Typos p. 237: the Stream o Life [= the Stream of Life]; p. 237: disapppointment [= disappointment]; p. 248: dypsomania [= dipsomania]; p. 266: perfer [= prefer]
The Old Maid and Her Relation to Society
This may be an unpleasant fact, and it may seem a hard thing to say; but we are not concerned here with what is pleasant, kind-hearted, or courteous. Our concern is much more to approach as nearly as we can to the truth on this matter; and since the phenomenon of spinsterhood is well known, to deal with it in a manner that will be useful to all those who wish to arrive at a better understanding of it.
Modern people have grown so emotional and sentimental as to truth in general, that it is becoming more and more difficult to deal in a straightforward way with subjects having unpleasant associations, or likely to lead to unpleasant conclusions, without incurring all kinds of imputations that are utterly irrelevant to an honest spirit of inquiry. The moment they leave the investigation of such obviously harmless subjects as chess or bridge, and turn their attention to human nature, modern people feel that the pursuit of truth must or ought to be directed more by a constant regard for good feeling, politeness and pleasantness, than by any rigorous endeavour to arrive at facts.
It never occurs to such a person that the business of discovering the facts about a certain phenomenon is not an undertaking that can be trammelled by considerations either of gallantry or drawing-room etiquette, nor is it embarked upon with the object of apportioning praise or blame. The contention that it is not the spinster's fault that she is a spinster, therefore, is no more relevant to an inquiry into spinsterhood, and ought no more to influence us in the conclusions at which we arrive concerning spinsterhood, than the fact that the germ of tuberculosis is not responsible for being the germ of tuberculosis ought to influence us in our inquiry into its relation to pulmonary phthisis.
I am quite prepared to admit without further ado that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of noble and eminently desirable women in England to-day who have remained spinsters from deliberate choice. I have no doubt that if I had been a woman and had entertained anything approximately like my present opinion of modern men, I too would have remained a spinster, maybe from sheer nausea. 1 The majority of modern men are so very much below even a modest idea of what man should be, they have been so much besotted and debilitated through generations of unmanly labours and occupations, that it is not merely conceivable that many women
1 In the Laws of Manu (Bk. IX, 89) there is a passage which seems to show that spinsterhood of this kind is specially recommended by the religious Founder of Brahmanism. In Bk. IX, verse 89, we read: "But the maiden, though marriageable, should rather stop in her father's house until death, than that he should ever give her to a man destitute of good qualities."
From the outset, therefore, it is as well for everybody to bear this in mind in regard to spinsterhood in general, namely, that since the spinsters of any country represent a body of human beings who are not leading natural lives, and whose fundamental instincts are able to find no normal expression or satisfaction, it follows, on a priori grounds alone, apart from any question of evidence, which we may ultimately find for or against, that the influence of this body of spinsters on the life of the nation to which they belong, must be abnormal, and therefore contrary to the normal needs and the natural development of that nation. Moreover, since the abnormal, when it is not super normal, tends constantly to gravitate into the morbid, it is not inconsistent with this principle, but rather a necessary conclusion from it, to say that the presence of a body of unadapted spinsters in any nation must exercise a morbid influence upon the life of that nation.
To concentrate upon the economic aspect of the question, and to say as many do, that provided these surplus women can support themselves, the problem of their lives, and the difficulty of their evil influence upon their nation, is entirely solved, is simply to draw a red herring across the path of our inquiry. For self-support is not even the consummation of the life of man. How then could it be the consummation of the life of woman, in whom a very much more elaborate equipment than man's for a definite calling, demands a far more complicated range of bodily activities than any to which an occupation providing merely self-support can possibly lead? Self-support is never more than a means to an end. The needs of a full and complete life, therefore, cannot be met by self support and the industry by which it is achieved.
Neither is it any satisfactory reply to the question, How can we correct or eliminate the evils of spinsterhood? to point to the number of spinsters who are doing what is called "useful work." In the first place, it is always wise when such a plea is advanced, to inquire into the "useful" work in question, in order to discover (a) how much of it has been rendered necessary by the very existence of spinsters in large numbers, (b) how much of it is the creation of the spinsters themselves in their resolute insistence on acquiring some importance,
I propose to discuss the whole question of spinsterhood from the age when, in healthy girls, the condition begins to prove noticeably deleterious to health and spirits, to the time when, if marriage has not taken place, no fertilization can occur.
I therefore have for my subject the general question of spinsterhood, from the time when a virgin reaches the age of twenty-five, to the time when she is fifty or more. And very naturally I propose to concern myself not with spinsters in the legal sense, but only with spinsters who are entitled to the epithet intacta.
Proceeding along the accustomed lines, spinsters shall accordingly be classified as follows:
(1) Positive virgins.
(2) Negative virgins.
that is to say, (1) those whose bodies and instincts say "Yea" emphatically to life, and who will brook no negative compromise; and (2) those whose bodies and instincts are not sufficiently vital or sanguine insistently to demand the fulfilment of their destiny.
It is necessary to make this sharp distinction again, because it is the only way to be clear regarding the diversity of characteristics which are to be found among spinsters of all nations and climes.
In Chapter III, I dealt with the question of the origin of instinctive desire, or bodily impulse or wish. I showed how it arose from two possible sources:
1 See p. 248.
(b) A certain correlation of bodily parts or organs, the possession of which in itself is sufficient to suggest and to enforce a particular course of conduct in its owner.
I showed that the blind will to function in a certain way, and the impulse to seek the means of functioning in a certain way, must arise, provided that these two conditions are present in an individual, and that his body is in a sufficiently tonic state for these conditions to operate normally.
Now in a woman the blind will to function as a mother finds its source in:
(a) The long line of female ancestors who must have been mothers, and who therefore have established an ancestral maternal habit on the female side, which reaches the individual female with a considerable amount of accumulated momentum through the generations that have preceded her.
(b) A certain correlation of bodily parts the large amount of space taken up in the female body by the organs connected directly or indirectly with procreation, the importance of these organs, and the elaborate nervous organization contrived to bring these organs into effective and harmonious action when once the proper start has been given.
(l) In the unmarried woman, therefore, whose body is sufficiently healthy and tonic to act normally, there are two forces incessantly impelling her to the employment of her important reproductive organs, of both of which forces she may be and usually is, childishly unconscious: they are (a) her ancestral bias or habit, and (b) the correlation of her bodily parts. The more perfectly formed she is and the more. healthy she is, the more importunate will these forces be, and the less inclined will they show themselves to be put off without a struggle.
(2) In the unmarried woman, however, whose body is not sufficiently healthy or tonic to act normally, there are the same forces present, driving her to employ her reproductive organs; but the insistence of these forces not being very great, the drive is hardly felt, or not felt at all. The ancestral habit, although the same of course, speaks with a fainter voice, and the correlation of organs which are less tonic and less healthy perforce generates a less impetuous impulse.
This woman or girl I shall call the negative spinster that is to say, she is the type of unmarried female who either says "Nay" emphatically to life, and who will not hasten to seize opportunities that promise to lead to motherhood, or else she will be listless and apathetic about the whole matter, unconsciously so, and therefore consciously uninterested, unmoved by any of its aspects.
These two types of spinsters will now be examined separately.
She is usually a great conscious sufferer, sometimes both mentally and physically; for, while she possesses the physical equipment for marriage in a highly tonic condition, with all the potential virtues of the mother, this equipment and these virtues never have the opportunity of deploying their power.
She may, at the cost of great pains, develop other virtues and other adaptations; but the fact to be remembered about her is, that the functions for which she is best fitted and the virtues which are most essentially hers, cannot be used in her life.
Whatever else she may become that is always her
In addition, however, to the extra fatigue, worry, pains and distaste always connected with pursuing a vocation not primarily one's own, she herself will always feel and reveal the disillusionment and bitter regret of one who is conscious of having been designed for something different. The mood of the artist whom circumstances have compelled to adopt accountancy for a livelihood, will be her constant mood.
In addition to being a person pursuing a wrong vocation, in this sense, however, she will feel something more than the artist who is doomed to accountancy. She will feel "out of it," as the popular expression has it outside that which is most thrilling, most enthralling, and most universally interesting, outside the main Stream of Life itself.
All of us, as we look around and behold our big cities, our municipal authorities and their offices, our streets, our traffic on those streets, our railways, our Parliament, our system of Judicature, our industries, our commerce, and finally the land beyond with all its agricultural and mining activities; all of us who can with one sweeping glance comprehend the immensely vast and intricate activities which go to make a modern nation, have sometimes a lucid moment when we can abstract from the wild and confusing tangle of our environment the idea of the purpose for which it is all there, the idea of the force for which it is organized in short the underlying fact which gives the city, the country beyond, and all the activities we see, a sense, a genuine meaning.
This purpose, this force, this fact, is the Stream of Life that runs through our organized State, and to which all these activities, all these complex conditions, do but minister. The factory is thus beheld, not as an end in
Now it is precisely from this most important thing of all that the spinster feels herself most radically and hopelessly severed. She may minister to it indirectly, through the factory, the municipal or Government offices, the studio, the nursery or the scientific professions; but her importance will be commensurate with the relation she bears to it. She is one step removed from the main stream, she does not directly flow with it; before the most important thing on earth, the thing that gives everything else its sense, she is and can only be a spectator. This is the additional anguish she must feel as a creature cheated of her proper calling. The artist with whom we have compared her, who suffers the mortifying experience of pursuing a vocation (accountancy) not his own, may after all be flowing with the Stream of Life, and form part of it. The additional anguish of being "out of it," in this sense, he need not necessarily feel. He experiences only half the spinster's spiritual distress.
Nor will it necessarily console her, or reconcile her to her relatively unimportant fate as spectator, to point to the pain, the passion, the disapppointment, the hardships, the disease and the poverty that lash the main Stream of Life like a flail. If she is honest, she will tell you just what everybody else feels that she would risk all these things to be in it.
But there is yet something more she endures, which the artist doomed to accountancy is spared. Provided lie be wise and observes the essential rules of hygiene and sound diet, there is no reason, despite his abandoned mission, why his body should suffer very severely. While he may deplore his wasted capacity for art, he may nevertheless live a healthy sexual life and become a happy father.
The positive spinster, on the other hand, cannot well escape the physical penalty of her total sexual abstinence.
The energy that has been waiting and waiting to be used endeavours to discharge itself. Since it cannot find the customary and normal channels of discharge, it disperses itself erratically along any channel that it can find usually the nerves and it does this angrily because of the impetus it has acquired through being checked. The thwarted instincts show their revolt in internal conflict with the other instincts of life, and may be so powerful as to convert a girl hitherto consistently yea-saying into a radical nay-sayer, or a suicide. 1 Hence the strong tendency to suicide in very positive girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty, when the passions are most impetuous, and waiting leads to the maximum amount of conflict. 2 The fact that the number of suicides
1 See Arabella Kenealy (Op. cit., p. 105), where, referring to the vital impulses of woman, she says: "When these are not expended, as is normal, in the creation of and ministration to living and beloved things, they generate warped, erratic and chaotic aberrations."
2 "With reference to the marked predominance of female suicides [in England] over male suicides in the 1520 age period. Ogle remarks that this is also 'the only period in which the general death rates, as shown in the Registrar-General's returns, is higher in the female sex, and also is marked, as the census returns for 1881 show, by an exceptionally higher rate of lunacy (exclusive of idiocy or imbecility) for females than for males.' . . . In France, the chief age at which men commit suicide is from 40 to 50, while for women it is between 15 to 20" (Havelock Ellis, Man and Woman, pp. 382383.) The census of 1911 also gives higher figures for female than for male lunacy a difference of 10,000, and these are chiefly unmarried women. The unmarried numbered 54,223, the married 21,299, the widowed 9,229.
The discharge of the sexual energy along nervous channels may lead to every variety of neuropathic symptoms. The woman may become the victim of phobias, obsessions, melancholia, morbid self-contempt, or morbid self-esteem (narcissism), facial tics, other spasms, insomnia, vicious secret habits, and hallucinations. Owing to the fact that other parts of her body, away from her sexual organs (the throat, sophagus, or bowel, etc.), may attempt to find compensation for the inexperienced sexual sensations, she may find a morbid pleasure in consuming highly condimented foods, or foods which she can swallow in a bulky bolus 2 bananas, new bread, pastry, insufficiently masticated hard foods, such as bread-crusts, apples, and even raw vegetables. This propensity, while quickly inducing indigestion, may, by giving a false appetite, cause her to be taken for a glutton. A case has been known of a girl who, addicted to this method of pseudo-sexual satisfaction, used to employ artificial means of vomiting up her food, like the more dissipated Romans of old, in order to be able to enjoy a
1 H. Ellis, Op. cit., p. 388: "There are some who believe (Dr. H. Campbell amongst them) that although the number of women of all ages who commit suicide is less than the number of men, many more women than men contemplate suicide habitually, i.e. many more women than men are suicidal, although they may not always carry it into practice."
2 The facts collected by the psycho-analysts, Freud and Dr. E. Jones, on this phenomenon were not new to me. I had already observed them in numerous cases, and my observations On the point were but confirmed by the psycho-analysts' theory of the transference of orgastic sensations from the genitalia to other parts of the body.
Furthermore, the instinctive effort which every woman will make, in cases of vague physiological distress, to conceal her bodily misery from her friends and relatives, frequently leads to consistent affectation. It is not necessary that the nature of the bodily misery should have reached consciousness in order that affectation, as a means of concealment, should be indulged in. It is sufficient that the physiological distress should have been communicated vaguely as distress to the brain. From the moment this has occurred there will be a tendency in all brave women, who incline to show a bold and happy face to the world, to practise every kind of affectation. Their speech, their voice and even their laugh will strike their friends as over-strained or peculiar. Some will habitually make strange grimaces, others will smile in a set, exaggerated way, or over-emphasize their horror at objects disliked and their pleasure at objects approved. The affectation may even affect their gait, so that they will walk with a bold manly stride in which an unconscious attempt will be made to demonstrate to the outside world excessive self-assurance and happy adaptation, in order to conceal the reverse of these feelings which are agitating their spirits. As time goes on these affectations will become fixed habits that no training and no changes in environment can remove.
There may be attempts at sterile compensation, taking the form of an excessive fondness for children, or a desire to fondle or to have power over them. This is particularly obnoxious, and entirely justifies psychologists like Dr. E. Jones in strongly deprecating the too exclusive
1 See Martial, III, 82, 9; also Senecae Dialogorum Liber XII, 10, 3. While Hugo Blümner in his Römischen Privataltertümer (1922), p. 399, gives a brief description of this practice.
There may also be attempts at compensation with members of the same sex not necessarily in the form of vicious unnatural relations, but in the nature of patronizing friendship with younger girls. Spinsters in
1 See Papers on Psycho-Analysis (London, 1918), p. 599. In regard to this question parents are also entitled to ask what influence the spinster's outlook on life has upon their children, particularly upon their daughters. It is impossible entirely to divorce from one's moral influence upon children the prejudices and prepossessions of one's particular position in life, and one's general attitude towards fundamental problems. Now, since the spinster's particular position in life is an abnormal one, it is questionable whether she can help her influence from imparting something of her own abnormality. When we bear in mind that, according to the census of 1911 there were 187,283 female teachers in England and Wales, 171,480 of whom were unmarried, the gravity of this aspect alone of spinsterhood cannot be denied.
2 And neurosis in later life.
Among the more wealthy spinsters, there may also be attempts at compensation through frankly humanitarian propaganda, through the endowment or enriching of humanitarian institutions, or through humanitarian labours. This is usually expressed by a very deep concern about the welfare of animals, or the poor, or the babes of the poor, or anything over which the assumption of power constitutes an easy and uncompromising matter. We should remember that the relationship of mother to child derives more than half its exquisite pleasure for the female from the fact that it is a relationship of almost absolute power. This instinct to wield power, therefore, which forms an essential factor in female psychology in its relation to the helpless, and which explains the regret most mothers feel when their children are first able to run about and become independent, has to be reckoned with in the psychology of the spinster. If it cannot in her find its normal expression, it will seek compensation in every possible way, and since humanitarian interests offer an uncompromising outlet for its exercise, humanitarian interests are naturally in very great favour among the spinsters of all classes.
Intimately connected with humanitarian pursuits, particularly when they are adopted with frenzied resolution, is however another and less inviting psychological factor. The theory that males and females contain in their constitution certain elements, more or less accentuated, of the other sex, is now so widely accepted that it has become a commonplace in all speculations upon
This explains why we so frequently encounter middle-aged spinsters whose hard metallic faces and cruel cold eyes seem so utterly out of keeping with their ardent participation in humanitarian movements of all kinds. I remember one occasion when I happened to call on a lady of this kind. I was appalled by the terrifying hardness of her features, and yet, I must say, I was not in the least surprised when, in the course of the conversation, she asked me (I ought to mention the district where she
1 "The most serious manifestation of disordered conduct in hysteria is however, the development of the appetite for teasing for giving pain and annoyance to others" (see Charles Mercier, M.B., Sanity and Insanity, London, 1890, p. 215). Long after Mercier wrote this his views were confirmed by the school of psycho-analysts. I give the reference to Mercier to show that the fact was observed before the psycho-analysts, so much detested in certain quarters, had come to the fore.
2 See Dr. Wrench's Grammar of Life (Heinemann, 1908), p. 76.
3 Freud deals with this point in many places in his works. See particularly his Sammlung Kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre, Vierte Folge (1918), Chapter III (Die Disposition zur Zwangsneurose), p. 117.
The fact that this feverish humanitarianism and sentimentality are frequently most mischievous in their effects and create a number of national abuses, besides involving the expenditure of large sums of money on what are frequently the least desirable and least promising elements in the nation, is concealed beneath the dramatic munificence of the wealthy spinster's life. 1
In the wealthy classes, as the result of their superior
1 The harm, however, does not cease with the work of the spinsters themselves. Their influence in this direction has become a national evil. Volumes could be filled with examples of this false and short-sighted humanitarianism, but the following case, taken from The News of the World, on Jan. 1, 1922, at a time when rates in almost all parishes in and around London were anything between 17s. and 20s. in the £, is typical of thousands of others. "Rochford Board of Guardians, Essex, are confronted with the problem of dealing with a man who is both a leper and insane. The patient is a native of Mauritius. It was stated at a Board meeting that the man lived for some time in a cottage in a rural parish, and his wife looked after him, but she was unable to do so any longer. Formerly the man was in the Leper Colony at Bicknacre, Essex an institution carried on by the Society of the Divine
Compassion, assisted by the Sisterhood of St. Giles but his mental state was such that he could not remain there. Asylum authorities who were approached refused to accept the case, and the Board of Control supported them in their attitude. It was also stated that the Ministry of Health would not deal with the matter. Consequently the man had to be cared for by the Guardians. A building was prepared for him, and efforts made to secure three male nurses, though only two have been obtained. The cost of three nurses is twelve guineas a week. Eventually the Board decided to send a deputation to the Ministry of Health." The influence of the spinster's frantic and unthinking humanitarianism is recognizable here.
1 See Mercier, Op. cit., p. 220. The author continues: "They [the feelings in question] take the shape of religious emotion, and expression for them is found in observance of ceremonial and in devotion to a ritual." The fact that the first initiation into religious fervour of this kind frequently starts by the young girl's wild adoration for an older woman her school mistress or her Sunday-school teacher is not mentioned by Mercier, but it is important.
It would be impracticable here to deal with all the possible manifestations of sex-repression in the female celibate. They have been discussed very fully by other authors, and in detail they would serve no purpose in this book. I have contented myself with hinting broadly at those morbid results of, sex-repression in the positive virgin which, while not leading to definite lunacy or insanity, are yet common enough to demand consideration in a discussion upon the spinster's relation to society; but let not any reader imagine that in the outline given above there has been any desire to dwell upon the black side of a picture which from whatever angle it be viewed cannot at best be a pleasant one. There is a good deal of strong feeling among the majority of people to-day against the belief that sex-repression need necessarily have bad results. These people say that the school of psycho-analysts have grossly exaggerated the facts about the phenomena, and have drawn an unnecessarily lurid description of them. But surely the question is one concerning which it would be suicidal in a scientist to exaggerate or overstate his case. Is it not after all common sense?
Years ago or to be precise in the year 1840 de Quincey, comparing the mental diseases that arise from excessive expression with those that come from insufficient expression, or the non-expression, of deep sensibilities, wrote as follows concerning this matter:
"Amongst the Quakers (who may be regarded as a monastic people) anomalous forms of nervous derangement are developed, the secret principle of which turns . . . upon feelings too much repelled and driven in.
1 Large numbers of the women in the Suffrage movement were of this type. Nor is it possible to exonerate such women entirely from a charge of jealousy of the young girl, when their efforts are obviously directed towards making her, like themselves, ill-adapted, discontented and physiologically miserable.
This anticipates most of what modern psychology has discovered about repression, and can be applied just as legitimately to repression in the physical as in the psychical sphere. But a very much earlier record of the same common-sense view about repression, or non-expression of natural appetites and sensibilities, is to be found in Aristotle's Poetics, where the doctrine of catharsis constitutes the kernel of all that modern psychologists would claim in regard to this particular aspect of civilized humanity.
As the life of the individual female is prolonged, and the tone of her reproductive organs depreciates through the deleterious influence of long idle waiting, there occurs an abatement of the unconscious influences impelling the positive spinster to seek a fuller life. A sort of passive adaptation to abnormality takes place in which a balance is attained, and the restless and more afflicting symptoms become accordingly less acute. But, with the decline in sexual vigour and alertness, there is a corresponding falling off of good spirits, hopefulness, and the love of life, and frequently there supervenes a pronounced distaste for human concerns or a general depression, which makes the spinster the proverbially embittered female of popular tradition. The more positive she was at the outset, the more likely is this revulsion of feeling to appear in an intolerable form hence the common occurrence of embittered spinsters on the Continent, where women are, as a rule, more positive than in England.
1 See The Collected Works of Thomas de Quincey, Vol. VIII, p. 349. The author proceeds: "Accordingly it is amongst the young men and women of this body that the most afflicting cases under this eccentric type occur. Even for children, however, the systematic repression of all ebullient feeling must be perilous" . . . etc.
There are but two possible exceptions to this rule, and they occur where the reproductive instinct has been subjected to the process known to psychologists as sublimation. This innocuous transmutation of the sex appetite and emotions may be effected either by means of Christianity (religious fervour) 1 or Alcohol (dypsomania). When either of these potent sublimators of the sex impulse has come into operation, it is no longer safe to argue from the spectacle of a cheerful and happy spinster of middle age, that in her Nature was not very strong from the start. But, again, the fact should be emphasized that with the spread of enlightenment on the one hand, and the general decline in vigorous health on the other, these hitherto unfailing means of sex-sublimation are becoming ever less and less accessible to the women of the nation. A generation has arisen on whom the fundamental tenets of the old faith have lost their hold, and in whom, therefore, it is becoming ever more and more difficult for Christianity to become a burning substitutive passion; while this same generation can no longer undertake the alcoholic cure, owing to the fact that human health is no longer what it was. 2
1 For an interesting discourse, uninfluenced by the recent psycho-analytical school, on the connexion between sexual and religious emotion, see Mercier, Op. cit., pp. 220223.
2 Thus Dr. E. Jones argues (Op. cit., p. 217), "Civilization has reached, or is on the point of reaching, the limit, beyond which unguided sublimation can no longer be successfully maintained."
There can be little doubt that in her case, very much more frequently than in the case of the well-to-do spinster, compensation is sought in some kind of illicit relation to the males either of her own class or of the class above. The statistics of prostitution alone show what an enormous contribution the women of the poorer or working classes make to the ranks of the courtesans in Europe; and seeing what the alternative usually is that is to say, a life of drudgery unrelieved by any brighter element and aggravated by all the evils of unsuccessful repression it is not surprising that among the more positive girls of the poorer classes, particularly in towns, there are many who go to swell the army of fast women.
But at this point it will be necessary for me to digress a little in order to make quite clear my own standpoint in regard to this very vexed question of prostitution. For it is only an evil in modern Western Civilization because people insist on making it so.
Our civilization stands or falls as a whole. The intricate adjustments which constitute its fabric, and the minute ramifications that wander in all directions from every centre in its complicated organization to every other centre, and sometimes to every other civilization, lend to its various parts a character so interdependent and mutually subservient, that it is no longer possible to lay hold of any important portion of it, with a view to condemnation, without thereby condemning the whole.
The comfortable and short-sighted people who, from the security of their smug homes, point a finger of censure at prostitution, therefore, have not as a rule the imaginations or the knowledge to realize that in so doing they are bringing an indictment against the whole order of society, including their own pathetic fastnesses of bourgeois luxury and morality.
If prostitution exists on a large scale in modern Europe,
But why is so much fuss made precisely about prostitution on its sexual side? There is the prostitution of healthy rosy-fingered youth in hundreds of other walks of life, and nobody, or scarcely anybody, stirs to point it out. The young girls who to-day are sent by their parents at the age of sixteen to twenty to bow their heads for forty-three hours a week before a typewriter, or a ledger, or a stamping, cutting or folding machine, get ill just as quickly, lose their beauty just as surely, and grow depressed and spiritless just as rapidly, as the sexual prostitute, and they get only a sixteenth or less of the prostitute's entertainment out of life into the bargain. Watch the career of the girl who sells herself to the modern taskmaster of commerce or industry! Could anything be more tragic? Could any satyr bring about grosser degradation of health and spirits? What sympathy or horror or righteous indignation can you rouse in the moral toads, who inveigh against prostitution, by pointing to the rounded shoulders, the loveless life, the listless eyes, the bloodless cheeks and hands of the typewriter or other machine drudge? None!
They reply that the typist's worn-out looks, her lost beauty, her faded youth, her hopeless expression and outlook, are not the result of a life of immorality, therefore she is honourable, therefore she need not be rescued, therefore everything is all right, therefore nothing need be done.
But enough! The wide-awake will see at once that there is cant in the very frown that is vouchsafed to sexual prostitution cant, the inevitable ingredient of every movement and every counter-movement in these islands. 1
1 See Byron's letter to John Murray, Feb. 7, 1821: "The truth is that in these days the grand 'primum mobile' of England is cant; cant
Society in England seems resolutely determined not to face and answer the question: Is prostitution necessary or unnecessary? If it is necessary to the kind of civilization we have evolved, then the only honourable, the only humane, the only magnanimous course to take, is to face it bravely and honestly, and do all we can for those women who are contributing their lives to a public service, just as we do all we can for soldiers and sailors in war-time, and for all public workers who perform useful and dangerous duties for the public weal. If it is unnecessary, then steps should be taken to find out why it continues to exist, what flaw in our social system accounts for its survival, despite the fact that it is superfluous; and how that flaw can be best removed.
The general consensus of opinion among European legislators and the European public must be to the effect that prostitution is necessary. It is inconceivable that it should be allowed to survive as flourishingly as it does in England and on the Continent, if public opinion and the legislators in each country could find no excuse for it. What is still more inconceivable, however, is the diabolical
political, cant poetical, cant religious, cant moral; but always cant, multiplied through all the varieties of life. This is the fashion, and while it lasts will be too powerful for those who can only exist by taking the tone of the time. I say cant because it is a thing of words, without the smallest influence upon human actions; the English being no wiser, no better, and much poorer and more divided amongst themselves, as well as far less moral, than they were before the prevalence of this verbal decorum." This was written a hundred years ago, and is still true to-day.
1 Dr. Vintras and Parent Duchatelet both concur in representing English prostitution as about the most degraded and at the same time the most irrevocable.
Truth to tell, there are many grave reasons why prostitution 1 still constitutes a necessary adjunct to our topsy-turvy, hare-brained social system, and as long as it remains as topsy-turvy and hare-brained as it is, the prostitute will continue to be indispensable. In view of this fact, it is but rational, not to mention humane, to regard with more solicitude and charity those who from what motive, or through what circumstances soever, supply the means for its existence.
I will touch but lightly on two aspects of society which seem to contribute chiefly to the causes making prostitution a public necessity. I refer to (a) the virgin ideal in marriage, or parthenogamy, and (b) the economic system which compels thousands among the men of the struggling classes to marry at a date very much later than their physiological development would indicate as reasonable. 2
(a) In order to preserve the custom of parthenogamy in conjunction with (b) it is obvious that there must be some safety-valve, some outlet for the expression of virile passions, which while being normal is capable of safeguarding a certain large body of virgins annually, and of preserving them from pre-connubial amours. The fact that, at present, this safety-valve or outlet, though countenanced by society, is entirely neglected, despised and concealed by the public, and is thus allowed to breed
1 Throughout this discussion I mean by prostitution not any form of illicit hetero-sexual relations but commercial and promiscuous unchastity.
2 Speaking or the prostitute Lecky says: "But for her, the unchallenged purity of countless happy homes would be polluted, and not a few who, in their pride of untempted chastity, think of her with an indignant shudder, would have known the agony of remorse and despair. On that one degraded and ignoble form are concentrated the passions that might have filled the world with shame" (History of European Morals, London, 1899, Vol. II, p. 283).
(b) Apart altogether from the fact that late marriages resulting from economic pressure necessitate the existence of some relief measure which will preclude the deleterious alternative of repression, or unnatural vice, in young men; for the adolescent, as we have seen in the Chapter on Marriage, it is highly desirable that there should be some school, some opportunity for experience in sexual relations, as there was in ancient Greece, for instance, in which the young male, in addition to finding the means of healthily delaying marriage, may also acquire that mastery in the mysteries of life without which his future marriage may very seriously suffer. It is one of the most scandalous features of modern society that, while this relief measure and this school are allowed to exist, nothing is done to protect either the women who supply its personnel, or the young men who resort to it, from all the worst consequences of promiscuity and vice.
The old moralists or moralizers of the nineteenth century, now thank goodness rapidly becoming extinct, used to justify this scandal by arguing that the dangers attending the recourse to the prostitute served a good purpose in two respects: (1) They offered a strong inducement to sexual abstinence among young men, and (2) they cast the well-merited stigma of shame and disease upon those women who ministered to these young men's ungovernable passions.
It is now no longer possible either medically or psychologically to support (1), consequently the cold-blooded moral inference in (2) falls to the ground. The evils of abstinence among men are certainly in this country more serious than those of indulgence, while the evils resulting from a total absence of experience in sexual matters among young men are perhaps the worst of all.
The present obvious duty of civilization, therefore,
It only remains now to say a word on the position of the prostitute herself. From the psychological and physical point of view the sadness of her plight does not reside, as the Puritans of England suppose, in the moral turpitude of her lot, or in her loathing of it for that is simply high-falutin' nonsense. 1 It resides in the fact that her very taste for her calling, or the very desire that drew her into it that she herself in fact is a physiological misunderstanding. Her calling, like that of the childless married woman, presupposes that she will have to cry "Halt!" to a physiological process in her being, which only finds its first step in the coitus. By a false analogy with man's sexual life the orgasm, which to woman is only the beginning of a long cycle of sex-experiences which end with the weaning of the child, is the only part of the female cycle which is vouchsafed her. Like the barren woman, she is denied the whole of the subsequent stages of the cycle, so rich in delightful experiences to her, and continues like a man to confine herself to orgasms orgasms ad infinitum. 2
It is this that constitutes the sad side of the prostitute's life. If she have a tragedy, this is her tragedy. But for fear lest, prompted by vague moral prejudices, we feel tempted to make too much even of this aspect of her life
1 Let all who doubt this consult the literature on the subject (even our own Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th and 11th editions), and also consult people who have been engaged in rescue work.
2 It is for this reason that a man who gives a girl an illegitimate child is really more kind and merciful than the man who seduces her while taking precautions to prevent issue. But it will take some time before the world can possibly be expected to see the matter in this light.
From the national point of view, the feature about modern prostitution (apart from the evils incidental to it which are preventable) which is most strongly to be deprecated, is the fact that, since it is from working-class girls that its ranks are largely recruited, the danger is that it is upon the most temperamental and most positive of these girls upon the most desirable of these girls, therefore that the temptation to illicit relations with men is likely to exercise the most potent influence.
I now come to the consideration of the negative spinster, and when once I shall have dealt with her, a few remarks about the characteristics common both to the positive and negative spinster will conclude the chapter.
The negative spinster, unlike her positive sister, is not a great conscious sufferer from her condition. She may
1 Those who, like Lombroso and Ferrero, argue that prostitutes are born, and that there is a specific class of women, which may be called potentially whorish from birth, will naturally join issue with me, and deny that the childless fate of the prostitute is her severest penalty. I cannot accept the evidence that I have read, however, in La Femme Criminelle et la Prostituée, to show that prostitutes are a class of women apart (as regards primary and secondary characteristics and instincts). I feel very much more inclined to agree with Emile Faguet, who thinks that all prostitutes start their illicit amours with a strong monogamic bias, and that it is only subsequently that circumstances drive them to promiscuity. See Le Feminisme (Paris, 1910), p. 254: "La verité est que la prostituée née est excessivement rare. . . . Les autres prostituées sont des femmes qui ont commencé par être monogames comme leurs surs, et qu'une première déchéance a jetées dans la classe des femmes pour tous." Thus Faguet concludes (p. 255): "La prostituée, j'ai cru le montrer, est un être denaturé." This I believe to be much nearer the point than Lombroso's elaborate thesis.
The physical equipment for marriage, and the traditional impetus derived from the ancestral habits of her sex, are both present in her, but their urge is faint, the inner voice, far from being loud and insistent, is barely audible, and she is harassed by little of that importunacy on the part of her reproductive organs which compels her sister either to adapt herself normally to life, or else to seek compensations and to develop acute nervous symptoms in so doing.
Her own and her friends' failure to recognize the true nature of her condition, however, frequently, if not invariably, leads to misinterpretations of her precise value as an individual which are as gross as they are dangerous gross because they apply moral values to a condition that is primarily physical, dangerous because they lead the rest of the world into a misunderstanding concerning the importance of a normal sexual life to the individual, and the worth of life generally.
These misinterpretations, particularly in England and America, usually take one or all of the following forms:
(1) Miss A, the negative spinster in question, may regard herself, and be regarded by others, as above the ordinary impulses of her positive sister, so that she and others may draw a moral from her condition, and argue that, by means of exercising sufficient self-control, and preoccupying the mind sufficiently with "elevated" thoughts, the sex-impulse is easily overcome without any dire results whatsoever.
(2) Miss A may regard herself, and be regarded by others, as too "pure" for sexual impulses, so that, far from needing to repress or suppress the fleshy "demons" within her, she soars to an altitude too lofty to be reached by them.
(4) Miss A may convince herself, and convince others, that sex-impulses, because they do not happen to be noticeable in her, are a pure or rather, an impure illusion. She may argue, and induce others to argue with her, that the power of these impulses is absurdly exaggerated by modern psychology, and that she herself is the best proof of this absurd exaggeration.
As I have pointed out, these misinterpretations are gross, and they are also dangerous. They are gross, in the first place, because they take no cognizance of the fact that Miss A is a different creature from her positive sister, an inferior and a less tonic creature, and secondly because they give what is really a lamentable condition a falsely enviable character by concealing its true nature beneath a number of high-falutin' euphemisms.
This procedure is dangerous for the following reasons:
(a) The Miss A's of this world, particularly of this English world, are increasing at such an alarming rate that very soon Miss A will be the normal woman, and by being held up as the normal woman and the normal ideal, will mislead the ignorant regarding the most valuable type of woman.
(b) To regard a person as above a normal human passion, when she is constitutionally and congenitally beneath it, is to lend a power and an influence to degenerates which must contaminate the national outlook on all that is desirable in life.
(c) To be deceived into imagining that Miss A has achieved by self-control what her inferior physique has made inevitable is again to grant her a quality which, by becoming associated with her type, loses all its instructional worth, besides attributing to her a spurious value.
(e) To accept Miss A's mild amusement at life as that of a creature who, having tasted and tested all life's joys, concludes that they are worthless, is to run the danger of scorning life without the advantage of Miss A's inferior physique to help one an experiment which, if one is positive, can only lead to disastrous results. The fact that Miss A's influence on young girls may lead many to try the experiment is one of the most perilous consequences of the negative spinster's existence in our midst. She, in her own person, constitutes a lure to the negation of life's joys, to the contempt of the body and its demands, and to the disdain of the other sex, which is next door to sex-antagonism. Her mind is merely an instrument seeking intellectual justifications for her body's inferiority.
So much for the misunderstandings of the negative spinster's true nature, and their corresponding dangers. We may now examine her outlook a little more narrowly, in order that we may recognize her when we meet her, and measure her various boasts at their proper worth.
She will usually gravitate almost automatically to the Christian Church, and become an eager exponent of its principles and an ardent supporter of its work. She will do this, not because, like her positive sister, she will require to sublimate impetuous reproductive instincts, that will find expression, but because the negative character of the Church's teaching will naturally appeal to her, and strike her as offering to people like herself a philosophy which might have been "cut to measure."
"Flesh is death. Spirit is life and peace. The body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." 2
"For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. . . . So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." 3 And so on ad infinitum.
These texts will appeal to her. They will help her to a conviction, to which she is already predisposed that she is more godly than her positive sister, and superior to the rest of the fleshy world. She will notice that "body" in the text from Romans is spelt with a small b, whereas Spirit appears in the pompous parade dress of a capital letter. She will understand this perfectly. She instinctively thinks of her body with a small b, and of her great, lofty spirit with a capital S.
What effort is it for her to mortify the flesh, seeing that her own flesh came to her half mortified by nature? (See Gal. v. 24.)
Like the positive spinster, she is conscious of her own unimportance, of being cut off from the main stream of Life, consequently she exerts every effort even at the risk of making herself a perfect nuisance to prove herself most important. She will try to be foremost in the work of the Church, in the work of the parish, or in the work of the Borough Council. If she be wealthy she will endow special missions, and back missionaries with more zeal, but with a far more disastrous result, than that with which most people back horses. What does she know
1 John ii. 15, 16.
2 Rom. viii. 6, 10, 13.
3 Rom. viii. 68.
She will interfere with anything and everything, quite irrespective of her qualifications, provided she can leave no doubt in anybody's mind as to her extreme importance.
Unlike her positive sister, who is generally too busy mastering or sublimating her sex-impulses to think of much else, she will watch the world of the flesh with perfectly unconscious but bitter envy. She will think, as St. Paul did, that it were good for them if they could "abide even as I," and all her activities, all her influences, all her money, will be directed towards favouring her type and its multiplication.
She will tend to spend her time with the people over whom it is easiest to exercise power the sick, the crippled, the blind, the very poor, the inmates of prisons, and the very aged or the very young. She will profess that she loves the poor, never dreaming that it is the power that is so easily exercised over them that is sweet to her. She is of course hopeless at self-analysis, and even when these
1 Her behaviour in this respect will be dictated not only by an instinctive desire to spread a negative doctrine broadcast as an end in itself, but also by a feeling of very real and very stubborn envy towards all those who can enjoy a side of life from which she is completely shut off. This envy may extend even to her attitude towards young women of all classes, so that she will do everything in her power, under the cover of philanthropic motives, to keep them from such pastimes as flirtation, from actually falling in love, or from spending what she believes to be "too much time" in the company of the other sex. See also p 246 ante.
While professing a love of all humanity, she will secretly cherish a loathing for men, for, where all sex-impulses are absent, the natural and radical hostility of the sexes (as seen in healthy little boys and girls, and in animals) finds its full expression. She will always suspect men of grossness and brutality, and never realize the staggering brutality of her own thoughts about them, and her own secret wishes regarding them. Whatever their politics or patriotism may be, the hearts of all decent positive females are so tortured by war and the death of men that war involves, that during a long tragedy like the last War all warm-hearted women longed only for one thing, and that was the conclusion of hostilities at the earliest possible moment. Not so the negative spinster. She perceived in the war a means of expressing her loathing of men under the noble mantle of patriotism, and she did not scruple to go so far as to agitate for its prolongation as long as possible. 1 These women could be seen during the war eating their breakfasts with gusto, while their newspaper, folded to present the Roll of Honour to their view, was propped up against the milk jug.
But where the negative spinster most thoroughly deceives the world is in her cheerfulness and general absence of any signs of faulty or unhappy adaptation. People behold her and are wont to exclaim, "See, here is a woman who has had none of those experiences which
1 It is true that the negative spinster was not alone in this support of the war from secret sex motives. The old men of all nations also saw in the war a golden opportunity of expressing their natural secret hatred and jealousy of the young males of their circle, and, whether consciously or unconsciously, seized on the patriotic motive in order to vent these passions. The flood of letters that poured into the Times office from sexagenarians, septuagenarians and octogenarians, imploring the authorities to continue the war at the time when there was some talk of peace, was an expression of this unconscious but radical loathing of young men by the old.
The distressing fact is that the number of these women who in England cheerfully survive a life in which their most important organs and instincts have been wholly neglected and spurned, is increasing at such a rate that there is hardly a circle in England that cannot boast of one or two of them. And seeing that their existence is only possible where reproductive impulses are low, atonic, and seriously below standard, their increase is one of the surest indications we possess of the declining vitality of our race. 1
Although, in the negative spinster, the sex-impulses are hardly audible to her consciousness, she reveals in her actions many of the motivations of her positive sister. On a lower key, for instance, she may seek compensations of all kinds for the absence of sex-expression; the only feature that will distinguish her behaviour along this line from that of her positive sister will be the inferior zeal or fanaticism with which she enters into the particular compensatory occupation or activity adopted.
She may show the same fondness for children, but in an attenuated form; she may reveal the same delight in acquiring power over them, both bodily and spiritually; she may manifest the usual sadistic tendencies, with their inverted correlatives, humanitarianism, extreme senti-
1 See, however, the exceptions mentioned on p. 248 ante. For a woman's confirmation of the fact that negative women are increasing in England, see Arabella Kenealy (Op. cit.), pp. 8285, and many other passages.
The thousands of spinsters of all classes who are now achieving "independence," both in commerce and industry not to mention the professions 1 naturally only increase the acuteness of the economic difficulties which make their self-support a necessity; for, by competing with male labour they only aggravate the severity of the struggle, and increase ever further and further the age at which men can safely undertake matrimony. In this sense alone the influence of the spinster on our economic life is a very serious one.
If, in heightening the fury of the economic war, she achieved her own adaptation and contentedness; if in complicating the economic difficulties of large societies, she achieved any specific result, valuable to the community and unobtainable without her, her presence would be as much a boon as is that of the mother, or any other active contributor to the main stream of Life. But,
1 The number of women workers (married and unmarried) in 1911 was 4,830,734. Of these about 1,500,000 were employed as domestic servants and hospital nurses. In 1917 the total was 5,889,734. About 173,000 of this increase came from domestic service, so that the total for domestic servants and nurses in 1917 would appear to have been 1,827,000.
It should not be forgotten that industry, commerce, the professions and the Civil Service are but institutions organized for the purposes of Life. The main stream of Life certainly runs through them, and derives its security, its relative permanence and its fluency from their harmonious functions, but they exist for Life, and not Life for them. It is Life that is important, the channels through which it flows are only significant, as auxiliary to the main purpose.
Now the spinster, by being wholly divorced from any direct connexion with the main stream of Life, for which society and the Empire exist, is severed from the most important phenomenon on earth that can justify existence. The next best course is to obtain an indispensable foothold in the machinery that makes the stream of Life, as we have said, more secure, more permanent and more fluent. The moment, therefore, it can be shown that the spinster can lay no valid claim to this one remaining indispensable foothold, but rather that she only clogs, impedes and retards the machinery that assists Life, her last justification for existence vanishes; and whatever the work may be that she is doing, however "useful" it is, we fail to make out her claim to toleration the moment it can be shown (l) that the work would be done as well or better by a man or a married woman, (2) that she is not assisting but only retarding the machinery that makes the main stream of Life possible.
In short, it amounts to this: Society does not exist for the spinster. Life does not flourish when it is cultivated
But there is another and even sadder aspect to the entrance of women into the arena of commercial, industrial and financial occupations.
One of the greatest tragedies of life for modern women is precisely the havoc that these occupations have made of modern men. The Alcibiades type of man, the complete man, the man who, while he can wield a sword as well as anyone, can also sob over a sonnet, direct a difficult transaction with shrewdness and sound judgment, be an ardent lover, a dutiful father, and also a being capable of wisely directing and ordering his womenfolk at every juncture of their lives, is now extinct. The versatility of gifts and catholicity of tastes which once characterized the normal man, has been destroyed by two hundred years of occupations that are not only emasculating and besotting, but alas! also specializing. All men nowadays are specialists, and frequently specialists in the most dehumanizing form of labour. The Leviathan of Commerce and Industry, Trade and Finance, by compelling them to eschew other interests and other activities, has reduced the gamut of their capabilities and their tastes to the limits necessary for making them contented workers in one of the many narrow and monotonous ruts of modern life, and pari passu with this metamorphosis there has also occurred a corresponding decline in physical and particularly in sexual vigour.
But until recently women had escaped this influence. The very dullness and specialization of men, which frequently makes women despair of meeting the male of their dreams (who still continues to be the "complete man"), had until quite recently not infected the female.
The reader will object that because the bulk of women in the past were engaged in more domestic duties, it does not follow that these duties were not besotting or dehumanizing.
This is not really true. The women who advance this
The work of the home differs in many ways from the work of the factory or the office, and always to the advantage of domestic pursuits.
In the first place it is work done for the personal ends of the worker herself, and not for some one, or some company of people, with whom she has not the smallest personal concern.
Secondly, it is done in her own time and in her own way.
Thirdly, an enormous amount of it is of such a nature that it is both soothing and wholesome, while it also allows of meditation, thought and that most precious of lost pastimes, communion with self.
Fourthly, when done efficiently and with a good heart it is so soon dispatched that it allows of a good deal of leisure, and,
Fifthly, it is never of that nerve-racking nature which, while demanding unremitting attention, also destroys attention owing to its lack of interest and all personal value. 1 Now, however, that women have become active competitors with men in those very occupations to
1 It should also be borne in mind that work outside home necessarily throws men and girls constantly into each other's company. Unless, therefore, a certain degree of subnormality in the sexual and emotional nature of each sex be presupposed, they cannot work side by side without having their attention diverted and their nerves harassed, by the constant provocation of sex stimuli to which they cannot and must not respond To assume indifference and callousness here, as modern business, commercial and official employers do, is, however, to take for granted that the modern generation of young men and girls are sufficiently below par to be able to resist being thrown together constantly without being distracted by each other's presence. But this is not only an insult to the best among the young people, but it is also placing a premium on the subnormal; because the latter alone are able to overcome the difficulty with ease; and thus happy survival or success is reserved nowadays to those types which are least desirable from every point of view except that of the Puritan.
We shall also witness in her that same bodily degeneration that has come over man, and yet it is difficult to see how or when the movement that now leads women to engage in these pursuits can be arrested. The fact that this movement was largely initiated and supported by that body of unattached females roughly grouped under the heading "Surplus Women," cannot well be denied; but it does not follow from this that it is a permanent evil in our midst. For, if the problem of the surplus woman, and of those who are misled by her, be attacked along lines which have as their ultimate aim the marriage of all women, it does not seem impossible that something may be done to arrest a tendency which, from the standpoint of woman's future, must be bad, and which, from the standpoint of the future of the race, is nothing less than alarming.
The surprising feature about this movement which during the last fifty years has led the bulk of girls and young women into the very occupations to which modern man himself owes his besotment and miserable limitations, is that those who become the victims of it that is to say the vast majority of women workers in Commerce, Industry, the Civil Service and the Professions, enter joyously, and almost with a whoop of triumph into the various callings with which they achieve what they claim to be economic independence. Not only that, but those who contemplate the procession of them marching into these callings, stand and applaud and congratulate each other on the spectacle.
The cynic may reply "All the better! You say that 200 years of commercial, industrial and office occupations have deteriorated man, so that modern woman has very naturally learnt to despise him. Very well, then, if women now suffer a similar amount of deterioration, the balance will once more be restored, and all will be well." All those who can derive some comfort from this reflection, in the face of modern tendencies, are welcome to it. But to those who, like myself, realize that hitherto the rapidity of our degeneration has been to some extent checked by the comparative aloofness of one sex from the worst influences of modern civilization, and that henceforth, instead of one stream of degeneration we shall have two which will become confluent at marriage, the future does not seem to be a very bright one, nor does it hold out any promise of producing, from the human elements it will contain, the individuals capable of initiating a counter movement sufficiently powerful to arrest the tide of degeneracy that threatens to sweep everything of value away.
With regard to the fund-holding wealthy spinster, it may be taken as a general rule that she cannot fail to be anything else than a burden to the community to which she belongs.
He who has travelled much over England does not require to be reminded of the countless villages and towns where the most imposing and well-appointed private residence or residences are the homes of precisely this kind of spinster. I could name half a dozen villages myself off-hand where by far the most commodious and luxurious house is the property of one, two, or three spinster ladies. About them in smaller and conspicuously meaner houses are the other inhabitants of the village small families with parents struggling to make both ends meet, with children frequently underfed and underclothed, but all of them belonging to the main stream of Life, and constituting the only justification there is for the existence of the very town and village itself, the Church, and all the machinery of social life. The spinster ladies from their wealthy fastness, with its carriage drive, its troop of servants, its rich solid furniture, and its overfed animals, look down upon the busy scene about them. They are not part of it, but merely spectators drawing their profit, their life's blood from it. Their untutored minds, guided by local clerical influence, actively study every means by which they can throw a cloak over the glaring superfluousness and nothingness of their lives. Deeply conscious, as the best of them are, of being cut off from the main stream of Life, and perhaps a trifle piqued by the thought that, besides being severed from it, their presence there, in the best house for miles around, is really only a means of impeding the machinery facilitating the flow of the stream, a means of
What their self-esteem, their very self-respect imposes as a duty upon them, is to make a dramatic and incessant exhibition of being important, to make a very deceptive pretence of belonging to the main stream of Life itself. Hence the untiring energy with which they enter into all the village or town festivities which have a public charity for their object; hence the zeal which they show at all Church festivals, and the regularity with which they contribute to religious and charitable institutions both local and distant.
For all this they are looked upon, even by the ignorant villagers themselves, as delightful and exceedingly valuable members of the community. Nobody seems to peep beneath the elaborate manoeuvres by which they contrive to "cut a prominent figure." Nobody seems to see in their concern about other people's business and welfare the conclusive proof that they are straining every nerve to justify an existence which, on final analysis, they know in their heart of hearts to be utterly and criminally unjustifiable.
George Meredith is one of the few thoughtful and non socialistic writers who have had the courage to say what they felt about this class of parasites on the community. In Chapter XXIII of One of our Conquerors he speaks of these "comfortable annuitants under clerical shepherding, close upon outnumbering the labourers they paralyse at home and stultify abroad." 1 But since his references to them occur in a work of fiction they are hardly elaborate enough to be telling, or frequent enough to have aroused comment or to have formed the basis of a doctrine.
1 Later on in the chapter he even comes very close to my own view of the matter, and of the fatal detachment of these females from the stream of Life when he asks "whether the yearly increasing army of the orderly annuitants and their parasites does not demonstrate the proud old country as a sheath for pith rather than of the vital run of the sap."
To reply to this by a shrug of the shoulders and the question, "What would you do with them?" is simply foolish. The first great reform consists in getting them to be regarded no longer as a harmless or beneficent section of the community, but as a dangerous and intolerable bane. Once this transmutation of public opinion has been achieved, it is not a difficult matter to decide what should be done with them.
I invite any reader to take a walking tour through this country of England, and to count the number of such parasitic females he can find in a month's tour. I invite him to note the grandeur of their establishments compared with the meanness and poverty of those about them who really belong to Life's main stream, or are directly assisting it; and if that experience does not convince him of the dangerous futility of the class as a whole, he must be possessed of very singular views concerning the proper organization of social life.
Even on their death-beds these creatures do not cease to scourge the community to which they belong; for in the very agony of death they bequeath their wealth and dispose of their other property in a manner which, while it is usually thoroughly ill-advised, constitutes but one last fierce effort to stamp the belief in their importance for ever on the minds of those who survive them.
You are entitled to pity these women for their virgin
The less wealthy among them, right down the scale to the level of those who have only £300 a year of their own, are certainly less baneful and onerous, seeing that they dam up less of this world's goods in their particular cul-de-sac; but the ultimate cumulative effect of their combined existences constitutes an imposition not much more tolerable than that of their wealthier sisters.
Nor should it be forgotten that a not inconsiderable portion of the harm resulting from this peculiarly British scourge consists in the amount of false opinion, perniciously erroneous judgments on all things, and distorted spiritual influences, which annually emanate from these spinsters' homes, and which, backed as they frequently are by the power of wealth, are spread abroad with all the prestige and pomp that opulence can impart.
The English outlook, and English opinion generally, are to a great extent contaminated by this spinster influence. Our politics are no longer immune from it; our policy both at home and abroad is largely infected by our atmosphere surcharged both with the breath and the ideas of spinsters. Our literature is to no small extent governed by their taste, 1 our newspapers are obviously designed to offer no affront to their morbid sensibilities, and our stage is entirely governed by their criticism.
1 Let anyone attempt to write a novel or any kind of popular work that does not pander to their sentimentality and their distorted views of life, and see how much success he will have. They have established their ascendancy in England by such steady and insidious means, that three-quarters of our population, including our leading critics and publicists, are not even aware that Feminism is their ruling creed. They reveal it, however, in every word they write on the sex question.
They constitute a malignant power, because they are a body bound by no responsibilities; they pursue an erratic course directed entirely by their abnormal emotions and crazy outlook on life, because in the first place they are abnormal, secondly because they are unguided except by those whose advantage it is to mislead them, thirdly because they are limited by no close family ties in the expenditure of their wealth during life or in its disposal after death; and finally they are a wasteful and squandering body because in their frantic efforts to coerce their contemporaries into believing they are important, they shrink from no extremes and no excesses in order to take up as conspicuous and prominent a place as possible in their small world.
If we have correctly stated the peculiar mental attitude and physical condition of the unmarried woman in our midst, and from this statement have drawn the correct inferences concerning her influence upon the community, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that permanently unmarried females are on the whole an element in society which cannot be regarded as very desirable.
For it is above all important to remember this that even if we have been wrong in our enumeration of the occupations that spinsters can properly and usefully fill, and even if the list we have given may be materially increased, the fact that the spinster is usefully occupied does not remove the principal feature of her condition which exerts an abnormal influence on society, that is
Even if we have been wrong in our deductions concerning the heightening of the economic struggle through the presence of spinsters in excessive numbers in the professions, commerce, industry and trade, this principal objection still stands, and it leaves us no alternative but to consider means and ways of mitigating it.
The fact that in Great Britain the number of surplus females that is to say, of women who, all things being equal, cannot possibly marry amounts to 2,000,000 or about 5 per cent. of the population, makes the problem of the old maid so acute, for this nation at least, that it is impossible not to regard it as perhaps the gravest with which legislators have to deal. For, on this basis alone, that it is the business of every government to secure the maximum amount of successful adaptation to the governed, the question appears to be one which legislators can hardly shelve with impunity.
Of these 2,000,000 surplus women, it may be only just humiliating as the argument may be to our national pride to argue that possibly half are negative; that is to say, that 1,000,000 are so constituted as to be undisturbed by their semi-moribund sex-instincts, and that a sexless life is not merely tolerable but actually necessary to them. These may possibly achieve contentedness by means of suitable work combined with strong Christian influence. It is conceivable that they may even succeed in wholly sublimating their reproductive instincts. There still remain, however, the 1,000,000 spinsters, or 2 1/2 per cent. of the population, whose resistance to sublimating influences is likely to be stubborn, and whose misery is likely to be proportionately greater not to mention the unhappiness they must inevitably bring, directly upon those about them, and indirectly upon the nation at large.
The Holy Catholic Church in the Middle Ages wisely offered asylums to this section of the population, and even
But what was peculiarly beneficial in the Catholic system was that by this means it acquired a hold upon these women. It was able to direct both their energies and their opinions, and thus act as a lightning conductor protecting society from the fury of their sex-compensatory efforts, both in their activities and in the expression and imposition of their views. In cases where it took charge of their money, this wealth became an instrument in the hands of a powerful and wise organization, instead of being simply a weapon for a spinster's whim.
But what has modern society to offer of a similar kind?
The hospitals can absorb only a small fraction of the 2,000,000 surplus women, and domestic service can do little more. For, even if we take these two classes of occupation as accounting for 1,335,368 unmarried women 1 in England and Wales alone, we must remember that a very large proportion of these do not remain, in the work permanently, but leave it for marriage at a comparatively early age. In either case we could not affirm that either nursing or domestic service offers any special chances for sex-sublimation. There is certainly a greater chance of sublimation in hospital nursing, but the profession is overcrowded as it is, and no attempt has been made to bring it wholly under the wing of the Church.
The truth is that modern life, while it certainly offers occupations in abundance to women and girls, makes no
1 According to the last Census there were in 1911 55,286 unmarried women engaged in nursing (including midwives), 57,952 engaged in domestic service in hotels, 1,172,449 engaged in domestic service in private houses, 22,789 engaged as day girls, and 26,900 engaged as charwomen in England and Wales alone.
What course should we recommend in order that the nation's life might absorb greater numbers of these unmarried women with the view of properly adapting them?
In the first place it seems eminently desirable to emphasize more than we have emphasized in the past the ideal of matrimony for every woman up to a certain age, and to bring home to parents that marriage is what they must seek for their daughters and what they must train them for. 1
This would have the beneficial effect of introducing a more resolute effort towards marriage as an end, both in the activity of parents and their children, which would lead to more restless endeavours being made, than are made at present, to find suitable mates for eligible daughters 2 endeavours that should be prompted by sufficient energy not to halt even at the shores of the
1 On this point also the wisdom of the ancient Hindus should be an example to us. In the Laws of Manu (Book IX, verse 4) we read: "Reprehensible is the father who gives not his daughter in marriage at the proper time."
2 Now, the dread lest a daughter should not be self-supporting at twenty-one leads parents in all poorer middle-class families to sink all thoughts of marriage and making her fit for marriage beneath the consideration of providing her with a calling. The ideal of independence for women, from being pursued for purely economic reasons, has come to be pursued for its own sake, as if independence were in itself a desirable condition for the female. But even if we concede the point that dependence on certain modern men amounts to ignominy, we should not allow the argument to assume a shape which must identify woman's chief source of happiness with her relation to the man to whom she becomes related; and we ought always to correct it by considering that, in the long run, man is only a means to an end where woman is concerned, and that independence which is achieved without the experience of motherhood, even if such independence saves the woman from association with a third or fourth-rate man, is only equivalent to clutching at the shadow to let the substance go.
The Government ought to keep as keen an eye on the marriage as upon the labour market, and just as it now protects the native workman from unfair competition resulting from excessive immigration, so it ought to protect the unmarried females. The higher the percentage of females in the country, the more stringent should the regulations become forbidding young female immigrants of what class soever.
Secondly, all work, such as teaching, the practice of medicine and law, etc., in which, according to the most reliable psychologists of the day, the presence of unmarried women, far from being helpful (as offering a new and essential contribution to the knowledge on the question), only complicates the existing difficulties, and, as in the case of teaching, is directly harmful to the children taught, should be exclusively reserved for men, poor married women, or middle-aged widows, as might also with advantage many occupations both in industry, commerce and the Civil Service. This would have the effect of relieving economic pressure, and of facilitating early marriages.
Thirdly, the Government should be carefully advised concerning those callings which are best calculated to offer unmarried women complete adaptation that is to say, occupation and sublimation of the sex instinct and the legislature should do all in their power to encour-
l See Arabella Kenealy (Op. cit., p. 126): "Feminist leaders have shown themselves deplorably indifferent alike to biological and to sociological law. Losing sight of the truth that the intrinsic and eternal function of Humanity is Parenthood and more particularly Motherhood they have made, all along the line, not for the true emancipation of woman but for her commercialization, merely."
Fourthly, when once public opinion had become convinced (which it is very far from being to-day) that the "annuitant" spinster is at all events, and in any circumstances, a bane, legislation might be introduced to limit her powers and discourage her excesses, which would go an appreciable way towards mitigating the harm she does.
Fifthly and finally, everything should be done to revive the mediæval system of respectable and honourable sequestration for old maids, in institutions whose functions would be at once religious and of a kind to provide an outlet for the sex-compensatory impulses of the positive and negative spinster. By this means they might be not only thoroughly adapted, but also in a position to have their activities, their opinions, and (in cases of wealthy people) their wealth, wisely controlled by a broad policy beneficent to the nation as a whole.
It is, however, very doubtful indeed whether anything whatsoever will be done to relieve the nation of what, in the mildest language, can be regarded as little less than a spiritual and material scourge.
Modern society is so thoroughly and deeply saturated with feminist prejudices and ideas, and the sentiments which most promote feminine power and feminine tastes are so universally popular both in the Press and in modern literature generally, that anyone who speaks on the sex question with an honest regard for reality, and with a non-romantic understanding of its fundamental features, is not only foredoomed to a cold and even hostile reception, but every year finds it more and more difficult to obtain a fair and exhaustive hearing. For, as we have already said, the growth of Feminism has been so steady and insidious, that thousands of men and women to-day are Feminists without knowing it, without ever having questioned it.
A cold feverless appreciation of the radical principles
It is not probable, therefore, that anything contained in this chapter is likely to be read with sympathy or with comprehension by the modern world; but if it conveys to a few isolated and lonely spirits the message that they have been waiting for, and makes them feel perhaps that, although they may not be on the eve of a deep national antifeminist (not anti-feminine) movement, they are at least not entirely alone, it will have accomplished all that its author can possibly expect.
1 Speaking of the hostile attitude of most women towards his Don Juan, Byron wrote to Mr. Murray on October 12, 1820, as follows: "The truth is that it is too true, and the women hate everything which strips off the tinsel of sentiment; and they are right, as it would rob them of their weapons." Again writing of Madame Guiccioli's dislike of Don Juan, he says (July 6, 1821): "It arises from the wish of all women to exalt the sentiment of the passions, and to keep up the illusion which is their empire. Now Don Juan strips off this illusion. . . . I never knew a woman who did not protect Rousseau, nor one who did not dislike De Gramont, Gil Blas, and all the comedy of the passions, when brought out naturally."