Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24

Today let's look at two letters from February 24 that illustrate EBB's view or views of women and their place in the world. February 24,1846 finds her in love with Browning and explaining to him her goals when she began her correspondence with him:

"My ambition when we began our correspondence, was simply that you should forget I was a woman (being weary and blasée of the empty written gallantries, of which I have had my share and all the more perhaps from my peculiar position which made them so without consequence), that you should forget that and let us be friends, and consent to teach me what you knew better than I, in art and human nature, and give me your sympathy in the meanwhile. I am a great hero-worshipper and had admired your poetry for years, and to feel that you liked to write to me and be written to was a pleasure and a pride, as I used to tell you I am sure, and then your letters were not like other letters, as I must not tell you again. Also you influenced me, in a way in which no one else did."

She sees herself as not just a woman but as a woman artist trying to break out of the mold of a woman artist, wanting to learn from a man and be treated as an equal by a man.

On February 24, 1855 EBB writes to her old traveling companion, Mrs. Jameson (also a writer, on art and history) about her meeting Florence Nightingale:

"I know Florence Nightingale slightly. She came to see me when we were in London last; and I remember her face and her graceful manner, and the flowers she sent me after afterwards. I honor her from my heart. She is an earnest, noble woman, and has fulfilled her woman's duty where many men have failed.
At the same time, I confess myself to be at a loss to see any new position for the sex, or the most imperfect solution of the 'woman's question,' in this step of hers. If a movement at all, it is retrograde, a revival of old virtues! Since the siege of Troy and earlier, we have had princesses binding wounds with their hands; it's strictly the woman's part, and men understand it so, as you will perceive by the general adhesion and approbation on this late occasion of the masculine dignities. Every man is on his knees before ladies carrying lint, calling them 'angelic she's,' whereas, if they stir an inch as thinkers or artists from the beaten line (involving more good to general humanity; than is involved in lint), the very same men would curse the impudence of the very same women and stop there. I can't see on what ground you think you see here the least gain to the 'woman's question,' so called. It's rather the contrary, to my mind, and, any way, the women of England must give the precedence to the sœurs de charité [sisters of charity], who have magnificently won it in all matters of this kind. For my own part (and apart from the exceptional miseries of the war), I acknowledge to you that I do not consider the best use to which we can put a gifted and accomplished woman is to make her a hospital nurse. If it is, why then woe to us all who are artists! The woman's question is at an end. The men's 'noes' carry it. For the future I hope you will know your place and keep clear of Raffaelle and criticism; and I shall expect to hear of you as an organiser of the gruel department in the hospital at Greenwich, that is, if you have the luck to percer [penetrate] and distinguish yourself."

Her observations are seen by some biographers as criticisms of Miss Nightingale, but this is why primary material is so important. She is not criticising, she is simply making a wry observation about the place of women in the Victorian world. Intelligent, articulate and witty. A great passage.

She ends with a note of despair about the condition of England, the postal service and and the health of another inspirational woman writer:

"Oh, the Crimea! How dismal, how full of despair and horror! The results will, however, be good if we are induced to come down from the English pedestal in Europe of incessant self-glorification, and learn that our close, stifling, corrupt system gives no air nor scope for healthy and effective organisation anywhere. We are oligarchic in all things, from our parliament to our army. Individual interests are admitted as obstacles to the general prosperity. This plague runs through all things with us. It accounts for the fact that, according to the last marriage statistics, thirty per cent, of the male population signed with the mark only. It accounts for the fact that London is at once the largest and ugliest city in Europe. For the rest, if we cannot fight righteous and necessary battles, we must leave our place as a nation, and be satisfied with making pins. Write to me, but don't pay your letters, dear dear friend, and I will tell you why. Through some slip somewhere we have had to pay your two last letters just the same. So don't try it any more. Do you think we grudge postage from you? Tell me if it is true that Harriet Martineau is very ill. What do you hear of her?"

EBB was thinking and working toward an artistic parity with men. Raising women up would only serve to raise men and all of society.

1 comment:

  1. EBB didn't miss anything. Women are smart and can do anything beyond nursing and pins. Society didn't allow it then.