an embittered vulture than ever, and remarked that he was thinking over his offers and hadn't yet decided which was the best. As the fact that he has been refused by seven women is well-known, we really rather admire the persistence of his pose as a lady-killer. He has even been known to write passionate letters to himself, in an assumed hand, and drop cleverly-manufactured tears here and there upon them, to give an air of greater realism to these amorous masterpieces, which he uses as a proof of his wild stories of conquest. When dry, the tears look most life-like; of course it is a dodge that every schoolgirl knows, but I have never known a man have recourse to it before, and hope never to again!
Both Cyprian and Valerian gave as the reason for their continued bachelorhood, the fact that they were too comfortable as bachelors and had never felt the need of a wife. The latter added that if he could find just the girl, he would think it over, but as matters stood he preferred certainty to chance and was taking no risks. Between ourselves, both these two are very self-satisfied and egotistical persons, and I don't think any woman has lost much by their resolve.
The fourteenth man was Bayard, who belongs to a very exasperating type of philanderer. Most women of the world have met and been bored by him to their sorrow. It is his grievous habit to go about professing a yearning for matrimony of the most ideal kind, and confiding at great length to safely attached young matrons how he longs to find a home in one good woman's heart, and what a great, pure, passionate, wild love he is capable of. There is something rather engaging about him, and his pose is naturally very attractive to unsuspecting spinsters. He is always getting desperately entangled, but makes a great parade of his poverty when the affaire reaches the critical point, and wriggles out successfully—generally without any too unpleasant explanation. If, however, things have gone too far for this, he can always make good his escape under cover of the 'I love you too much, darling, to drag you down to poverty' plea. How many girls, wounded to the heart's core, have listened to this hoary lie when they are more than willing to be poor, if but with him, willing to economise and save, and forego for his sake.
Not, of course, that Bayard and his like inspire such devotion; I mean that the essentials of this particular excuse are given by very many unmarried men nowadays as the reason of their single state. Generally speaking, there are two main reasons why men do not marry: 1. Because they have not yet met a woman they care for sufficiently; 2.—and these constitute a large majority—because they are too selfish. Of course men don't spell it that way. Like Bayard, they say they 'can't afford it.' They think of all the things they would have to give up—how difficult it is to get enough for their pleasure now, how impossible it would be then, with the support of a wife and potential family added; how they would hate having to knock off poker, find a cheaper tailor, and economise in golf balls. They shudder at the prospect, and decide in the expressively vulgar parlance of the day that it's 'not good enough.' The things that are beyond price are weighed against the things that are bought with money—and found wanting!
It would, however, be the last word of foolishness to encourage improvident marriages, already a source of so much misery, and of course my remarks do not apply to the genuine poverty of the man who really cannot afford to wed. For him I have a very real sympathy, since he is missing the best things of life probably through no fault of his own. The above strictures are intended solely for the man of moderate means, who could afford to marry if he loved himself less and some woman more. Five hundred a year, for instance, is a comfortable income for a bachelor not in the inner circle of Society. On this sum a middle-class man can do himself well, provided he has no particularly expensive vices or hobbies—but it certainly means self-denial when stretched to provide for a wife and two or three children. It means a small house in one of the cheaper suburbs, instead of a bachelor flat in town, 'buses instead of cabs, upper boxes instead of stalls, a fortnight en famille at Broadstairs instead of a month's fishing en garcon in Norway. It means no more suppers at the Savoy, no more week-ends in Paris, no more 'running' over to Monte Carlo; but it can be done, and done happily, provided a man puts love above luxuries. Almost every man can afford to marry—the right woman!
Of course, if a man has still to meet the woman of his fancy, all is well, but it is the despicable plea of Bayard that so incenses me. If men would own the truth, it would not be so bad, but, Adam-like, as usual, they lay the blame on women and say: 'Girls expect so much nowadays, it is impossible to make enough money to satisfy them.' This is one of the many lies men tell about women, or perhaps they are under a delusion and really believe the statement to be true. Let them be undeceived, girls don't expect so much; they are perfectly willing to be poor, as I have said before, if only they care for the man enough. At anyrate, once they have reached that stage of wanting the real things of life they would sooner have wifehood and comparative poverty than ease and empty hearts in their parents' home. They would sooner, in short, be 'tired wives than restful spinsters.'
Another delusion men spread about women is that they're too fond of pleasure to settle down. How often one hears statements such as 'Juno Jones wouldn't make a good wife, she's out all day playing golf;' or 'I couldn't afford to marry Sappho Smith, she's too fond of dress and theatre-going.' God bless the man! What else have the poor girls to do? Sappho has a taste for dainty clothes and a love for the theatre; she fills her empty existence with these things as far as she can; Juno has nothing in the wide world to do all day long, but she loves the open air, and so concentrates her magnificent energies on a game with a stick and ball, because any active part in the great game of life is denied her. Marry her—if she will have you—and see what a grand comrade she will make, and what splendid children she will bear you. Or marry Sappho, and you will find she will never want any but simple pleasures within your means, as long as you are kind to her and adore her as she requires to be adored. She will cheerfully make her own clothes, and find her greatest joy in planning out your income and adorning your home.
Everyone can recall having known frivolous and pleasure-loving girls settle down into admirable wives whose nurseries are models and whose households are beyond reproach. Doubtless their friends all predicted disaster when these butterflies were led to the altar. I honestly believe women only want extravagant pleasures when they are miserable. It is generally the wretched wives, the unhappy, restless spinsters who run up bills and fling away money. They feel that life is cheating them and they must have some compensations.
But to return to my fifteen bachelors. There only remains Florizel, whose attitude towards wedlock is a blend of that of Bayard and Claudian. He is genuinely eager to marry, ardent, affectionate, anxious to do right, but lacking in moral courage and egotistical to the point of disease. I would much like to see him happily wedded, as he then would doubtless quickly lose that intense self-centredness, but I question if any attractive woman exists who would be unselfish enough to cope with him in his present state of egomania. His mind is always inflamed with some woman or other, and he hovers about on the edge of desperate amours, anxious to fall head over ears into the sea of love and cast out an anchor of matrimony to hold him fast where he can swerve no more. Unfortunately he cannot forget himself enough to take the fatal plunge. With all his faults there is something very lovable about Florizel, and I should like to see him knocked into shape, though it would be a brave and patient woman who would take the task in hand.
When all the fifteen bachelors had ceased to talk about themselves and settled down to bridge with the rest of the company, an old lady who, like myself, preferred to be a looker-on, came and sat beside me. 'How they do talk,' she said! 'But I can tell you why they don't marry, in six words, my dear: because they don't fall in love! And why don't they fall in love? Because the girls are too eager; because the girls meet them all the way—that's why! I've seven sons, all unmarried, and I know!'
* * *
NOTE.—It is interesting to note that Westermarck in his History of Human Marriage quotes a number of authorities to prove that among many ancient nations marriage was a religious duty incumbent upon all. Among Mohammedan people generally it is still considered a duty. Hebrew celibacy was unheard of, and they have a proverb, 'He who has no wife is no man.' In Egypt it is improper and even disreputable for a man to abstain from marriage when there is no just impediment. For an adult to die unmarried is regarded as a deplorable misfortune by the Chinese, and among the Hindus of the present day a man who remains single is considered to be almost a useless member of society, and is looked upon as beyond the pale of nature.
WHY WOMEN DON'T MARRY
'It's a woman's business to get married as soon as possible and a man's to remain unmarried as long as he can.' —G. BERNARD SHAW.
'Marriage is of so much use to a woman, opens out to her so much of life, and puts her in the way of so much more freedom and usefulness, that whether she marry ill or well, she can hardly miss some benefit.' —R. L. STEVENSON.
'Why women don't marry? But they do—whenever they can!' the intelligent reader will naturally exclaim. Not 'whenever they get the chance,' mark you; no intelligent reader would make this mistake, though it is a common enough error among the non-comprehending. Most spinsters over thirty must have winced at one time or another at the would-be genial rallying of some elderly man relative: 'What! you not married yet? Well, well, I wonder what all the young men are thinking of.' I write some man advisedly, for no woman, however cattishly inclined, however desirous of planting arrows in a rival's breast, would utter this peculiarly deadly form of insult, which, strangely enough, is always intended as a high compliment by the masculine blunderer. The fact that the unfortunate spinster thus assailed may have had a dozen offers, and yet, for reasons of her own, prefer to remain single, seems entirely beyond their range of comprehension.
But the main reason why women don't marry is obviously because men don't ask them. Most women will accept when a sufficiently pleasing man offers them a sufficiently congenial life. If the offers they receive fall below a certain standard, then they prefer to remain single, wistfully hoping, no doubt, that the right man may come along before it is too late. The preservation of the imaginative faculty in women, to which I have previously alluded, doubtless accounts for many spinsters. It must also be remembered that the more educated women become, the less likely they are to marry for marrying's sake as their grandmothers did.
Then there are a few women, quite a small section, who, unless they can realise their ideal in its entirety, will not be content with second best. By an irony of fate, it happens that these are often the noblest of their sex. Yet another small section remain single from an honest dislike of marriage and its duties. It is perhaps not too severe to say that a woman who has absolutely no vocation for wifehood and motherhood must be a degenerate, and so lacking in the best feminine instincts as to deserve the reproach of being 'sexless.' This type is apparently increasing! I shall deal with it further in Part IV.
Then there are those—I should not like to make a guess at their number—who will marry any man, however undesirable and uncongenial, rather than be left 'withering on the stalk.' It is an acutely humiliating fact that there exists no man too ugly, too foolish, too brutal, too conceited and too vile to find a wife. Any man can find some woman to wed him. In this connection, one recalls the famous cook, who, when condoled with on the defection of a lover, replied: 'It don't matter; thank God I can love any man!'
One cannot help being amused by the serious articles on this subject in feminine journals. We are gravely told that women don't marry nowadays because they price their liberty too high, because those who have money prefer to be independent and enjoy life, and those who have none prefer bravely wringing a living from the world to being a man's slave, a mere drudge, entirely engrossed in housekeeping, etc., etc.; and so on—pages of it! All this may possibly be true of a very small portion of the community, but the uncontrovertible fact remains that the principal reason for woman's spinsterhood is man's indifference.
I have every sympathy with the women who wish to postpone taking up the heavy responsibilities of matrimony till they have had what in the opposite sex is termed 'a fling,' that is until they have enjoyed a period of freedom wherein to study, to travel, to enjoy their youth fully, to meet many men, to look life in the eyes and learn something of its meaning. But there comes a period in the life of almost every woman—except the aforesaid degenerate—when she feels it is time to 'put away childish things,' and into her heart there steals a longing for the real things of life—the things that matter, the things that last—wedded love and little children, and that priceless possession, a home of one's own.
It is the fashion nowadays to discredit the home, and it has been jestingly alluded to by Mr Bernard Shaw as 'the girl's prison and the woman's workhouse;' but what a wonderful sanctuary it really is!—and exactly how much it means to a woman, only those who have felt the need of it can tell. In our youth, home is the place where hampers come from, where string and stamps and magazines grow on the premises, a place generally where love is, but nevertheless essentially a place we take for granted and for which we never dream of being grateful. Later on it is sometimes associated with irksome duties; to some it even becomes a place to get away from; but when we have lost it, how we long for it! How reverently we think of each room and the things that happened there; how we yearn in thought over the old garden and dream about the beloved trees. No matter how mean a home it may have been, every bit of it is sacred and dear—from the box-room, where on wet days we played at robbers, to the toolshed, where on fine days we played at everything under the sun. To this day if I chance on a badly-cooked potato it almost brings tears to my eyes, not because of its badness, but because it recalls the potatoes that three small children used to cook with gladness and eat with silent awe, in the ashes of a bonfire, in an old garden, long, long ago—whilst the smell of a bonfire itself makes me feel seven years old again!
But whether she has a home with her parents or not, every normal woman longs for a home of her own, and a girl who resents even arranging the flowers on her mother's dinner-table will after marriage cheerfully do quite distasteful housework in the place she calls her own.
This passionate love of home is one of the most marked feminine characteristics; I don't mean love of being at home, as modern women's tastes frequently lie elsewhere, but love of the place itself and the desire to possess it. A great number of women marry solely to obtain this coveted possession. As for those who don't, the advertisement columns of the Church Times, the Christian World, and other papers tell a pitiful story of their need. Ladies 'by birth' (pathetic and foolish little phrase!) are willing to do almost anything in return for just a modest corner, a very subordinate place even in someone else's home. They will be housekeepers, servants, companions, secretaries, helps for 'a small salary and a home,' and sometimes for no salary at all. They will pack, sew, mend, teach, supervise; they offer their knowledge of every kind, such as it is, their music, their languages, their health and strength, their subservience and all their virtues, real or acquired—all in return for a little food and fire, and the sheltering of four walls, which constitute their extreme need, their utmost desire—a home! Beautiful women, gifted and good women, sell themselves daily just to gain a home. Even Hedda Gabler, most degenerate of modern heroines, who shot herself rather than be a mother, sold herself in a loveless marriage only for a home. And yet constantly we read a list of trivial and fantastic reasons why women don't marry!
A girl-bachelor who was compelled to spend most of her time in that uncomfortable place technically known as 'one's boxes,' once told me that her greatest desire was a spot just big enough for a wardrobe in which to keep her spare clothes and little possessions. She did without a home, but she longed intensely for that wardrobe. 'I shall have to marry Tony soon,' she said, 'just for the convenience of having room for my clothes. I don't like him, and I want to wait till someone I do like comes, but if ever I take him, it will be for wardrobe room, you just see.' I must add that 'someone' did come, and she now possesses several wardrobes and three bouncing babies, and Tony cuts her when he meets her in the Park!
This home passion is even more noticeable in that class of society usually referred to as the lower. I have occasionally employed a poor woman who has been in service as cook since her husband died nineteen years ago. All that time, she has 'kept on the home,' i.e. a single room which contains her furniture. She has scarcely ever had to use the room, except for an odd day or two, and has had to spend much of her scanty leisure in cleaning it. For nineteen years she has paid three-and-six a week for the room sooner than sell her furniture. The L172 thus expended would have paid for the furniture over and over again. The woman quite realises the absurdity of it, but 'I simply couldn't part with the 'ome,' is her explanation.
Yet another instance. Once when staying in seaside lodgings, I had the misfortune to break a homely vessel of thick blue glass which had evidently begun life as a fancy jam jar, but had been relegated, for some reason obscure to me, to the proud position of mantel 'ornament,' if that be the term. To my surprise the worthy landlady wept bitterly over the pieces, and when I spoke of gorgeous objects wherewith to replace her treasure, explained snappishly: 'Nothing won't make it good to me! Why, that there blue vorse was the beginning of the 'ome!'
I must ask pardon for this digression and return to the subject in hand. The most depressing aspect of the question is that even if every man over twenty-five were married there would be still an enormous number of women left husbandless. This is really very serious, and is a condition that gives rise to many evils. To make up for it as far as possible, every man of sound health and in receipt of sufficient income ought to marry. If it is merely 'not good' for man to be alone, then it is very bad indeed for women! Every woman should have a man companion, a man to live with—if only to take the tickets, carry the bags and get up in the night to see what that noise is. Since society as at present constituted does not countenance men and women living together for companionship, then clearly every woman ought to have a husband!
Mr Bernard Shaw has written: 'Give women the vote and in five years there will be a crushing tax on bachelors.' So there should be, subject to certain qualifications of age and income; this is one of the many matters in which we should take a lesson from the Japanese where all bachelors over a certain age are taxed; in France too, a bill, to this effect, is being discussed. At the time of writing, women are full of anticipation of being speedily enfranchised, and there is a good deal of talk about what use they will make of the vote. I regret to say that although there have been some utterly idiotic threats to abolish that boon to wives—the man's club—yet so far, with one exception, nothing has appeared in print as to the advisability of taxing bachelors. The exception is a very interesting anonymous novel called Star of the Morning, which strongly advocates such a tax, among several other thoughtful suggestions for political reform.
It is obviously only just that the man who is doing nothing for the State in the way of rearing a family should be taxed to relieve the man who is. We hear so much about the falling birth-rate, and the duty of every married couple to have a family, yet everything is done to discourage those who do. The professional man slaving to earn, say, L1000 a year, and bring up three or four children for the State, is taxed exactly as much as the bachelor in receipt of the same income who does nothing at all for the State, and can even avoid the other taxes by being a lodger, if he choose.
But even if we eventually get reasonable legislation, which would offer rewards instead of additional burdens to those who do their share in keeping up the birth-rate; even if a bachelor over twenty-five became as rare an object in these islands as an old maid in a Mohammedan country, still there would be this enormous superfluity of spinsters. Why is it? Why should Great Britain be regarded as a paradise of old maids? Why should we have more spinsters than other countries? Is it because our colonies swallow up so many men? Then why can't they swallow up an equal number of women? I should like this most important matter to be taken up by the State and an Institution for Encouraging Marriage started under State auspices. One of the duties of this institution would be to induce numbers of suitable women to emigrate, so as to preserve the proper balance of the sexes in the home country, and that every colonist might have a chance to get a wife. I heard the other day of a very ordinary colonial girl who had eleven men all wanting to marry her at once. Eleven men! And yet there are scores of charming English girls who grow old and soured without having had a single offer of marriage.
Another duty of the Institution for Encouraging Marriage would be to try and reach and bring together the thousands of lonely middle-class men and women in large towns, who are engaged at work all day and have no means of meeting members of the opposite sex. I have just been reading Francis Gribble's very interesting novel, The Pillar of Cloud, in which he describes the existence of half a dozen girls in 'Stonor House' one of those dreary barracks for homeless females engaged during the day. The frantic desire of these girls to meet men of their own class is painfully true, and this desire is not so much the outcome of young women's natural tendency to cultivate young men, but because all such men to them are possible husbands, and marriage is the only way out from Stonor House and the joyless existence there.
In The Pathway of the Pioneer published a few years ago, Dolf Wyllarde breaks similar ground, but her young women are more morbid and less frankly anxious to meet men with a view to matrimony. Both books, however, give one a good idea of the cheerless, unnatural lives led by young middle-class women, whose relatives, if any, are far away, and who work for their living in large towns—condemned almost inevitably to celibacy by these unfavourable social conditions.
That large numbers of daintily-bred women should be condemned to such an existence is the strongest possible argument in favour of the establishment of two French institutions, viz., strictly limited families and the system of dots. Of late years, the former has been largely adopted in England, and until the latter custom also becomes the rule, the Institution for Encouraging Matrimony could take the matter in hand. Two or three unusually sensible philanthropists have already given their attention to this important subject, but any movement of this nature at once assumes too much the aspect of a matrimonial agency to be approved by the class for whose welfare it is destined. However, the I.F.E.M. would have to deal with this obstacle and conceal its real intentions under another name. I am sure if its object were sufficiently wrapped-up that refined men and women could take advantage of it without loss of self-respect—the response to such an institution by both sexes would be enormous. A club, ostensibly for promoting social intercourse, might be the solution, and subscription dances, concerts, organised excursions would not be difficult to arrange, and would make a source of brightness and interest in many drab lives. Country branches could be started if the thing proved a success.
One constantly sees in the newspapers proof of the fact that there are a very large number of middle-class young men able and anxious to marry, who lack feminine acquaintances of their own social standing from whom to make a choice. Unfortunate mesalliances are often the result, and it seems to me a sad and wasteful thing that these uxoriously-inclined men cannot be brought into contact with some of the thousands of young women whose lives are passed in uncongenial toil and who are eating out their hearts in their anxiety for a home and a husband of their own. Until the I.F.E.M. becomes fact, here is splendid work ready to hand for a philanthropist of infinite tact, and large, sympathetic heart. What a chance to add to the sum of human joy! What a rich reward for the expenditure of but a little time and money!
THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNDESIRED
'So man and woman will keep their trust, Till the very Springs of the Sea run dust.
'Yea, each with the other will lose and win, For the Strife of Love's the abysmal Strife, And the Word of Love is the Word of Life.
'And they that go with the Word unsaid, Though they seem of the living, are damned and dead.'
—W. E. HENLEY.
This is a tragedy of which few men know the existence and certainly no man in these woman-ridden isles can ever have experienced. Men always treat with derision the woman anxious for matrimony, and gibe equally at the spinster who fails to attain it. Heaven alone knows why, since by men's laws and traditions the married state has been made to mean everything desirable for a woman, and the unmarried condition everything undesirable. 'People think women who do not want to marry unfeminine; people think women who do want to marry immodest; people combine both opinions by regarding it as unfeminine for women not to look longingly forward to wifehood as the hope and purpose of their lives, and ridiculing and contemning any individual woman of their acquaintance whom they suspect of entertaining such a longing. They must wish and not wish; they must not give, and certainly must not withhold, encouragement—and so it goes on, each precept cancelling the last, and most of them negative.'
[Footnote 1: Augusta Webster.]
Both Mr Bernard Shaw and Mr George Moore have stated in print that women frequently propose to men, and several men have confided in me details of the proposals they have received from forward fair ones. I believe it is one of the tenets of advanced women that the sex that bears the child has a right to choose the husband. Although unpleasantly revolutionary this seems eminently sane. That the right to choose a mate should be open to all adults, instead of being the sole privilege of the most selfish and least observant sex, will possibly be acknowledged in the future, when the woman question shall be set at rest for ever.
In those far-off days there will, let us hope, be no more tragedy of the undesired. It seems almost indelicate to apply this phrase to the noble army of British spinsters, for the most part dignified, worthy women, comprising ratepayers, householders, philanthropists, mothers-in-all-but-fact—working parochially, among the poor, in hospitals, schools, homes, offices, and studios—on public bodies, on the staff of newspapers—generally cheerful and helpful, sometimes clever, often charming, occasionally a little narrow perhaps, but on the whole upholding the best traditions of their sex, and of course never admitting that they would like to have married. Deep in their own hearts, however, almost all of them must feel the sadness of their unfulfilment, comfort themselves how they may with other interests. Those that have engrossing occupations should be thankful, for the woman whose whole heart is set on finding a husband and who fails to attain this object generally becomes fretful, bitter, disappointed and useless in every way. But women whose minds are sufficiently broad to hold other ideals than the matrimonial one find other work to do, and do it capably and faithfully. Loving and sympathetic women are always wanted. Marriage is not essential to such a woman's life, though it may be to the highest development of her happiness.
Again, the large number of women who have had chances of marrying can comfort themselves that they chose to be single for their ideal's sake—or for whatever the reason was. Larger still is the number of those possessing the non-marrying temperament of which Bernard Shaw has written: 'Barren—the Life-Force passes it by.' This rarely troubles them; they have a host of minor pleasures and interests which suffice; no storms of feeling, no pangs of stifled mother-longing ruffle the placid surface of their lives. The real tragedy of the undesired does not touch either of these classes; it is reserved in all its poignancy for those who belong to the type of the grande amoureuse, whom lack of opportunity generally, lack of attractiveness sometimes, has prevented from fulfilling the deepest need of their nature.
I once met at a hotel on the Riviera an elderly spinster who was always incredibly depressed. However bravely shone the sun, however fair seemed the world in that fairest spot, nothing had the power to cheer her. I tried once to get her to join in an excursion which a party of us were going to make on donkey-back to a neighbouring village in the hills, but she refused. Another time I invited her to accompany me to the rooms at Monte Carlo, but she again refused, and after several well-meant efforts on my part to cheer her had led to the same result, the poor soul told me in hesitating words that she shunned gay places and lively gatherings. 'They always make me discontented and remind me of what I might have had; it brings home to me the—what shall I call it?—the tragedy of the might-have-been.' I understood what she meant, and no further words on the subject passed between us, much to my relief, as confidences of this nature are very painful to both sides. My readers will probably despise this poor lady as morbid, selfish and unbalanced. Possibly they are right, but the sadness of an empty heart, a lonely life, was the cause of her warped nature. Fortunately hers is an extreme case; the majority of spinsters I imagine can take a delight in seeing girls happy, and are generally deeply interested in the love affairs of others. I recall a beautiful line of Fiona Macleod's to the effect that 'a secret vision in the soul will hallow life.' This will suffice to keep many spinsters happy—the memory of some love and tenderness, a romance of some kind to sweeten life; women need it.
To give another instance: a woman once asked me why men fell in love. 'I wonder if you can tell me what it is about women that makes men propose to them,' she said. 'I've known numbers of plain women married and numbers of penniless ones, and some quite horrid ones without a single quality likely to make a man happy, yet there must have been something about them that attracted—some reason for it.'
She went on to tell me in such a pathetic way how she longed to have a home and a 'nice, kind man,' to care for her, and yet no man had ever asked her; no man had ever desired her or looked on her with love; she had never known the clasp of a man's passionate arms, nor the ecstasy of a lover's kiss. It seemed very strange to me, strangely painful and horribly humiliating. I could scarcely bear to look at her while she told me these things.
'I would make a man so happy,' she said, and her mournful dark eyes filled with tears; she had rather fine eyes, and was quite a nice-looking woman with a most sweet and gentle manner. 'I would be so good to him,' she went on; 'I'd simply live for him. I try to put it out of my mind, but as I grow older, and it's more hopeless, I think of it more and more and sometimes I feel I shall go mad with the misery of it. The future is so utterly grey and it's all so unjust. I'm so fitted for love, and now my life's going and I've had nothing, nothing!'
She wept bitterly and I wept too in sympathy with her. Curiously enough, this woman was not only attractive, as I have said, and anxious to please, and thoroughly feminine, but she had had ample opportunities of meeting men. I suppose she lacked what the Scotch peasant-woman called the 'come hither in the 'ee'—some subtle sex-magnetism which had been possessed by those 'plain, penniless, and horrid women' whom she talked about. Or perhaps it was that the 'will to live' was absent and therefore no mate came to the woman.
There are thousands of women who feel the same, though in most cases they would scorn to own it. We hear a good deal of man's right to live; what about woman's right to love? Women are so constituted that the need for loving and being loved is the strongest factor of their being, the essential of their existence. All over the country there are lonely women of every class, leisured and working women, pretty and plain, good and bad, who are hungering and thirsting for love, for a man to take care of them, for the right to wifehood and the thrice blessed right to motherhood. In the Press the parrot cry of men echoes ceaselessly: 'Women shouldn't meddle in politics; women shouldn't do this or that—let them mind their homes and their children.' But the restless women who do these things have generally no homes or children to mind; what is the use of preaching the sacredness of motherhood when you will not allow them to be mothers? To what end prate of the duties of wifehood when you do not ask them to be wives?
It is a well-known physiological fact that numbers of women become insane in middle life who would not have done so if they had enjoyed the ordinary duties, pleasures and preoccupations of matrimony—if their women's natures had not been starved by an unnatural celibacy. This is not a suitable subject to go into here, but I recommend it to the attention of my more thoughtful readers and those who concern themselves with the amelioration of the wretched social conditions of our glorious twentieth-century civilisation.
Hardest of all is the case of the woman who longs not merely for wifehood and 'a kind man,' but more especially for motherhood, the bitter-sweet crown of the sex that celibate priests preach ceaselessly as woman's first duty and highest good, but which thousands of women in this country are debarred from fulfilling! Surely no bitterness must be so poignant as the bitterness of the woman who longs for motherhood—ceaselessly in her ears the Life Force is calling, and deep in her heart the dream children are stirring, crying, 'Give us life! give us life!' becoming more importunate every year, as each year finds the divine possibilities unrealised.
I often think how everything combines to torment a generous-hearted, full-blooded, mother-woman whose nature is starved thus. She has, of course, to suppress all emotion on the subject, to hold her head high, and endure with a smile the 'experienced' airs of girls, much younger than herself, who happen to wear that magical golden ring that changes all life for a woman; to pretend generally that she has no wish to marry, never had, and could have if she chose, to laugh at this page if she should happen to read it, and call the writer a morbid idiot—in short, she always has to act a part before a world which professes to find exquisitely humorous the fact of a woman being cheated out of the birthright of her sex. Every paper and book she picks up nowadays contains some reference to the glories of motherhood, the joys of love. Music, pictures, novels and plays, all speak of sex fulfilled and triumphant, not starved and denied like hers. The same principle is everywhere in Nature—the sky, the sea, the flowers, the green trees, the sound of summer rain—all beautiful sights and sounds have the same meaning, the same burden, the same sharp sting for her. If she is inclined to be morbid, every child's face seen in the street turns the knife in the wound; every sweet baby's cooing is another pang. 'Not for me—not for me!' must be the perpetual refrain in her mind. Her arms are empty, her heart is cold; she belongs to the vast, sad army of the undesired.
Do you wonder the madhouses are full of single women?
* * *
NOTE.—A clever and delightful friend of mine, a spinster by choice, takes exception to my views on the single estate. I should be deeply grieved if any words of mine were to cause pain to other women. I have said before that some of the best women are spinsters, which is sad to a believer in marriage like myself. Two of the sweetest and noblest women I know are unmarried; one of them especially seems absolutely without a thought of self, and has worked hard for others all her life, giving her powers of brain and body to their utmost limit, and the treasures of her beautiful heart generously and without stint. I beg my readers to note that I have tried to differentiate between those spinsters who do not want to marry and those who do; between the rich spinster who can command all the amenities of life, and the poor one compelled to a relentless and unceasing round of uncongenial toil. Still more do I wish to distinguish between the placid contented woman who can adapt herself to circumstances and find a quiet sort of happiness in any life—and the less well-balanced, more passionate natures, with deeper desires and an imperious need of loving. It is this need of loving stifled, crushed and fought against that awakens my profound compassion—a compassion which my friend informs me is wasted and misplaced. My readers must judge.
CAUSES OF FAILURE
'For Marriage is like Life in this, that it is a field of battle, not a bed of roses.' —R. L. STEVENSON.
'Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat.' —Man and Superman.
'A wise man should avoid married life, as though it were a burning pit of live coals.' —Dhammika Sutta.
THE VARIOUS KINDS OF MARRIAGE
'Marriage is the great mistake that wipes out the smaller stupidities of Love.' —SCHOPENHAUER.
In one of his essays Stevenson says: 'I am so often filled with wonder that so many marriages are passable successes, and so few come to open failure, the more so as I fail to understand the principle on which people regulate their choice.'
Out of the chaos which envelops this 'principle' four special motives seem to stand out, and we can therefore roughly divide the marriages that take place into five sections thus—
1. The Marriage of Passion. 2. The Marriage of Convenience. 3. Marriage for a Purpose. 4. Haphazard Marriage. 5. The Marriage of Affection.
* * *
The Marriage of Passion.—One of Mr Somerset Maugham's characters in The Merry-Go-Round says: 'I'm convinced that marriage is the most terrible thing in the world, unless passion makes it absolutely inevitable.' Although a profound admirer of Mr Maugham's work, here I find myself entirely at variance with him. Most of the mad, unreasonable matches are those which 'passion makes inevitable.' Theoretically this is one of the most promising types of marriage—in practice it proves the most fatally unhappy of all. 'They're madly in love with each other, it's an ideal match' is a comment one often hears expressed with much satisfaction, but it is a painful fact that these desperate loves lead very frequently to disaster and divorce. Most of the miserable married couples personally known to me were 'madly in love' with each other at the start.
Is it to be wondered at when one considers the matter? Nature, who seldom makes a mistake where primitive mankind is concerned is by no means infallible when dealing with the artificial conditions of our Western civilisation. In the East where greater sex licence is allowed, it seems quite safe to trust Nature and follow the instincts she implants. Not so in our hemisphere. The young man and maid who fall under passion's thrall are temporarily blind and mad; their judgment is obscured, their reasoning powers non-existent, nothing in the world seems of the slightest importance except the overwhelming necessity to give themselves—to possess the beloved, the being who has fired their blood.
If the Fates are cruel, these two are permitted to rush into matrimony. Nature has worked her will and pays no more heed. She is well-satisfied: the children born of these unions of utter madness are generally the finest and strongest, and what else does Nature care about? But for the young couple? . . . Gradually the roseate clouds lift, the intoxicating fumes are wafted away—the rapture subsides, and each awakes from the effects of the most potent drug in the universe to find a very ordinary young person at their side—and around them a chain which men name 'Forever!'
Unhappy indeed are these two if, when they stand facing each other over passion's grave, there proves to be no link at all between them except the memory of the madness that has died. Fortunately this is by no means always the case, but when it is a very unhappy married life must inevitably follow. Schopenhauer gives as the reason for such matches proving unhappy the fact that their participants look after 'the welfare of the future generation at the expense of the present,' and quotes the Spanish proverb, 'He who marries for love must live in grief.' From the point of view of the individual's interest, and not that of the future generation, it certainly seems a mistake to wed the object of intense desire unless there is also spiritual harmony, community of tastes and interests, and many other points of union in common. But under the influence of suppressed passion people lose their clearness of mental vision and are therefore more or less incapable of judging.
Let there be passion in marriage by all means—so far I entirely agree with Mr Maugham—but let it be merely the outer covering of love—a garment of flame the embrace of which is ecstasy indeed, but which, when it has burnt itself away, still leaves love a solid form of joy and beauty, erect beneath its ashes. 'Real friendship,' founded on harmony of sentiment, does not exist until the instinct of sex has been extinguished.
[Footnote 2: Schopenhauer's Metaphysics of Love.]
* * *
Marriages of Convenience are of two kinds, the wholly sordid, when money, social position, or some personal aggrandisement has been the motive on one or both sides, without any basis of affection; and the partially-sordid, when these reasons are modified by some existing affection or liking. In this category come the people who marry principally in the interests of their business or profession, such as the barrister who weds the solicitor's daughter, or the young doctor who marries into the old doctor's family. In this connection one recalls the father who advised his sons not to marry for money, but to love where money was. No doubt the possession of a little money or 'influence' is an added attraction to a maiden's charm in the eyes of the go-ahead young man of to-day; and considering how hard it appears to be to earn a living nowadays one cannot altogether blame them—distressing as it seems from the sentimental point of view. I don't believe, however, that there are so many wholly sordid marriages outside the confines of the set generally prefixed as 'smart.' People who are not members of this glittering circle are already sufficiently shy of matrimony nowadays, and are afraid of the enormous additional handicap such a match would carry. Of course these unions are almost inevitably miserable failures, and one wonders what else the victims could have expected.
* * *
We now come to the third division, Marriage for a Purpose. These matches are distantly allied with the partially-sordid, but there is nothing sordid about them, as they are frequently undertaken from the highest motives. In this class are the widowers who wed for the sake of their children, the spinsters whose motive is their desire for motherhood, the men and women who marry to possess a home, or for the sake of companionship. All these reasons are justifiable enough, and people who embark on matrimony with a set purpose generally take it very seriously, and determine to make a success of it. Such marriages often prove extremely happy, perhaps for the very reason that so little is asked. The spirit of contentment is an excellent influence in married life, since love is often killed by its own excessive demands, as I shall endeavour to show later.
* * *
Haphazard Marriages seem to me the best way to describe those unions into which men drift without any special reason, sometimes almost against their own wish. Nature does not care how the young people come together as long as they do come, and sometimes a man finds himself drifting into matrimony almost before he is aware. I write a 'man' advisedly as women never drift into wifehood. In these cases it is generally their set and deliberate purpose that has steered the man into the conjugal harbour unknown to him. He has merely followed the line of least resistance and found to his surprise that it leads to the altar. Mr Bernard Shaw has given a very amusing, and, in spite of itself, convincing, picture of this manoeuvring in Man and Superman, where he also expresses his conviction that 'men, to protect themselves . . . have set up a feeble, romantic conviction that the initiative in sex business must always come from the man . . . but the pretence is so shallow, so unreal that even in the theatre, that last sanctuary of unreality, it imposes only on the inexperienced. In Shakespeare's plays the woman always takes the initiative. In his problem plays and his popular plays alike the love interest is the interest of seeing the woman hunt the man down. . . . The pretence that women do not take the initiative is part of the farce. Why, the whole world is strewn with snares, traps, gins, and pitfalls for the capture of men by women. It is assumed that the woman must wait motionless to be wooed. Nay, she often does wait motionless. That is how the spider waits for the fly. The spider spins her web. And if the fly, like my hero, shows a strength that promises to extricate him, how swiftly does she abandon her pretence of passiveness, and openly fling coil after coil about him until he is secured for ever!'
* * *
The Marriage of Affection.—'Do you know any thoroughly happy couples?' says one of the characters in Double Harness.
'Very hard to say. Oh, ecstasies aren't for this world, you know—not permanent ecstasies. You might as well have permanent hysterics. And, as you're aware, there are no marriages in heaven. So perhaps there's no heaven in marriages either.'
These sentiments are of a nature to disgust and irritate the ignorant girl of twenty by their callous unreality in her eyes, and to delight the experienced woman of, say, thirty, by their profound truth in hers—so utterly do one's ideas about life change in the course of ten years or so!
Sixty years ago George Sand wrote: 'You ask me whether you will be happy thro' love and marriage. You will not, I am fully convinced, be so in either the one or the other. Love, fidelity, maternity are nevertheless the most important, the most necessary things in the life of a woman.'
To the same effect writes R. L. Stevenson when he says: 'I suspect Love is rather too violent a passion to make in all cases a good domestic character.' Of course no very young people will believe this, but it is a horrid sordid truth that, as a rule, the happiest marriages are those in which the couple do not love too intensely. I am speaking of solid, workaday happiness, not of ecstasies and raptures. The excessive claims made by passionate love and the fevered state of mind it produces are often the cause of its shipwreck. 'If I am horrid, darling,' a girl once said to her lover, when trying to make up a quarrel she herself had brought about, 'it's only because I love you so intensely.' 'Then, for God's sake, love me less, and treat me better,' snapped the outraged lover, and we can but sympathise with him.
I have purposely used the word Affection in this division, in place of one signifying a greater degree of feeling, and I unhesitatingly state that generally speaking, the most successful marriages are those which—'when the first sweet sting of love be past, the sweet that almost venom is,' develop into the temperate, unexacting, peaceful and harmonious unions which come under this heading. To the ardent youths and maidens—restless seekers after the elusive joy of life—who will have none of this prosaic and inglorious counsel, and who are prepared to stake their all on the belief that the first sweet sting of love is going to last for ever, I say: Get your roses-and-raptures over some other way; don't look for romance in marriage or, unless your case prove the exception to the rule, you will inevitably make a terrible mistake! . . . Oh, don't ask me how it is to be done, but remember what I say, and don't marry until the quiet, sober, beautiful and restful affection you now scorn becomes in your eyes a haven of peace from the storm and stress of life, and the highest good it contains.
Another reason why the Marriage of Affection is the most likely to prove a success is because mutual respect enters so largely into its composition, and how enormously important this is in the holy estate, none can realise until they marry. I shall have more to say later about the urgent necessity for respect in married life.
WHY WE FALL OUT: DIVERS DISCORDS
'And yet when all has been said, the man who should hold back from marriage is in the same case with him who runs away from battle.' —R. L. STEVENSON.
We have discussed those types of marriage more or less doomed to failure from the outset, and now come to the reason why so many matches prove unhappy when apparently every circumstance has been favourable.
It was Socrates, I think, who said: 'Whether you marry or whether you remain unmarried, you will repent it.' The people who assert that marriage is a failure seem to lose sight of the fact that the estate was not ordained for the purpose of happiness, but to meet the necessities of society, and so long as these necessities are fulfilled by marriage, then the institution must be pronounced successful, however unhappy married people may be.
If the reasons 'why we fell out, my wife and I,' were to be considered exhaustively, the subject would overflow the bounds of this modest volume and run into several hundred giant tomes; indeed I believe an entire library could be filled with books on this matter alone. Ever since Adam and Eve had a few words over their dessert, husbands and wives have gone on quarrelling continuously and the humble philosopher who said that certain people quarrelled 'bitter and reg'lar, like man and wife,' was merely describing a condition that habit had made familiar to him.
As with the rest of life, in matrimony it is the little things that count, and the frail barque of married happiness founders principally on the insignificant, half-perceived rocks—the little jealousies, little denials, little irritations, little tempers, little biting words, which by degrees wear so many little holes in the stern that at last an irreparable leak is sprung and the ship goes down in the next storm. The big obstacles make a worse crash when they do get in the way, but they can be seen from afar and steered clear of.
A miserable husband who had come to the parting of the ways (having started in the madly-in-love section), once confided in me that the bitter and terrible quarrels between him and his wife always began for some utterly trivial reason, generally because he did not admire her clothes! Could anything be more pitifully absurd? 'Then why,' I asked, 'as you're so anxious to keep the peace, do you volunteer any criticism at all?' 'Oh, I never do,' was the answer. 'She asks me my opinion of a new gown, say, and gets angry when it's unfavourable. Then of course I get angry too, I'm no saint, and presently we come to curses and words that sting like blows. Then I clear out for a couple of days, and of course there's the devil to pay when I go back, and it begins all over again. Why, this present row has lasted five weeks or so, and in the beginning it was simply because I said I didn't like the ostrich feather in her hat!'
Again: I once met at a race-meeting a school-friend, long lost sight of, whom I had last seen as a newly-wedded wife, loving and beloved. She was now very much changed, hard and haggard of face. I asked after the man I remembered as a radiant bridegroom.
'Oh, he's gone the way of all husbands,' she said, with a sigh; 'liver, my dear.'
'Do you mean he's dead?' I asked, shocked and pained.
'Oh, dear, no, he's alive enough, but he's developed liver and that's killed our love,' was the cynical reply.
It had. Devotion and dyspepsia are hard to reconcile and my friend's husband had developed a nasty knack of throwing his dinner in the fire whenever it displeased him, a habit hardly conducive to home happiness.
Food, as a fact, is one of the chief sources of friction in married life. It sounds farcical, but I am perfectly serious. Food, the ordering and cooking of it and the subsequent paying for it, is one of the great tragedies of a wife's existence. Time, the great healer, mercifully deadens the intensity of this anguish, and matrons of fifty or so can face the daily burden of food-ordering with something like indifference. But to a woman who has not yet reached the fatal landmark aptly described as 'the same age as everybody else, namely, thirty-five,' it is the greatest cross, whilst many a bride has had her early married life totally ruined by the horrid and ever recurring necessity of finding food for her partner. Men make fun of women because their dinner, when alone, so often consists of an egg for tea, but women have such a constitutional hatred of food-ordering, inherited, no doubt, from a long line of suffering female ancestry, that the majority of them would gladly live on tea and bread-and-butter for the rest of their lives sooner than face the necessity of daily meditating on a menu. For this reason I believe vegetarian husbands are particularly desirable, since the whole principle of food-reform is simplicity. Those who go in for it acquire an entirely fresh set of ideas on the importance of food, and become quite pathetically easily pleased. I know a woman whose husband is a vegetarian and she declared that the food question, so disturbing a factor in most homes, had never caused her a single tear, or frown, or angry word, or added wrinkle. She assured me that her husband would cheerfully breakfast off a banana, lunch off a lettuce, dine on a date and sup on a salted almond. When the house was upset on the occasion of a large evening party and there were no conveniences for the ordinary family dinner, the creature actually ate cheese sandwiches in the bathroom, by way of a dinner, and was quite pleased to do so, moreover! I could scarcely credit it at first, but it was really true.
Of the many paltry little causes for friction in married life incompatibility of temperature has doubtless been a very fruitful source of dissension. If one shivers when the window is opened and the other is a fresh-air faddist and can't breathe with it shut, an endless vista of possibilities of unhappiness is opened out. It was, I believe, Napoleon's second wife, Marie Louise, who always got rid of her husband when she wished to, by merely keeping her apartments cold. The great man was only comfortable in a very hot room with a blazing fire.
That grievous deficiency, no sense of humour, is another of the tiny little rocks on which married happiness often splits. This is natural enough, since an absence of this priceless quality is about the worst deprivation a traveller on life's journey can suffer from. Among men the conviction is rife that women invariably suffer thus, but I think we can afford to leave them this delusion, since it affords them so much satisfaction. At one time I had a journalist friend of a painfully stodgy and unusually depressing literary habit. This poor soul fancied his vein was humour, and from him I have often endured the reading aloud of the dreariest laboured pages of japes and jests, which to his thinking were sparkling with wit. My patient, long-suffering listening only brought bitter derision for my alleged lack of humorous perception, but my criticism inspired the young man to write a cynical article on 'Women and Humour,' of the kind that editors—being men—delight in, and for which he consequently got well paid.
As a fact, the things that amuse men frequently fail to amuse women and vice versa but it is surely illogical to deduce from this that women's humorous sense is inferior to men's—or non-existent. As, however, this apparently insignificant question is of such importance in life generally, whether it be in a palace, a convent, a villa or a workhouse—I think a wife would be well-advised to assume amusement if she feels it not, laugh with her lord even when she doesn't see the point, and cultivate indifference when he fails to laugh with her.
Writers on marriage seem to have paid very little attention to this important point. Stevenson is one of the exceptions: 'That people should laugh over the same sort of jest,' he says, 'and have many an old joke between them which time cannot wither or custom stale is a better preparation for life, by your leave, than many other things higher and better-sounding in the world's ears. You could read Kant by yourself, if you wanted; but you must share a joke with someone else.'
In a beautiful poem, Stephen Phillips describes how a bereaved lover can think calmly of his dead, when he looked at her possessions, the things she had worn, even when he read her letters; and her saddest words had no power to pain him, but when he came to—
'A hurried, happy line! A little jest too slight for one so dead: This did I not endure— Then with a shuddering heart no more I read,'
In truth, the little joke shared, the old allusion at which both are accustomed to laugh, is a more potent bond than many a deeper feeling. One can recall these trifles long after one has forgotten the poignant moments of passion, the breathless heartbeats, the wild embraces which at the time seemed to promise such deathless memories. All, all are forgotten, but the silly little joke has still the power to bring tears to our eyes if the one with whom we shared it is lost to us.