Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Wilkie Collins on modern women

Wilkie Collins

This piece from Wilkie Collins' novel Basil (pub. 1852) surprised me when I first came across it. I suppose our view of Victorian women tends to be influenced by the stereotypes we see in TV drama. Those fictional Victorian women certainly don't chime with Collins' description. 

He sympathised with women and wrote about the unfairness of their social position. Even so, he obviously didn't think they should aim to be more like men, because this quote suggests he didn't think much of modern men either. 

We live in an age when too many women appear to be ambitious of morally unsexing themselves before society, by aping the language and the manners of men – especially in reference to that miserable modern dandyism of demeanour, which aims at representing all betrayal of warmth of feeling; which abstains from displaying any enthusiasm on any subject whatever; which, in short, labours to make the fashionable imperturbability of the face the faithful imperturbability of the mind.

Women of this exclusively modern order, like to use slang expressions in their conversation; assume a bastard-masculine abruptness in their manners, a bastard-masculine licence in their opinions; affect to ridicule those outward developments of feeling which pass under the general appellation of “sentiment”. Nothing impresses, agitates, amuses, or delights them in a hearty, natural, womanly way. Sympathy looks ironical, if they ever show it: love seems to be an affair of calculation, or mockery, or contemptuous sufferance, if they ever feel it.
Wilkie Collins - Basil


Sam Vega said...

Excellent piece. There are women like this in my workplace.

Collins knew that the only way to frustrate them in aping the ways of men was to grow a beard. He has a magnificent growth, and I'm sure it sent a clear signal.

James Higham said...

Puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? How on earth did you find this?

A K Haart said...

SV - yes I like his beard. Mine would just go a bushy.

JH - I've collected quotes for quite a few years and I do read a lot. Too much really.