Belittled Women

Further to my thoughts about books and babies and keeping house, I came across this sortie from an unlikely source: Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. This is from the less well-known Rose in Bloom, published in 1876. Unlike her better-known counterpart, Jo March, Rose proves you don't have to be a tomboy to seek something other and better than a pretty domesticity. 

“Phebe and I believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us," cried Rose with kindling eyes. "I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?" she added, turning to Archie. 

"Of course not, that is only a part of a man's life," he answered decidedly. 

"A very precious and lovely part, but not all," continued Rose. "Neither should it be for a woman, for we've got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I'm sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won't have anything to do with love till I prove that I am something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!" 

Attagirl, Rose! 

The moral of the story

I’ve just read Little Women, Good Wives, and What Katy Did, and I’m halfway through What Katy Did at School.  I hadn’t revisited these American classics for some time, and in spite of a grating moralising sentimentality, I’ve found them as engaging and nourishing as I did when I first read them. The lessons I learned from them still guide me.

Even as a child I think I enjoyed a book more if it gave me something besides entertainment; some nugget of truth or instruction that I could carry with me. Of course the moral is no good without the story, but the best stories have morality (either affirmation or subversion) at their core. That’s why authors like Austen, Dickens and Henry James are so enduring. Couched in hugely entertaining prose, they always feature violations and restorations of morality, in varying degrees of subtlety, that manage to transcend cultural and historical conditions. Avant-garde stories with absent or amorphous moralities might intrigue, but they rarely captivate us in the same way that tragic moral desecrations or comic moral restitutions so lastingly do.