the shadow of the harem.
We sometimes hear surprise expressed that woman has contributed so little to the masterpieces of the world in science, art, literature.
To me the wonder is always the other way — that she has produced anything in that direction at all; and this for the plain reason that the shadow of repression, which is the bequest of the Oriental
harem, still hangs over her. That she has always been at a great disadvantage in training or education is also true, but it is a secondary matter.
The real disadvantage of women has lain in being systematically taught from childhood up that it is their highest duty to efface themselves, or at least keep out of sight.
One can overcome great obstacles as to education, but to do anything remarkable without running the risk of being conspicuous-this would puzzle the most skilful.
Fame is the shadow of great action.
Now nobody but Peter Schlemihl
ever succeeded in living without his shadow, and it is not recorded that even he enjoyed that situation.
It would be easy to show by a long series of examples
the eager desire of men, especially the mediocre ones, that women should remain invisible.
It was the Latin
epitaph upon the model woman that she stayed at home and spun--Domum servavit, lanam fecit.
It is a motto which Mr. Newell
, the scientific explorer of nursery rhymes, would perhaps find preserved in Mrs. Mouse
's answer to the “frog who would a-wooing go :”
“ Pray, Mistress Mouse, are you within?” --
“Oh yes, kind sir; I'm sitting to spin ” --
With a Rowley, Powley, etc.
But as no amount of spinning saved that excellent matron from the terrible cat, so Harriet Martineau
and other literary women might be as good housekeepers as they pleased without clearing themselves from reproach.
Indeed, it is rather pathetic to notice how the pioneer women authors in America
, such as Mrs. Child
and Miss Leslie
, endeavored to disarm public judgment by printing some “Frugal Housewife” or “Seventy-five Receipts” before showing their heads as writers.
Even now the practice is not discontinued, and Marion Harland
, with all her wide popularity, has to wind up with a practical work on “Breakfast, dinner, and Supper” to demonstrate that, though an author, she still has the virtues of her sex; We have not yet — outgrown that profound
remark of Fredrika Bremer
that a woman may do almost anything she pleases with a man if she always has something nice to pop into his mouth.
From the days of that Roman epitaph onward the theory of suppression has been pretty well sustained.
It would be easy to fill pages with the sayings of wise men to the general effect that women should, as far as possible, be kept in some place that has a lid to it. The favorite German novelist Auerbach
, for instance, puts this with a praiseworthy directness: “The best woman is she of whom men speak least.
I understand it so that where a man speaks of a woman he should content himself with a few words.
He should say, ‘ She is an intelligent, a good, a domestic, or a noble woman.’
Qualify these words, and the strength of the comment is lost.”
It is certain that in saying this Auerbach
speaks the spirit of his nation.
He says it gravely too, and does nothing inconsistent with it, being in this respect more fortunate than the English Archdeacon Trench
, who thoroughly approves the Latin
motto as applied to women, Bene vixit qui bene latuit
( “She has lived well who has kept well concealed” ), and quotes it with pride in a preface to a very thick octavo volume containing several hundred of his mother's most private letters.
There is one way alone in which men have been
willing to see any amount of literary or artistic genius developed in women-when these ladies have consented to attribute their work to a husband or brother, and say nothing about it. This is the self-effacement, the bene latuit,
at its most delightful point, when the woman does the work and the man gets the fame.
family had not the slightest objection to their gifted Fanny's composing as much music as she pleased, provided it appeared under the name of her brother Felix.
Nobody knows, the recent biographers tell us, how many of his “songs without words” the sister contributed; but the moment she proposed to publish anything under her own name the whole household was aroused, and the shadow of the harem was invoked; it was improper, unwomanly, indelicate, for her to publish music-except to swell her brother's fame.
Mademoiselle De Scudery
, whose interminable novels delighted all good society in France
two centuries and a half ago, printed most of her fifty volumes under the name of her brother.
Charles De Scudery
undoubtedly wrote part of the books, and he certainly may be said to have encouraged his sister in writing them, inasmuch as he used to lock her up in her room to keep her at it. But he never seems to have doubted as to his fraternal right to claim them all; and he once drew his sword on a personal friend for doubting his authorship
of “Le Grand Cyrus
,” a novel of nearly 13,000 pages, of which it is now pretty well established that the sister wrote the whole.
In short, the repressing influence has not consisted in this or that trivial disadvantage, but in the Oriental
If women have less natural gift than men, they need more encouragement and not more hinderance; if a young man of puny appearance comes into a gymnasium, he is not invited to exercise with his hands tied.
At all events, for what work a woman does she is entitled to credit, and not to have the shadow of the harem invoked to hush up her existence as much as possible, letting the credit go to some one else.
I know a lady who, when a child, was once coaxed by her elder brothers to climb through the sliding-door of the pantry, which she alone was small enough to enter, and to bring them out an apronful of apples.
The elder accomplices then carried them off into the orchard and devoured them without leaving her a single one.
If art and authorship in women be crimes, like stealing apples, men have certainly adjusted the rewards and penalties somewhat in this way.