Title: A Room of One's Own
Author: Virginia Woolf
A ROOM OF ONES OWN
[* This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society at
Newnharn and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too
long to be read in full, and have since been altered and expanded.]
But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction--what,
has that got to do with a room of one's own? I will try to explain. When
you asked me to speak about women and fiction I sat down on the banks of
a river and began to wonder what the words meant. They might mean simply
a few remarks about Fanny Burney; a few more about Jane Austen; a
tribute to the Brontлs and a sketch of Haworth Parsonage under snow;
some witticisms if possible about Miss Mitford; a respectful allusion to
George Eliot; a reference to Mrs Gaskell and one would have done. But at
second sight the words seemed not so simple. The title women and fiction
might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are
like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it
might mean women and the fiction that is written about them, or it might
mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want
me to consider them in that light. But when I began to consider the
subject in this last way, which seemed the most interesting, I soon saw
that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be able to come to a
conclusion. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the
first duty of a lecturer to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget
of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on
the mantelpiece for ever. All I could do was to offer you an opinion
upon one minor point--a woman must have money and a room of her own if
she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great
problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction
unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these
two questions--women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned,
unsolved problems. But in order to make some amends I am going to do
what I can to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and
the money. I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as
I can the train of thought which led me to think this. Perhaps if I lay
bare the ideas, the prejudices, that lie behind this statement you will
find that they have some bearing upon women and some upon fiction. At
any rate, when a subject is highly controversial--and any question about
sex is that--one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how
one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one's
audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the
limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction
here is likely to contain more truth than fact. Therefore I propose,
making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you
the story of the two days that preceded my coming here--how, bowed down
by the weight of the subject which you have laid upon my shoulders, I
pondered it, and made it work in and out of my daily life. I need not
say that what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an
invention; so is Fernham; 'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who
has no real being. Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be
some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and
to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping. If not, you will of
course throw the whole of it into the waste-paper basket and forget all
Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by
any name you please--it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on
the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in
thought. That collar I have spoken of, women and fiction, the need of
coming to some conclusion on a subject that raises all sorts of
prejudices and passions, bowed my head to the ground. To the right and
left bushes of some sort, golden and crimson, glowed with the colour,
even it seemed burnt with the heat, of fire. On the further bank the
willows wept in perpetual lamentation, their hair about their shoulders.
The river reflected whatever it chose of sky and bridge and burning
tree, and when the undergraduate had oared his boat through the
reflections they closed again, completely, as if he had never been.
There one might have sat the clock round lost in thought. Thought--to
call it by a prouder name than it deserved--had let its line down into
the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the
reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it
until--you know the little tug--the sudden conglomeration of an idea at
the end of one's line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the
careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how
insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good
fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one
day worth cooking and eating. I will not trouble you with that thought
now, though if you look carefully you may find it for yourselves in the
course of what I am going to say.
But however small it was, it had, nevertheless, the mysterious property
of its kind--put back into the mind, it became at once very exciting,
and important; and as it darted and sank, and flashed hither and
thither, set up such a wash and tumult of ideas that it was impossible
to sit still. It was thus that I found myself walking with extreme
rapidity across a grass plot. Instantly a man's figure rose to intercept
me. Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a
curious-looking object, in a cut-away coat and evening shirt, were aimed
at me. His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than
reason came to my help, he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the
turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed
here; the gravel is the place for me. Such thoughts were the work of a
moment. As I regained the path the arms of the Beadle sank, his face
assumed its usual repose, and though turf is better walking than gravel,
no very great harm was done. The only charge I could bring against the
Fellows and Scholars of whatever the college might happen to be was that
in protection of their turf, which has been rolled for 300 years in
succession they had sent my little fish into hiding.
What idea it had been that had sent me so audaciously trespassing I
could not now remember. The spirit of peace descended like a cloud from
heaven, for if the spirit of peace dwells anywhere, it is in the courts
and quadrangles of Oxbridge on a fine October morning. Strolling through
those colleges past those ancient halls the roughness of the present
seemed smoothed away; the body seemed contained in a miraculous glass
cabinet through which no sound could penetrate, and the mind, freed from
any contact with facts (unless one trespassed on the turf again), was at
liberty to settle down upon whatever meditation was in harmony with the
moment. As chance would have it, some stray memory of some old essay
about revisiting Oxbridge in the long vacation brought Charles Lamb to
mind--Saint Charles, said Thackeray, putting a letter of Lamb's to his
forehead. Indeed, among all the dead (I give you my thoughts as they
came to me), Lamb is one of the most congenial; one to whom one would
have liked to say, Tell me then how you wrote your essays? For his
essays are superior even to Max Beerbohm's, I thought, with all their
perfection, because of that wild flash of imagination, that lightning
crack of genius in the middle of them which leaves them flawed and
imperfect, but starred with poetry. Lamb then came to Oxbridge perhaps a
hundred years ago. Certainly he wrote an essay--the name escapes
me--about the manuscript of one of Milton's poems which he saw here. It
was LYCIDAS perhaps, and Lamb wrote how it shocked him to think it
possible that any word in LYCIDAS could have been different from what it
is. To think of Milton changing the words in that poem seemed to him a
sort of sacrilege. This led me to remember what I could of LYCIDAS and
to amuse myself with guessing which word it could have been that Milton
had altered, and why. It then occurred to me that the very manuscript
itself which Lamb had looked at was only a few hundred yards away, so
that one could follow Lamb's footsteps across the quadrangle to that
famous library where the treasure is kept. Moreover, I recollected, as I
put this plan into execution, it is in this famous library that the
manuscript of Thackeray's ESMOND is also preserved. The critics often
say that ESMOND is Thackeray's most perfect novel. But the affectation
of the style, with its imitation of the eighteenth century, hampers one,
so far as I can remember; unless indeed the eighteenth-century style was
natural to Thackeray--a fact that one might prove by looking at the
manuscript and seeing whether the alterations were for the benefit of
the style or of the sense. But then one would have to decide what is
style and what is meaning, a question which--but here I was actually at
the door which leads into the library itself. I must have opened it, for
instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a
flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery,
kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that
ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of
the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.
That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete
indifference to a famous library. Venerable and calm, with all its
treasures safe locked within its breast, it sleeps complacently and
will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep for ever. Never will I wake
those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I
descended the steps in anger. Still an hour remained before luncheon,
and what was one to do? Stroll on the meadows? sit by the river?
Certainly it was a lovely autumn morning; the leaves were fluttering red
to the ground; there was no great hardship in doing either. But the
sound of music reached my ear. Some service or celebration was going
forward. The organ complained magnificently as I passed the chapel door.
Even the sorrow of Christianity sounded in that serene air more like the
recollection of sorrow than sorrow itself; even the groanings of the
ancient organ seemed lapped in peace. I had no wish to enter had I the
right, and this time the verger might have stopped me, demanding perhaps
my baptismal certificate, or a letter of introduction from the Dean. But
the outside of these magnificent buildings is often as beautiful as the
inside. Moreover, it was amusing enough to watch the congregation
assembling, coming in and going out again, busying themselves at the
door of the chapel like bees at the mouth of a hive. Many were in cap
and gown; some had tufts of fur on their shoulders; others were wheeled
in bath-chairs; others, though not past middle age, seemed creased and
crushed into shapes so singular that one was reminded of those giant
crabs and crayfish who heave with difficulty across the sand of an
aquarium. As I leant against the wall the University indeed seemed a
sanctuary in which are preserved rare types which would soon be obsolete
if left to fight for existence on the pavement of the Strand. Old
stories of old deans and old dons came back to mind, but before I had
summoned up courage to whistle--it used to be said that at the sound of
a whistle old Professor ---- instantly broke into a gallop--the venerable
congregation had gone inside. The outside of the chapel remained. As you
know, its high domes and pinnacles can be seen, like a sailing-ship
always voyaging never arriving, lit up at night and visible for miles,
far away across the hills. Once, presumably, this quadrangle with its
smooth lawns, its massive buildings and the chapel itself was marsh too,
where the grasses waved and the swine rootled. Teams of horses and oxen,
I thought, must have hauled the stone in wagons from far countries, and
then with infinite labour the grey blocks in whose shade I was now
standing were poised in order one on top of another. and then the
painters brought their glass for the windows, and the masons were busy
for centuries up on that roof with putty and cement, spade and trowel.
Every Saturday somebody must have poured gold and silver out of a
leathern purse into their ancient fists, for they had their beer and
skittles presumably of an evening. An unending stream of gold and
silver, I thought, must have flowed into this court perpetually to keep
the stones coming and the masons working; to level, to ditch, to dig and
to drain. But it was then the age of faith, and money was poured
liberally to set these stones on a deep foundation, and when the stones
were raised, still more money was poured in from the coffers of kings
and queens and great nobles to ensure that hymns should be sung here and
scholars taught. Lands were granted; tithes were paid. And when the age
of faith was over and the age of reason had come, still the same flow of
gold and silver went on; fellowships were founded; lectureships endowed;
only the gold and silver flowed now, not from the coffers of the king.
but from the chests of merchants and manufacturers, from the purses of
men who had made, say, a fortune from industry, and returned, in their
wills, a bounteous share of it to endow more chairs, more lectureships,
more fellowships in the university where they had learnt their craft.
Hence the libraries and laboratories; the observatories; the splendid
equipment of costly and delicate instruments which now stands on glass
shelves, where centuries ago the grasses waved and the swine rootled.
Certainly, as I strolled round the court, the foundation of gold and
silver seemed deep enough; the pavement laid solidly over the wild
grasses. Men with trays on their heads went busily from staircase to
staircase. Gaudy blossoms flowered in window-boxes. The strains of the
gramophone blared out from the rooms within. It was impossible not to
reflect--the reflection whatever it may have been was cut short. The
clock struck. it was time to find one's way to luncheon.
It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that
luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that
was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom
spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist's convention
not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and
ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a
cigar or drank a glass of wine. Here, however, I shall take the liberty
to defy that convention and to tell you that the lunch on this occasion
began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had
spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here
and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After
that came the partridges, but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown
birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various,
came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and the
sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard;
their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. And no sooner
had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent servingman,
the Beadle himself perhaps in a milder manifestation, set before us,
wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves.
To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an
insult. Meanwhile the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed
crimson; had been emptied; had been filled. And thus by degrees was lit,
half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard
little electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out
upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow which
is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse. No need to hurry. No
need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. We are all going to
heaven and Vandyck is of the company--in other words, how good life
seemed, how sweet its rewards, how trivial this grudge or that
grievance, how admirable friendship and the society of one's kind, as,
lighting a good cigarette, one sunk among the cushions in the
If by good luck there had been an ash-tray handy, if one had not knocked
the ash out of the window in default, if things had been a little
different from what they were, one would not have seen, presumably, a
cat without a tail. The sight of that abrupt and truncated animal
padding softly across the quadrangle changed by some fluke of the
subconscious intelligence the emotional light for me. It was as if
someone had let fall a shade. Perhaps the excellent hock was
relinquishing its hold. Certainly, as I watched the Manx cat pause in
the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something
seemed lacking, something seemed different. But what was lacking, what
was different, I asked myself, listening to the talk? And to answer that
question I had to think myself out of the room, back into the past,
before the war indeed, and to set before my eyes the model of another
luncheon party held in rooms not very far distant from these; but
different. Everything was different. Meanwhile the talk went on among the
guests, who were many and young, some of this sex, some of that; it went
on swimmingly, it went on agreeably, freely, amusingly. And as it went on
I set it against the background of that other talk, and as I matched the
two together I had no doubt that one was the descendant, the legitimate
heir of the other. Nothing was changed; nothing was different save only
here I listened with all my ears not entirely to what was being said,
but to the murmur or current behind it. Yes, that was it--the change was
there. Before the war at a luncheon party like this people would have
said precisely the same things but they would have sounded different,
because in those days they were accompanied by a sort of humming noise,
not articulate, but musical, exciting, which changed the value of
the words themselves. Could one set that humming noise to words? Perhaps
with the help of the poets one could.. A book lay beside me and, opening
it, I turned casually enough to Tennyson. And here I found Tennyson was
There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near';
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late';
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear';
And the lily whispers, 'I wait.'
Was that what men hummed at luncheon parties before the war? And the
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose. houghs are bent with thick-set fruit,
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Was that what women hummed at luncheon parties before the war?
There was something so ludicrous in thinking of people humming such
things even under their breath at luncheon parties before the war that I
burst out laughing. and had to explain my laughter by pointing at the
Manx cat, who did look a little absurd, poor beast, without a tail, in
the middle of the lawn. Was he really born so, or had he lost his tail
in an accident? The tailless cat, though some are said to exist in the
Isle of Man, is rarer than one thinks. It is a queer animal, quaint
rather than beautiful. It is strange what a difference a tail makes--you
know the sort of things one says as a lunch party breaks up and people
are finding their coats and hats.
This one, thanks to the hospitality of the host, had lasted far into the
afternoon. The beautiful October day was fading and the leaves were
falling from the trees in the avenue as I walked through it. Gate after
gate seemed to close with gentle finality behind me. Innumerable beadles
were fitting innumerable keys into well-oiled locks; the treasure-house
was being made secure for another night. After the avenue one comes out
upon a road--I forget its name--which leads you, if you take the right
turning, along to Fernham. But there was plenty of time. Dinner was not
till half-past seven. One could almost do without dinner after such a
luncheon. It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and
makes the legs move in time to it along the road. Those words----
There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear----
sang in my blood as I stepped quickly along towards Headingley. And
then, switching off into the other measure, I sang, where the waters are
churned up by the weir:
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree . . .
What poets, I cried aloud, as one does in the dusk, what poets they
In a sort of jealousy, I suppose, for our own age, silly and absurd
though these comparisons are, I went on to wonder if honestly one could
name two living poets now as great as Tennyson and Christina Rossetti
were then. Obviously it is impossible, I thought, looking into those
foaming waters, to compare them. The very reason why that poetry excites
one to such abandonment, such rapture, is that it celebrates some
feeling that one used to have (at luncheon parties before the war
perhaps), so that one responds easily, familiarly, without troubling to
check the feeling, or to compare it with any that one has now. But the
living poets express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out
of us at the moment. One does not recognize it in the first place; often
for some reason one fears it; one watches it with keenness and compares
it jealously and suspiciously with the old feeling that one knew. Hence
the difficulty of modern poetry; and it is because of this difficulty
that one cannot remember more than two consecutive lines of any good
modern poet. For this reason--that my memory failed me--the argument
flagged for want of material. But why, I continued, moving on towards
Headingley, have we stopped humming under our breath at luncheon
parties? Why has Alfred ceased to sing
She is coming, my dove, my dear.
Why has Christina ceased to respond
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me?
Shall we lay the blame on the war? When the guns fired in August 1914,
did the faces of men and women show so plain in each other's eyes that
romance was killed? Certainly it was a shock (to women in particular
with their illusions about education, and so on) to see the faces of our
rulers in the light of the shell-fire. So ugly they looked--German,
English, French--so stupid. But lay the blame where one will, on whom
one will, the illusion which inspired Tennyson and Christina Rossetti to
sing so passionately about the coming of their loves is far rarer now
than then. One has only to read, to look, to listen, to remember. But
why say 'blame'? Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe,
whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place? For
truth . . . those dots mark the spot where, in search of truth, I missed
the turning up to Fernham. Yes indeed, which was truth and which was
illusion? I asked myself. What was the truth about these houses, for
example, dim and festive now with their red windows in the dusk, but raw
and red and squalid, with their sweets and their bootlaces, at nine
o'clock in the morning? And the willows and the river and the gardens
that run down to the river, vague now with the mist stealing over them,
but gold and red in the sunlight--which was the truth, which was the
illusion about them? I spare you the twists and turns of my cogitations,
for no conclusion was found on the road to Headingley, and I ask You to
suppose that I soon found out my mistake about the turning and retraced
my steps to Fernham.
As I have said already that it was an October day, I dare not forfeit
your respect and imperil the fair name of fiction by changing the season
and describing lilacs hanging over garden walls, crocuses, tulips and
other flowers of spring. Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the
facts the better the fiction--so we are told. Therefore it was still
autumn and the leaves were still yellow and falling, if anything, a
little faster than before, because it was now evening (seven
twenty-three to be precise) and a breeze (from the south-west to be
exact) had risen. But for all that there was something odd at work:
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit--
perhaps the words of Christina Rossetti were partly responsible for the
folly of the fancy--it was nothing of course but a fancy--that the lilac
was shaking its flowers over the garden walls, and the brimstone
butterflies were scudding hither and thither, and the dust of the pollen
was in the air. A wind blew, from what quarter I know not, but it lifted
the half-grown leaves so that there was a flash of silver grey in the
air. It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their
intensification and purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat
of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world
revealed and yet soon to perish (here I pushed into the garden, for,
unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed about), the
beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of
laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. The gardens of
Fernham lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open, and in the
long grass, sprinkled and carelessly flung, were daffodils and
bluebells, not orderly perhaps at the best of times, and now wind-blown
and waving as they tugged at their roots. The windows of the building,
curved like ships' windows among generous waves of red brick, changed
from lemon to silver under the flight of the quick spring clouds.
Somebody was in a hammock, somebody, but in this light they were
phantoms only, half guessed, half seen, raced across the grass--would no
one stop her?--and then on the terrace, as if popping out to breathe the
air, to glance at the garden, came a bent figure, formidable yet humble,
with her great forehead and her shabby dress--could it be the famous
scholar, could it be J---- H---- herself? All was dim, yet intense too,
as if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn
asunder by star or sword--the gash of some terrible reality leaping, as
its way is, out of the heart of the spring. For youth----
Here was my soup. Dinner was being served in the great dining-hall. Far
from being spring it was in fact an evening in October. Everybody was
assembled in the big dining-room. Dinner was ready. Here was the soup. It
was a plain gravy soup. There was nothing to stir the fancy in that. One
could have seen through the transparent liquid any pattern that there
might have been on the plate itself. But there was no pattern. The plate
was plain. Next came beef with its attendant greens and potatoes--a
homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and
sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge, and bargaining and cheapening
and women with string bags on Monday morning. There was no reason to
complain of human nature's daily food, seeing that the supply was
sufficient and coal-miners doubtless were sitting down to less. Prunes
and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when
mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are
not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run
in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth. for eighty
years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are
people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came
next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the
nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That
was all. The meal was over. Everybody scraped their chairs back; the
swing-doors swung violently to and fro; soon the hall was emptied of
every sign of food and made ready no doubt for breakfast next morning.
Down corridors and up staircases the youth of England went banging and
singing. And was it for a guest, a stranger (for I had no more right
here in Fernham than in Trinity or Somerville or Girton or Newnham or
Christchurch), to say, 'The dinner was not good,' or to say (we were
now, Mary Seton and I, in her sitting-room), 'Could we not have dined up
here alone?' for if I had said anything of the kind I should have been
prying and searching into the secret economies of a house which to the
stranger wears so fine a front of gaiety and courage. No, one could say
nothing of the sort. Indeed, conversation for a moment flagged. The
human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together,
and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in
another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good
talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined
well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes. We are
all PROBABLY going to heaven, and Vandyck is, we HOPE, to meet us round
the next corner--that is the dubious and qualifying state of mind that
beef and prunes at the end of the day's work breed between them. Happily
my friend, who taught science, had a cupboard where there was a squat
bottle and little glasses--(but there should have been sole and
partridge to begin with)--so that we were able to draw up to the fire
and repair some of the damages of the day's living. In a minute or so we
were slipping freely in and out among all those objects of curiosity and
interest which form in the mind in the absence of a particular person,
and are naturally to be discussed on coming together again--how somebody
has married, another has not; one thinks this, another that; one has
improved out of all knowledge, the other most amazingly gone to the
bad--with all those speculations upon human nature and the character of
the amazing world we live in which spring naturally from such
beginnings. While these things were being said, however, I became
shamefacedly aware of a current setting in of its own accord and
carrying everything forward to an end of its own. One might be talking
of Spain or Portugal, of book or racehorse, but the real interest of
whatever was said was none of those things, but a scene of masons on a
high roof some five centuries ago. Kings and nobles brought treasure in
huge sacks and poured it under the earth. This scene was for ever coming
alive in my mind and placing itself by another of lean cows and a muddy
market and withered greens and the stringy hearts of old men--these two
pictures, disjointed and disconnected and nonsensical as they were, were
for ever coming together and combating each other and had me entirely
at their mercy. The best course, unless the whole talk was to be
distorted, was to expose what was in my mind to the air, when with good
luck it would fade and crumble like the head of the dead king when they
opened the coffin at Windsor. Briefly, then, I told Miss Seton about the
masons who had been all those years on the roof of the chapel, and about
the kings and queens and nobles bearing sacks of gold and silver on
their shoulders, which they shovelled into the earth; and then how the
great financial magnates of our own time came and laid cheques and
bonds, I suppose, where the others had laid ingots and rough lumps of
gold. All that lies beneath the colleges down there, I said; but this
college, where we are now sitting, what lies beneath its gallant red
brick and the wild unkempt grasses of the garden? What force is behind
that plain china off which we dined, and (here it popped out of my mouth
before I could stop it) the beef, the custard and the prunes?
Well, said Mary Seton, about the year 1860--Oh, but you know the story,
she said, bored, I suppose, by the recital. And she told me--rooms were
hired. Committees met. Envelopes were addressed. Circulars were drawn
up. Meetings were held; letters were read out; so-and-so has promised so
much; on the contrary, Mr ---- won't give a penny. The SATURDAY REVIEW
has been very rude. How can we raise a fund to pay for offices? Shall we
hold a bazaar? Can't we find a pretty girl to sit in the front row? Let
us look up what John Stuart Mill said on the subject. Can anyone
persuade the editor of the ---- to print a letter? Can we get Lady ----
to sign it? Lady ---- is out of town. That was the way it was done,
presumably, sixty years ago, and it was a prodigious effort, and a great
deal of time was spent on it. And it was only after a long struggle and
with the utmost difficulty that they got thirty thousand pounds
together. [* We are told that we ought to ask for Ј30,000 at least. . . .
It is not a large sum, considering that there is to he but one college
of this sort for Great Britain, Ireland and the Colonies, and considering
how easy it is to raise immense sums for boys' schools. But considering
how few people really wish women to be educated, it is a good
deal.'--LADY STEPHEN, EMILY DAVIES AND GIRTON COLLEGE.] So
obviously we cannot have wine and partridges and servants carrying tin
dishes on their heads, she said. We cannot have sofas and separate
rooms. 'The amenities,' she said, quoting from some book or other, 'will
have to wait. [* Every penny which could he scraped together was set
aside for building, and the amenities had to be postponed.--R. STRACHEY,
At the thought of all those women working year after year and finding it
hard to get two thousand pounds together, and as much as they could do
to get thirty thousand pounds, we burst out in scorn at the
reprehensible poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then
that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in
at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo? There were some
photographs on the mantelpiece. Mary's mother--if that was her
picture--may have been a wastrel in her spare time (she had thirteen
children by a minister of the church), but if so her gay and dissipated
life had left too few traces of its pleasures on her face. She was a
homely body; an old lady in a plaid shawl which was fastened by a large
cameo; and she sat in a basket-chair, encouraging a spaniel to look at
the camera, with the amused, yet strained expression of one who is sure
that the dog will move directly the bulb is pressed. Now if she had gone
into business; had become a manufacturer of artificial silk or a magnate
on the Stock Exchange; if she had left two or three hundred thousand
pounds to Fernham, we could have been sitting at our ease to-night and
the subject of our talk might have been archaeology, botany,
anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy,
relativity, geography. If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother
before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their
money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them, to found
fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to
the use of their own sex, we might have dined very tolerably up here
alone off a bird and a bottle of wine; we might have looked forward
without undue confidence to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in
the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have
been exploring or writing; mooning about the venerable places of the
earth; sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or going at
ten to an office and coming home comfortably at half-past four to write
a little poetry. Only, if Mrs Seton and her like had gone into business
at the age of fifteen, there would have been--that was the snag in the
argument--no Mary. What, I asked, did Mary think of that? There between
the curtains was the October night, calm and lovely, with a star or two
caught in the yellowing trees. Was she ready to resign her share of it
and her memories (for they had been a happy family, though a large one)
of games and quarrels up in Scotland, which she is never tired of
praising for the fineness of its air and the quality of its cakes, in
order that Fernham might have been endowed with fifty thousand pounds or
so by a stroke of the pen? For, to endow a college would necessitate the
suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing
thirteen children--no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we
said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby
is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby.
After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing
with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets.
People who have seen them running wild in Russia say that the sight is
not a pleasant one. People say, too, that human nature takes its shape
in the years between one and five. If Mrs Seton, I said, had been making
money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels?
What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and
all the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because
you would never have come into existence at all. Moreover, it is equally
useless to ask what might have happened if Mrs Seton and her mother and
her mother before her had amassed great wealth and laid it under the
foundations of college and library, because, in the first place, to earn
money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible,
the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned. It is
only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of
her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her
husband's property--a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in
keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I
earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of
according to my husband's wisdom--perhaps to found a scholarship or to
endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings, so that to earn money, even if I
could earn money, is not a matter that interests me very greatly. I had
better leave it to my husband.
At any rate, whether or not the blame rested on the old lady who was
looking at the spaniel, there could be no doubt that for some reason or
other our mothers had mismanaged their affairs very gravely. Not a penny
could be spared for 'amenities'; for partridges and wine, beadles and
turf, books and cigars, libraries and leisure. To raise bare walls out
of bare earth was the utmost they could do.
So we talked standing at the window and looking, as so many thousands
look every night, down on the domes and towers of the famous city
beneath us. It was very beautiful, very mysterious in the autumn
moonlight. The old stone looked very white and venerable. One thought of
all the books that were assembled down there; of the pictures of old
prelates and worthies hanging in the panelled rooms; of the painted
windows that would be throwing strange globes and crescents on the
pavement; of the tablets and memorials and inscriptions; of the
fountains and the grass; of the quiet rooms looking across the quiet
quadrangles. And (pardon me the thought) I thought, too, of the
admirable smoke and drink and the deep armchairs and the pleasant
carpets: of the urbanity, the geniality, the dignity which are the
offspring of luxury and privacy and space. Certainly our mothers had not
provided us with any thing comparable to all this--our mothers who found
it difficult to scrape together thirty thousand pounds, our mothers who
bore thirteen children to ministers of religion at St Andrews.
So I went back to my inn, and as I walked through the dark streets I
pondered this and that, as one does at the end of the day's work. I
pondered why it was that Mrs Seton had no money to leave us; and what
effect poverty has on the mind; and what effect wealth has on the mind;
and I thought of the queer old gentlemen I had seen that morning with
tufts of fur upon their shoulders; and I remembered how if one whistled
one of them ran; and I thought of the organ booming in the chapel and of
the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be
locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in; and,
thinking of the safety and prosperity of the one sex and of the poverty
and insecurity of the other and of the effect of tradition and of the
lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer, I thought at last that it
was time to roll up the crumpled skin of the day, with its arguments and
its impressions and its anger and its laughter, and cast it into the
hedge. A thousand stars were flashing across the blue wastes of the sky.
One seemed alone with an inscrutable society. All human beings were laid
asleep--prone, horizontal, dumb. Nobody seemed stirring in the streets
of Oxbridge. Even the door of the hotel sprang open at the touch of an
invisible hand--not a boots was sitting up to light me to bed, it was so
The scene, if I may ask you to follow me, was now changed. The leaves
were still falling, but in London now, not Oxbridge; and I must ask you
to imagine a room, like many thousands, with a window looking across
people's hats and vans and motor-cars to other windows, and on the table
inside the room a blank sheet of paper on which was written in large
letters WOMEN AND FICTION, but no more. The inevitable sequel to
lunching and dining at Oxbridge seemed, unfortunately, to be a visit to
the British Museum. One must strain off what was personal and accidental
in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil
of truth. For that visit to Oxbridge and the luncheon and the dinner had
started a swarm of questions. Why did men drink wine and women water?
Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has
poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of
works of art?--a thousand questions at once suggested themselves. But
one needed answers, not questions; and an answer was only to be had by
consulting the learned and the unprejudiced, who have removed themselves
above the strife of tongue and the confusion of body and issued the
result of their reasoning and research in books which are to be found
in the British Museum. If truth is not to be found on the shelves of
the British Museum, where, I asked myself, picking up a notebook and a
pencil, is truth?
Thus provided, thus confident and enquiring, I set out in the pursuit of
truth. The day, though not actually wet, was dismal, and the streets in
the neighbourhood of the Museum were full of open coal-holes, down which
sacks were showering; four-wheeled cabs were drawing up and depositing
on the pavement corded boxes containing, presumably, the entire wardrobe
of some Swiss or Italian family seeking fortune or refuge or some other
desirable commodity which is to be found in the boarding-houses of
Bloomsbury in the winter. The usual hoarse-voiced men paraded the
streets with plants on barrows. Some shouted; others sang. London was
like a workshop. London was like a machine. We were all being shot
backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern.
The British Museum was another department of the factory. The
swing-doors swung open; and there one stood under the vast dome, as if
one were a thought in the huge bald forehead which is so splendidly
encircled by a band of famous names. One went to the counter; one took a
slip of paper; one opened a volume of the catalogue, and the five dots
here indicate five separate minutes of stupefaction, wonder and
bewilderment. Have you any notion of how many books are written about
women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are
written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed
animal in the universe? Here had I come with a notebook and a pencil
proposing to spend a morning reading, supposing' that at the end of the
morning I should have transferred the truth to my notebook. But I should
need to be a herd of elephants, I thought, and a wilderness of spiders,
desperately referring to the animals that are reputed longest lived and
most multitudinously eyed, to cope with all this. I should need claws of
steel and beak of brass even to penetrate the husk. How shall I ever
find the grains of truth embedded in all this mass of paper? I asked
myself, and in despair began running my eye up and down the long list of
titles. Even the names of the books gave me food for thought. Sex and
its nature might well attract doctors and biologists; but what was
surprising and difficult of explanation was the fact that sex--woman,
that is to say--also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered
novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken
no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not
women. Some of these books were, on the face of it, frivolous and
facetious; but many, on the other hand, were serious and prophetic,
moral and hortatory. Merely to read the titles suggested innumerable
schoolmasters, innumerable clergymen mounting their platforms and
pulpits and holding forth with loquacity which far exceeded the hour
usually alloted to such discourse on this one subject. It was a most
strange phenomenon; and apparently--here I consulted the letter M--one
confined to the male sex. Women do not write books about men--a fact
that I could not help welcoming with relief, for if I had first to read
all that men have written about women, then all that women have written
about men, the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower
twice before I could set pen to paper. So, making a perfectly arbitrary
choice of a dozen volumes or so, I sent my slips of paper to lie in the
wire tray, and waited in my stall, among the other seekers for the
essential oil of truth.
What could be the reason, then, of this curious disparity, I wondered,
drawing cart-wheels on the slips of paper provided by the British
taxpayer for other purposes. Why are women, judging from this catalogue,
so much more interesting to men than men are to women? A very curious
fact it seemed, and my mind wandered to picture the lives of men who
spend their time in writing books about women; whether they were old or
young, married or unmarried, red-nosed or hump-backed--anyhow, it was
flattering, vaguely, to feel oneself the object of such attention
provided that it was not entirely bestowed by the crippled and the
infirm--so I pondered until all such frivolous thoughts were ended by an
avalanche of books sliding down on to the desk in front of me. Now the
trouble began. The student who has been trained in research at Oxbridge
has no doubt some method of shepherding his question past all
distractions till it runs into his answer as a sheep runs into its pen.
The student by my side, for instance, who was copying assiduously from a
scientific manual, was, I felt sure, extracting pure nuggets of the
essential ore every ten minutes or so. His little grunts of satisfaction
indicated so much. But if, unfortunately, one has had no training in a
university, the question far from being shepherded to its pen flies like
a frightened flock hither and thither, helter-skelter, pursued by a
whole pack of hounds. Professors, schoolmasters, sociologists,
clergymen, novelists, essayists, journalists, men who had no
qualification save that they were not women, chased my simple and single
question--Why are some women poor?--until it became fifty questions;
until the fifty questions leapt frantically into midstream and were
carried away. Every page in my notebook was scribbled over with notes.
To show the state of mind I was in, I will read you a few of them,
explaining that the page was headed quite simply, WOMEN AND POVERTY, in
block letters; but what followed was something like this:
Condition in Middle Ages of,
Habits in the Fiji Islands of,
Worshipped as goddesses by,
Weaker in moral sense than,
Greater conscientiousness of,
South Sea Islanders, age of puberty among,
Offered as sacrifice to,
Small size of brain of,
Profounder sub-consciousness of,
Less hair on the body of,
Mental, moral and physical inferiority of,
Love of children of,
Greater length of life of,
Weaker muscles of,
Strength of affections of,
Higher education of,
Shakespeare's opinion of,
Lord Birkenhead's opinion of,
Dean Inge's opinion of,
La Bruyere's opinion of,
Dr Johnson's opinion of,
Mr Oscar Browning's opinion of, . . .
Here I drew breath and added, indeed, in the margin, Why does Samuel
Butler say, 'Wise men never say what they think of women'? Wise men
never say anything else apparently. But, I continued, leaning back in my
chair and looking at the vast dome in which I was a single but by now
somewhat harassed thought, what is so unfortunate is that wise men never
think the same thing about women. Here is Pope:
Most women have no character at all.
And here is La Bruyиre:
Les femmes sont extrкmes, elles sont meilleures ou pires que les
a direct contradiction by keen observers who were contemporary. Are they
capable of education or incapable? Napoleon thought them incapable. Dr
Johnson thought the opposite. [* '"Men know that women are an overmatch
for them, and therefore they choose the weakest or the most ignorant. If
they did not think so, they never could he afraid of women knowing as
much as themselves." . . . In justice to the sex, I think it but candid
to acknowledge that, in a subsequent conversation, he told me that he
was serious in what he said.'--BOSWELL, THE JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE
HEBRIDES.] Have they souls or have they not souls? Some savages say they
have none. Others, on the contrary, maintain that women are half divine
and worship them on that account. [* The ancient Germans believed that
there was something holy in women, and accordingly consulted them as
oracles.'--FRAZER, GOLDEN BOUGH.] Some sages hold that they are
shallower in the brain; others that they are deeper in the
consciousness. Goethe honoured them; Mussolini despises them. Wherever
one looked men thought about women and thought differently. It was
impossible to make head or tail of it all, I decided, glancing with envy
at the reader next door who was making the neatest abstracts, headed
often with an A or a B or a C, while my own notebook rioted with the
wildest scribble of contradictory jottings. It was distressing, it was
bewildering, it was humiliating. Truth had run through my fingers. Every
drop had escaped.
I could not possibly go home, I reflected, and add as a serious
contribution to the study of women and fiction that women have less hair
on their bodies than men, or that the age of puberty among the South Sea
Islanders is nine--or is it ninety?--even the handwriting had become in
its distraction indecipherable. It was disgraceful to have nothing more
weighty or respectable to show after a whole morning's work. And if I
could not grasp the truth about W. (as for brevity's sake I had come to
call her) in the past, why bother about W. in the future? It seemed pure
waste of time to consult all those gentlemen who specialize in woman and
her effect on whatever it may be--politics, children, wages,
morality--numerous and learned as they are. One might as well leave
their books unopened.
But while I pondered I had unconsciously, in my listlessness, in my
desperation, been drawing a picture where I should, like my neighbour,
have been writing a conclusion. I had been drawing a face, a figure. It
was the face and the figure of Professor von X engaged in writing his
monumental work entitled THE MENTAL, MORAL, AND PHYSICAL INFERIORITY OF
THE FEMALE SEX. He was not in my picture a man attractive to women. He
was heavily built; he had a great jowl; to balance that he had very
small eyes; he was very red in the face. His expression suggested that
he was labouring under some emotion that made him jab his pen on the
paper as if he were killing some noxious insect as he wrote, but even
when he had killed it that did not satisfy him; he must go on killing
it; and even so, some cause for anger and irritation remained. Could it
be his wife, I asked, looking at my picture? Was she in love with a
cavalry officer? Was the cavalry officer slim and elegant and dressed in
astrakhan? Had he been laughed at, to adopt the Freudian theory, in his
cradle by a pretty girl? For even in his cradle the professor, I
thought, could not have been an attractive child. Whatever the reason,
the professor was made to look very angry and very ugly in my sketch, as
he wrote his great book upon the mental, moral and physical inferiority
of women. Drawing pictures was an idle way of finishing an unprofitable
morning's work. Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the
submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. A very elementary exercise
in psychology, not to be dignified by the name of psychoanalysis, showed
me, on looking at my notebook, that the sketch of the angry professor
had been made in anger. Anger had snatched my pencil while I dreamt. But
what was anger doing there? Interest, confusion, amusement, boredom--all
these emotions I could trace and name as they succeeded each other
throughout the morning. Had anger, the black snake, been lurking among
them? Yes, said the sketch, anger had. It referred me unmistakably to
the one book, to the one phrase, which had roused the demon; it was the
professor's statement about the mental, moral and physical inferiority
of women. My heart had leapt. My cheeks had burnt. I had flushed with
anger. There was nothing specially remarkable, however foolish, in that.
One does not like to be told that one is naturally the inferior of a
little man--I looked at the student next me--who breathes hard, wears a
ready-made tie, and has not shaved this fortnight. One has certain
foolish vanities. It is only human nature, I reflected, and began
drawing cartwheels and circles over the angry professor's face till he
looked like a burning bush or a flaming comet--anyhow, an apparition
without human semblance or significance. The professor was nothing now
but a faggot burning on the top of Hampstead Heath. Soon my own anger
was explained and done with; but curiosity remained. How explain the
anger of the professors? Why were they angry? For when it came to
analysing the impression left by these books there was always an element
of heat. This heat took many forms; it showed itself in satire, in
sentiment, in curiosity, in reprobation. But there was another element
which was often present and could not immediately be identified. Anger,
I called it. But it was anger that had gone underground and mixed itself
with all kinds of other emotions. To judge from its odd effects, it was
anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.
Whatever the reason, all these books, I thought, surveying the pile on
the desk, are worthless for my purposes. They were worthless
scientifically, that is to say, though humanly they were full of
instruction, interest, boredom, and very queer facts about the habits of
the Fiji Islanders. They had been written in the red light of emotion
and not in the white light of truth. Therefore they must be returned to
the central desk and restored each to his own cell in the enormous
honeycomb. All that I had retrieved from that morning's work had been
the one fact of anger. The professors--I lumped them together thus--were
angry. But why, I asked myself, having returned the books, why, I
repeated, standing under the colonnade among the pigeons and the
prehistoric canoes, why are they angry? And, asking myself this
question, I strolled off to find a place for luncheon. What is the real
nature of what I call for the moment their anger? I asked. Here was a
puzzle that would last all the time that it takes to be served with food
in a small restaurant somewhere near the British Museum. Some previous
luncher had left the lunch edition of the evening paper on a chair, and,
waiting to be served, I began idly reading the headlines. A ribbon of
very large letters ran across the page. Somebody had made a big score in
South Africa. Lesser ribbons announced that Sir Austen Chamberlain was
at Geneva. A meat axe with human hair on it had been found in a cellar.
Mr justice ---- commented in the Divorce Courts upon the Shamelessness
of Women. Sprinkled about the paper were other pieces of news. A film
actress had been lowered from a peak in California and hung suspended in
mid-air. The weather was going to be foggy. The most transient visitor
to this planet, I thought, who picked up this paper could not fail to be
aware, even from this scattered testimony, that England is under the
rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the
dominance of the professor. His was the power and the money and the
influence. He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and
sub-editor. He was the Foreign Secretary and the judge. He was the
cricketer; he owned the racehorses and the yachts. He Was the director
of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders. He
left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself. He
suspended the film actress in mid-air. He will decide if the hair on the
meat axe is human; he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and
hang him, or let him go free. With the exception of the fog he seemed to
control everything. Yet he was angry. I knew that he was angry by this
token. When I read what he wrote about women--I thought, not of what he
was saying, but of himself. When an arguer argues dispassionately he
thinks only of the argument; and the reader cannot help thinking of the
argument too. If he had written dispassionately about women, had used
indisputable proofs to establish his argument and had shown no trace of
wishing that the result should be one thing rather than another, one
would not have been angry either. One would have accepted the fact, as
one accepts the fact that a pea is green or a canary yellow. So be it, I
should have said. But I had been angry because he was angry. Yet it
seemed absurd, I thought, turning over the evening paper, that a man
with all this power should be angry. Or is anger, I wondered, somehow,
the familiar, the attendant sprite on power? Rich people, for example,
are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their
wealth. The professors, or patriarchs, as it might be more accurate to
call them, might be angry for that reason partly, but partly for one
that lies a little less obviously on the surface. Possibly they were not
'angry' at all; often, indeed, they were admiring, devoted, exemplary
in the relations of private life. Possibly when the professor insisted a
little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned
not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what
he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis,
because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both
sexes--and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the
pavement--is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for
gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of
illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without
self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate
this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By
thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one
has some innate superiority--it may be wealth, or rank, a straight
nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney--for there is no end to
the pathetic devices of the human imagination--over other people. Hence
the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to
rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race
indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the
chief sources of his power. But let me turn the light of this
observation on to real life, I thought. Does it help to explain some of
those psychological puzzles that one notes in the margin of daily life?
Does it explain my astonishment of the other day when Z, most humane,
most modest of men, taking up some book by Rebecca West and reading a
passage in it, exclaimed, 'The arrant feminist! She says that men are
snobs!' The exclamation, to me so surprising--for why was Miss West an
arrant feminist for making a possibly true if uncomplimentary statement
about the other sex?--was not merely the cry of wounded vanity; it was a
protest against some infringement of his power to believe in himself.
Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the
magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its
natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp
and jungle. The glories of all our wars would he unknown. We should
still be scratching the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones
and bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took
our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never
have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or
lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are
essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and
Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for
if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to
explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it
serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how
impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture
is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and
rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism.
For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass
shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving
judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up
and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and
at dinner at least twice the size he really is? So I reflected,
crumbling my bread and stirring my coffee and now and again looking at
the people in the street. The looking-glass vision is of supreme
importance because it charges the vitality; it stimulates the nervous
system. Take it away and man may die, like the drug fiend deprived of
his cocaine. Under the spell of that illusion, I thought, looking out of
the window, half the people on the pavement are striding to work. They
put on their hats and coats in the morning under its agreeable rays.
They start the day confident, braced, believing themselves desired at
Miss Smith's tea party; they say to themselves as they go into the room,
I am the superior of half the people here, and it is thus that they
speak with that self-confidence, that self-assurance, which have had such
profound consequences in public life and lead to such curious notes in
the margin of the private mind.
But these contributions to the dangerous and fascinating subject of the
psychology of the other sex--it is one, I hope, that you will
investigate when you have five hundred a year of your own--were
interrupted by the necessity of paying the bill. It came to five
shillings and ninepence. I gave the waiter a ten-shilling note and he
went to bring me change. There was another ten-shilling note in my
purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath
away the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. I
open it and there they are. Society gives me chicken and coffee, bed and
lodging, in return for a certain number of pieces of paper which were
left me by an aunt, for no other reason than that I share her name.
My aunt, Mary Beton, I must tell you, died by a fall from her horse when
she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. The news of my legacy
reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that
gave votes to women. A solicitor's letter fell into the post-box and
when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year
for ever. Of the two--the vote and the money--the money, I own, seemed
infinitely the more important. Before that I had made my living by
cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here or a
wedding there; I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes,
reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet
to small children in a kindergarten. Such were the chief occupations
that were open to women before 1918. I need not, I am afraid, describe
in any detail the hardness of the work, for you know perhaps women who
have done it; nor the difficulty of living on the money when it was
earned, for you may have tried. But what still remains with me as a
worse infliction than either was the poison of fear and bitterness which
those days bred in me. To begin with, always to be doing work that one
did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning,
not always necessarily perhaps, but it seemed necessary and the stakes
were too great to run risks; and then the thought of that one gift which
it was death to hide--a small one but dear to the possessor--perishing
and with it my self, my soul,--all this became like a rust eating away
the bloom of the spring, destroying the tree at its heart. However, as I
say, my aunt died; and whenever I change a ten-shilling note a little of
that rust and corrosion is rubbed off, fear and bitterness go. Indeed, I
thought, slipping the silver into my purse, it is remarkable,
remembering the bitterness of those days, what a change of temper a
fixed income will bring about. No force in the world can take from me my
five hundred pounds. Food, house and clothing are mine forever.
Therefore not merely do effort and labour cease, but also hatred and
bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not
flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. So imperceptibly I found
myself adopting a new attitude towards the other half of the human race.
It was absurd to blame any class or any sex, as a whole. Great bodies of
people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by
instincts which are not within their control. They too, the patriarchs,
the professors, had endless difficulties, terrible drawbacks to contend
with. Their education had been in some ways as faulty as my own. It had
bred in them defects as great. True, they had money and power, but only
at the cost of harbouring in their breasts an eagle, a vulture, forever
tearing the liver out and plucking at the lungs--the instinct for
possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other
people's fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and flags;
battleships and poison gas; to offer up their own lives and their
children's lives. Walk through the Admiralty Arch (I had reached that
monument), or any other avenue given up to trophies and cannon, and
reflect upon the kind of glory celebrated there. Or watch in the spring
sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make
money and more money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred
pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine. These are unpleasant
instincts to harbour, I reflected. They are bred of the conditions of
life; of the lack of civilization, I thought, looking at the statue of
the Duke of Cambridge, and in particular at the feathers in his cocked
hat, with a fixity that they have scarcely ever received before. And, as
I realized these drawbacks, by degrees fear and bitterness modified
themselves into pity and toleration; and then in a year or two, pity and
toleration went, and the greatest release of all came, which is freedom
to think of things in themselves. That building, for example, do I like
it or not? Is that picture beautiful or not? Is that in my opinion a
good book or a bad? Indeed my aunt's legacy unveiled the sky to me, and
substituted for the large and imposing figure of a gentleman, which
Milton recommended for my perpetual adoration, a view of the open sky.
So thinking, so speculating I found my way back to my house by the
river. Lamps were being lit and an indescribable change had come over
London since the morning hour. It was as if the great machine after
labouring all day had made with our help a few yards of something very
exciting and beautiful--a fiery fabric flashing with red eyes, a tawny
monster roaring with hot breath. Even the wind seemed flung like a flag
as it lashed the houses and rattled the hoardings.
In my little street, however, domesticity prevailed. The house painter
was descending his ladder; the nursemaid was wheeling the perambulator
carefully in and out back to nursery tea; the coal-heaver was folding
his empty sacks on top of each other; the woman who keeps the green
grocer's shop was adding up the day's takings with her hands in red
mittens. But so engrossed was I with the problem you have laid upon my
shoulders that I could not see even these usual sights without referring
them to one centre. I thought how much harder it is now than it must
have been even a century ago to say which of these em ployments is the
higher, the more necessary. Is it better to be a coal-heaver or a
nursemaid; is the charwoman who has brought up eight children of less
value to the world than, the barrister who has made a hundred thousand
pounds? it is useless to ask such questions; for nobody can answer
them. Not only do the comparative values of charwomen and lawyers rise
and fall from decade to decade, but we have no rods with which to
measure them even as they are at the moment. I had been foolish to ask
my professor to furnish me with 'indisputable proofs' of this or that in
his argument about women. Even if one could state the value of any one
gift at the moment, those values will change; in a century's time very
possibly they will have changed completely. Moreover, in a hundred
years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be
the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities
and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal.
The shopwoman will drive an engine. All assumptions founded on the facts
observed when women were the protected sex will have disappeared--as,
for example (here a squad of soldiers marched down the street), that
women and clergymen and gardeners live longer than other people. Remove
that protection, expose them to the same exertions and activities, make
them soldiers and sailors and engine-drivers and dock labourers, and
will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker, than men that
one will say, 'I saw a woman to-day', as one used to say, 'I saw an
aeroplane'. Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a
protected occupation, I thought, opening the door. But what bearing has
all this upon the subject of my paper, Women and Fiction? I asked, going
It was disappointing not to have brought back in the evening some
important statement, some authentic fact. Women are poorer than men
because--this or that. Perhaps now it would be better to give up seeking
for the truth, and receiving on one's head an avalanche of opinion hot
as lava, discoloured as dish-water. It would be better to draw the
curtains; to shut out distractions; to light the lamp; to narrow the
enquiry and to ask the historian, who records not opinions but facts, to
describe under what conditions women lived, not throughout the ages, but
in England, say, in the time of Elizabeth.
For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that
extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of
song or sonnet. What were the conditions in which women lived? I asked
myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a
pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider's
web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all
four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible;
Shakespeare's plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by
themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge,
torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in
mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human
beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and
money and the houses we live in.
I went, therefore, to the shelf where the histories stand and took down
one of the latest, Professor Trevelyan's HISTORY OF ENGLAND. Once more I
looked up Women, found 'position of' and turned to the pages indicated.
'Wife-beating', I read, 'was a recognized right of man, and was
practised without shame by high as well as low. . . . Similarly,' the
historian goes on, 'the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of
her parents' choice was liable to be locked up, beaten and flung about
the room, without any shock being inflicted on public opinion. Marriage
was not an affair of personal affection, but of family avarice,
particularly in the "chivalrous" upper classes. . . . Betrothal often
took place while one or both of the parties was in the cradle, and
marriage when they were scarcely out of the nurses' charge.' That was
about 1470, soon after Chaucer's time. The next reference to the
position of women is some two hundred years later, in the time of the
Stuarts. 'It was still the exception for women of the upper and middle
class to choose their own husbands, and when the husband had been
assigned, he was lord and master, so far at least as law and custom
could make him. Yet even so,' Professor Trevelyan concludes, 'neither
Shakespeare's women nor those of authentic seventeenth-century memoirs,
like the Verneys and the Hutchinsons, seem wanting in personality and
character.' Certainly, if we consider it, Cleopatra must have had a way
with her; Lady Macbeth, one would suppose, had a will of her own;
Rosalind, one might conclude, was an attractive girl. Professor
Trevelyan is speaking no more than the truth when he remarks that
Shakespeare's women do not seem wanting in personality and character.
Not being a historian, one might go even further and say that women have
burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning
of time--Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phedre,
Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi, among the
dramatists; then among the prose writers: Millamant, Clarissa, Becky
Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Madame de Guermantes--the names flock
to mind, nor do they recall women 'lacking in personality and
character.' Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction
written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance;
very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful
and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even
greater [1*]. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor
Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room.
[1* 'It remains a strange and almost inexplicable fact that in Athena's
city, where women were kept in almost Oriental suppression as
odalisques or drudges, the stage should yet have produced figures like
Clytemnestra and Cassandra Atossa and Antigone, Phedre and Medea, and
all the other heroines who dominate play after play of the "misogynist"
Euripides. But the paradox of this world where in real life a
respectable woman could hardly show her face alone in the street, and
yet on the stage woman equals or surpasses man, has never been
satisfactorily explained. In modern tragedy the same predominance
exists. At all events, a very cursory survey of Shakespeare's work
(similarly with Webster, though not with Marlowe or Jonson) suffices to
reveal how this dominance, this initiative of women, persists from
Rosalind to Lady Macbeth. So too in Racine; six of his tragedies bear
their heroines' names; and what male characters of his shall we set
against Hermione and Andromaque, Berenice and Roxane, Phedre and
Athalie? So again with Ibsen; what men shall we match with Solveig and
Nora, Heda and Hilda Wangel and Rebecca West?'--F. L. LUCAS, TRAGEDY,
A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the
highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She
pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.
She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she
was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger.
Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in
literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could
scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.
It was certainly an odd monster that one made up by reading the
historians first and the poets afterwards--a worm winged like an eagle;
the spirit of life and beauty in a kitchen chopping up suet. But these
monsters, however amusing to the imagination, have no existence in fact.
What one must do to bring her to life was to think poetically and
prosaically at one and the same moment, thus keeping in touch with
fact--that she is Mrs Martin, aged thirty-six, dressed in blue, wearing
a black hat and brown shoes; but not losing sight of fiction
either--that she is a vessel in which all sorts of spirits and forces
are coursing and flashing perpetually. The moment, however, that one
tries this method with the Elizabethan woman, one branch of illumination
fails; one is held up by the scarcity of facts. One knows nothing
detailed, nothing perfectly true and substantial about her. History
scarcely mentions her. And I turned to Professor Trevelyan again to see
what history meant to him. I found by looking at his chapter headings
that it meant----
'The Manor Court and the Methods of Open-field Agriculture . . . The
Cistercians and Sheep-farming . . . The Crusades . . . The University
. . . The House of Commons . . . The Hundred Years' War . . . The Wars of
the Roses . . . The Renaissance Scholars . . . The Dissolution of the
Monasteries . . . Agrarian and Religious Strife . . . The Origin of
English Sea-power. . . The Armada. . .' and so on. Occasionally an
individual woman is mentioned, an Elizabeth, or a Mary; a queen or a
great lady. But by no possible means could middle-class women with
nothing but brains and character at their command have taken part in any
one of the great movements which, brought together, constitute the
historian's view of the past. Nor shall we find her in collection of
anecdotes. Aubrey hardly mentions her. She never writes her own life
and scarcely keeps a diary; there are only a handful of her letters
in existence. She left no plays or poems by which we can judge her. What
one wants, I thought--and why does not some brilliant student at Newnham
or Girton supply it?--is a mass of information; at what age did she
marry; how many children had she as a rule; what was her house like, had
she a room to herself; did she do the cooking; would she be likely to
have a servant? All these facts lie somewhere, presumably, in parish
registers and account books; the life of the average Elizabethan woman
must be scattered about somewhere, could one collect it and make a book
of it. It would be ambitious beyond my daring, I thought, looking about
the shelves for books that were not there, to suggest to the students of
those famous colleges that they should rewrite history, though I own
that it often seems a little queer as it is, unreal, lop-sided; but why
should they not add a supplement to history, calling it, of course, by
some inconspicuous name so that women might figure there without
impropriety? For one often catches a glimpse of them in the lives of the
great, whisking away into the back ground, concealing, I sometimes
think, a wink, a laugh, perhaps a tear. And, after all, we have lives
enough of Jane Austen; it scarcely seems necessary to consider again the
influence of the tragedies of Joanna Baillie upon the poetry of Edgar
Allan Poe; as for myself, I should not mind if the homes and haunts of
Mary Russell Mitford were closed to the public for a century at least.
But what I find deplorable, I continued, looking about the bookshelves
again, is that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth
century. I have no model in my mind to turn about this way and that.
Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age,
and I am not sure how they were educated; whether they were taught to
write; whether they had sitting-rooms to themselves; how many women had
children before they were twenty-one; what, in short, they did from
eight in the morning till eight at night. They had no money evidently;
according to Professor Trevelyan they were married whether they liked it
or not before they were out of the nursery, at fifteen or sixteen very
likely. It would have been extremely odd, even upon this showing, had
one of them suddenly written the plays of Shakespeare, I concluded, and
I thought of that old gentleman, who is dead now, but was a bishop, I
think, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present,
or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. He wrote to the papers
about it. He also told a lady who applied to him for information that
cats do not as a matter of fact go to heaven, though they have, he
added, souls of a sort. How much thinking those old gentlemen used to
save one! How the borders of ignorance shrank back at their approach!
Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare.
Be that as it may, I could not help thinking, as I looked at the works
of Shakespeare on the shelf, that the bishop was right at least in this;
it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to
have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Let me
imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened
had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us
say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably,--his mother was an
heiress--to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin--Ovid,
Virgil and Horace--and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is
well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and
had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the
neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That
escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a
taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door.
Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and
lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody,
practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets,
and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his
extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was
as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But
she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and
logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now
and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then
her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew
and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply
but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of
life for a woman and loved their daughter--indeed, more likely than not
she was the apple of her father's eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages
up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire
to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be
betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that
marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her
father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt
him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a
chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his
eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force
of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her
belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the
road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge
were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift
like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for
the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said.
Men laughed in her face. The manager--a fat, looselipped man--guffawed.
He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting--no woman,
he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted--you can imagine what.
She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner
in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for
fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women
and the study of their ways. At last--for she was very young, oddly like
Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded
brows--at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found
herself with child by that gentleman and so--who shall measure the heat
and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's
body?--killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some
cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and
That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in
Shakespeare's day had had Shakespeare's genius. But for my part, I agree
with the deceased bishop, if such he was--it is unthinkable that any
woman in Shakespeare's day should have had Shakespeare's genius. For
genius like Shakespeare's is not born among labouring, uneducated,
servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the
Britons. It is not born to-day among the working classes. How, then,
could it have been born among women whose work began, according to
Professor Trevelyan, almost before they were out of the nursery, who
were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of
law and custom? Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it
must have existed among the working classes. Now and again an Emily
Brontл or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But
certainly it never got itself on to paper. When, however, one reads of
a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman
selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I
think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some
mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontл who dashed her brains
out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the
torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess
that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a
woman. It was a woman Edward Fitzgerald, I think, suggested who made the
ballads and the folk-songs, crooning them to her children, beguiling her
spinning with them, or the length of the winter's night.
This may be true or it may be false--who can say?--but what is true in
it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare's sister as I
had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth
century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her
days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half
wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology
to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for
poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so
tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must
have lost her health and sanity to a certainty. No girl could have
walked to London and stood at a stage door and forced her way into the
presence of actor-managers without doing herself a violence and
suffering an anguish which may have been irrational--for chastity may be
a fetish invented by certain societies for unknown reasons--but were
none the less inevitable. Chastity had then, it has even now, a
religious importance in a woman's life, and has so wrapped itself round
with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light
of day demands courage of the rarest. To have lived a free life in
London in the six teenth century would have meant for a woman who was
poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have
killed her. Had she survived, whatever she had written would have been
twisted and deformed, issuing from a strained and morbid imagination.
And undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no
plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned. That refuge she would
have sought certainly. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that
dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century.
Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife
as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by
using the name of a man. Thus they did homage to the convention, which
if not implanted by the other sex was liberally encouraged by them (the
chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of, said Pericles, himself a
much-talked-of man) that publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity
runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them. They
are not even now as concerned about the health of their fame as men are,
and, speaking generally, will pass a tombstone or a signpost without
feeling an irresistible desire to cut their names on it, as Alf, Bert or
Chas. must do in obedience to their instinct, which murmurs if it sees a
fine woman go by, or even a dog, Ce chien est a moi. And, of course, it
may not be a dog, I thought, remembering Parliament Square, the Sieges
Allee and other avenues; it may be a piece of land or a man with curly
black hair. It is one of the great advantages of being a woman that one
can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwoman
That woman, then, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth
century, was an unhappy woman, a woman at strife against herself. All
the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the
state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain. But
what is the state of mind that is most propitious to the act of
creation? I asked. Can one come by any notion of the state that furthers
and makes possible that strange activity? Here I opened the volume
containing the Tragedies of Shakespeare. What was Shakespeare's state of
mind, for instance, when he wrote LEAR and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA? It was
certainly the state of mind most favourable to poetry that there has
ever existed. But Shakespeare himself said nothing about it. We only
know casually and by chance that he 'never blotted a line'. Nothing
indeed was ever said by the artist himself about his state of mind until
the eighteenth century perhaps. Rousseau perhaps began it. At any rate,
by the nineteenth century self-consciousness had developed so far that it
was the habit for men of letters to describe their minds in confessions
and autobiographies. Their lives also were written, and their letters
were printed after their deaths. Thus, though we do not know what
Shakespeare went through when he wrote LEAR, we do know what Carlyle
went through when he wrote the FRENCH REVOLUTION; what Flaubert went
through when he wrote MADAME BOVARY; what Keats was going through when
he tried to write poetry against the coming death and the indifference
of the world.
And one gathers from this enormous modern literature of confession and
self-analysis that to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of
prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will
come from the writer's mind whole and entire. Generally material
circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt;
money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all
these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world's
notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels
and histories; it does not need them. It does not care whether Flaubert
finds the right word or whether Carlyle scrupulously verifies this or
that fact. Naturally, it will not pay for what it does not want. And so
the writer, Keats, Flaubert, Carlyle, suffers, especially in the
creative years of youth, every form of distraction and discouragement. A
curse, a cry of agony, rises from those books of analysis and
confession. 'Mighty poets in their misery dead'--that is the burden of
their song. If anything comes through in spite of all this, it is a
miracle, and probably no book is born entire and uncrippled as it was
But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these
difficulties were infinitely more formidable. In the first place, to
have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room,
was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or
very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since
her pin money, which depended on the goodwill of her father, was only
enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as
came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking
tour, a little journey to France, from the separate lodging which, even
if it were miserable enough, sheltered them from the claims and
tyrannies of their families. Such material difficulties were formidable;
but much worse were the immaterial. The indifference of the world which
Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear
was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to
her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to
me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What's the good of your
writing? Here the psychologists of Newnham and Girton might come to our
help, I thought, looking again at the blank spaces on the shelves. For
surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the
artist should be measured, as I have seen a dairy company measure the
effect of ordinary milk and Grade A milk upon the body of the rat. They
set two rats in cages side by side, and of the two one was furtive,
timid and small, and the other was glossy, bold and big. Now what food
do we feed women as artists upon? I asked, remembering, I suppose, that
dinner of prunes and custard. To answer that question I had only to open
the evening paper and to read that Lord Birkenhead is of opinion--but
really I am not going to trouble to copy out Lord Birkenhead's opinion
upon the writing of women. What Dean Inge says I will leave in peace.
The Harley Street specialist may be allowed to rouse the echoes of
Harley Street with his vociferations without raising a hair on my head.
I will quote, however, Mr Oscar Browning, because Mr Oscar Browning was
a great figure in Cambridge at one time, and used to examine the
students at Girton and Newnham. Mr Oscar Browning was wont to declare
'that the impression left on his mind, after looking over any set of
examination papers, was that, irrespective of the marks he might give,
the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man'. After
saying that Mr Browning went back to his rooms--and it is this sequel
that endears him and makes him a human figure of some bulk and
majesty--he went back to his rooms and found a stable-boy lying on the
sofa--'a mere skeleton, his cheeks were cavernous and sallow, his teeth
were black, and he did not appear to have the full use of his limbs. . . .
"That's Arthur" [said Mr Browning]. "He's a dear boy really and most
high-minded."' The two pictures always seem to me to complete each
other. And happily in this age of biography the two pictures often do
complete each other, so that we are able to interpret the opinions of
great men not only by what they say, but by what they do.
But though this is possible now, such opinions coming from the lips of
important people must have been formidable enough even fifty years ago.
Let us suppose that a father from the highest motives did not wish his
daughter to leave home and become writer, painter or scholar. 'See what
Mr Oscar Browning says,' he would say; and there so was not only Mr
Oscar Browning; there was the SATURDAY REVIEW; there was Mr Greg--the
'essentials of a woman's being', said Mr Greg emphatically, 'are that
THEY ARE SUPPORTED BY, AND THEY MINISTER TO, MEN'--there was an enormous
body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected
of women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these
opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in
the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told
profoundly upon her work. There would always have been that
assertion--you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that--to
protest against, to overcome. Probably for a novelist this germ is no
longer of much effect; for there have been women novelists of merit. But
for painters it must still have some sting in it; and for musicians, I
imagine, is even now active and poisonous in the extreme. The woman
composer stands where the actress stood in the time of Shakespeare. Nick
Greene, I thought, remembering the story I had made about Shakespeare's
sister, said that a woman acting put him in mind of a dog dancing.
Johnson repeated the phrase two hundred years later of women preaching.
And here, I said, opening a book about music, we have the very words
used again in this year of grace, 1928, of women who try to write music.
'Of Mlle. Germaine Tailleferre one can only repeat Dr Johnson's dictum
concerning, a woman preacher, transposed into terms of music. "Sir, a
woman's composing is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not
done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."' [* A SURVEY OF
CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, Cecil Gray, P. 246.] So accurately does history
Thus, I concluded, shutting Mr Oscar Browning's life and pushing away
the rest, it is fairly evident that even in the nineteenth century a
woman was not encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was
snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted. Her mind must have been
strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of
disproving that. For here again we come within range of that very
interesting and obscure masculine complex which has had so much
influence upon the woman's movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much
that SHE shall be inferior as that HE shall be superior, which plants
him wherever one looks, not only in front of the arts, but barring the
way to politics too, even when the risk to himself seems infinitesimal
and the suppliant humble and devoted. Even Lady Bessborough, I
remembered, with all her passion for politics, must humbly bow herself
and write to Lord Granville Leveson-Gower: '. . . notwithstanding all my
violence in politicks and talking so much on that subject, I perfectly
agree with you that no woman has any business to meddle with that or any
other serious business, farther than giving her opinion (if she is
ask'd).' And so she goes on to spend her enthusiasm where it meets with
no obstacle whatsoever, upon that immensely important subject, Lord
Granville's maiden speech in the House of Commons. The spectacle is
certainly a strange one, I thought. The history of men's opposition to
women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that
emancipation itself. An amusing book might be made of it if some young
student at Girton or Newnham would collect examples and deduce a
theory,--but she would need thick gloves on her hands, and bars to
protect her of solid gold.
But what is amusing now, I recollected, shutting Lady Bessborough, had
to be taken in desperate earnest once. Opinions that one now pastes in a
book labelled cock-a-doodledum and keeps for reading to select audiences
on summer nights once drew tears, I can assure you. Among your
grandmothers and great-grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes
out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. [* See CASSANDRA,
by Florence Nightingale, printed in THE CAUSE, by R. Strachey.]
Moreover, it is all very well for you, who have got yourselves to
college and enjoy sitting-rooms--or is it only bed-sitting-rooms?--of
your own to say that genius should disregard such opinions; that genius
should be above caring what is said of it. Unfortunately, it is
precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them.
Remember Keats. Remember the words he had cut on his tombstone. Think of
Tennyson; think but I need hardly multiply instances of the undeniable,
if very fortunate, fact that it is the nature of the artist to mind
excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the
wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
And this susceptibility of theirs is doubly unfortunate, I thought,
returning again to my original enquiry into what state of mind is most
propitious for creative work, because the mind of an artist, in order to
achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that
is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare's mind, I conjectured,
looking at the book which lay open at ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. There must
be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed.
For though we say that we know nothing about Shakespeare's state of
mind, even as we say that, we are saying something about Shakespeare's
state of mind. The reason perhaps why we know so little of
Shakespeare--compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton--is that his
grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not held
up by some 'revelation' which reminds us of the writer. All desire to
protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make
the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him
and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded. If
ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was
Shakespeare. If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought,
turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare's mind.
That one would find any woman in that state of mind in the sixteenth
century was obviously impossible. One has only to think of the
Elizabethan tombstones with all those children kneeling with clasped
hands; and their early deaths; and to see their houses with their dark,
cramped rooms, to realize that no woman could have written poetry then.
What one would expect to find would be that rather later perhaps some
great lady would take advantage of her comparative freedom and comfort
to publish something with her name to it and risk being thought a
monster. Men, of course, are not snobs, I continued, carefully eschewing
'the arrant feminism' of Miss Rebecca West; but they appreciate with
sympathy for the most part the efforts of a countess to write verse. One
would expect to find a lady of title meeting with far greater
encouragement than an unknown Miss Austen or a Miss Brontл at that time
would have met with. But one would also expect to find that her mind was
disturbed by alien emotions like fear and hatred and that her poems
showed traces of that disturbance. Here is Lady Winchilsea, for example,
I thought, taking down her poems. She was born in the year 1661; she was
noble both by birth and by marriage; she was childless; she wrote
poetry, and one has only to open her poetry to find her bursting out in
indignation against the position of women:
How we are fallen! fallen by mistaken rules,
And Education's more than Nature's fools;
Debarred from all improvements of the mind,
And to be dull, expected and designed;
And if someone would soar above the rest,
With warmer fancy, and ambition pressed,
So strong the opposing faction still appears,
The hopes to thrive can ne'er outweigh the fears.
Clearly her mind has by no means 'consumed all impediments and become
incandescent'. On the contrary, it is harassed and distracted with hates
and grievances. The human race is split up for her into two parties. Men
are the 'opposing faction'; men are hated and feared, because they have
the power to bar her way to what she wants to do--which is to write.
Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
They tell us we mistake our sex and way;
Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play,
Are the accomplishments we should desire;
To write, or read, or think, or to enquire,
Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,
And interrupt the conquests of our prime.
Whilst the dull manage of a servile house
Is held by some our utmost art and use.
Indeed she has to encourage herself to write by supposing that what she
writes will never be published; to soothe herself with the sad chant:
To some few friends, and to thy sorrows sing,
For groves of laurel thou wert never meant;
Be dark enough thy shades, and be thou there content.
Yet it is clear that could she have freed her mind from hate and fear
and not heaped it with bitterness and resentment, the fire was hot
within her. Now and again words issue of pure poetry:
Nor will in fading silks compose,
Faintly the inimitable rose.
--they are rightly praised by Mr Murry, and Pope, it is thought,
remembered and appropriated those others:
Now the jonquille o'ercomes the feeble brain;
We faint beneath the aromatic pain.
It was a thousand pities that the woman who could write like that, whose
mind was tuned to nature and reflection, should have been forced to
anger and bitterness. But how could she have helped herself? I asked,
imagining the sneers and the laughter, the adulation of the toadies, the
scepticism of the professional poet. She must have shut herself up in a
room in the country to write, and been torn asunder by bitterness and
scruples perhaps, though her husband was of the kindest, and their
married life perfection. She 'must have', I say, because when one comes
to seek out the facts about Lady Winchilsea, one finds, as usual, that
almost nothing is known about her. She suffered terribly from
melancholy, which we can explain at least to some extent when we find
her telling us how in the grip of it she would imagine:
My lines decried, and my employment thought
An useless folly or presumptuous fault:
The employment, which was thus censured, was, as far as one can see, the
harmless one of rambling about the fields and dreaming:
My hand delights to trace unusual things,
And deviates from the known and common way,
Nor will in fading silks compose,
Faintly the inimitable rose.
Naturally, if that was her habit and that was her delight, she could
only expect to be laughed at; and, accordingly, Pope or Gay is said to
have satirized her 'as a blue-stocking with an itch for scribbling'.
Also it is thought that she offended Gay by laughing at him. She said
that his TRIVIA showed that 'he was more proper to walk before a chair
than to ride in one'. But this is all 'dubious gossip' and, says Mr
Murry, 'uninteresting'. But there I do not agree with him, for I should
have liked to have had more even of dubious gossip so that I might have
found out or made up some image of this melancholy lady, who loved
wandering in the fields and thinking about unusual things and scorned,
so rashly, so unwisely, 'the dull manage of a servile house'. But she
became diffuse, Mr Murry says. Her gift is all grown about with weeds
and bound with briars. It had no chance of showing itself for the fine
distinguished gift it was. And so, putting, her back on the shelf, I
turned to the other great lady, the Duchess whom Lamb loved,
hare-brained, fantastical Margaret of Newcastle, her elder, but her
contemporary. They were very different, but alike in this that both were
noble and both childless, and both were married to the best of husbands.
In both burnt the same passion for poetry and both are disfigured and
deformed by the same causes. Open the Duchess and one finds the same
outburst of rage. 'Women live like Bats or Owls, labour like Beasts, and
die like Worms. . . .' Margaret too might have been a poet; in our day
all that activity would have turned a wheel of some sort. As it was,
what could bind, tame or civilize for human use that wild, generous,
untutored intelligence? It poured itself out, higgledy-piggledy, in
torrents of rhyme and prose, poetry and philosophy which stand congealed
in quartos and folios that nobody ever reads. She should have had a
microscope put in her hand. She should have been taught to look at the
stars and reason scientifically. Her wits were turned with solitude and
freedom. No one checked her. No one taught her. The professors fawned on
her. At Court they jeered at her. Sir Egerton Brydges complained of her
coarseness--'as flowing from a female of high rank brought up in the
Courts'. She shut herself up at Welbeck alone.
What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish
brings to mind! as if some giant cucumber had spread itself over all the
roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death. What a
waste that the woman who wrote 'the best bred women are those whose
minds are civilest' should have frittered her time away scribbling
nonsense and plunging ever deeper into obscurity and folly till the
people crowded round her coach when she issued out. Evidently the crazy
Duchess became a bogey to frighten clever girls with. Here, I
remembered, putting away the Duchess and opening Dorothy Osborne's
letters, is Dorothy writing to Temple about the Duchess's new book.
'Sure the poore woman is a little distracted, shee could never bee soe
rediculous else as to venture at writeing book's and in verse too, if I
should not sleep this fortnight I should not come to that.'
And so, since no woman of sense and modesty could write books, Dorothy,
who was sensitive and melancholy, the very opposite of the Duchess in
temper, wrote nothing. Letters did not count. A woman might write
letters while she was sitting by her father's sick-bed. She could write
them by the fire whilst the men talked without disturbing them. The
strange thing is, I thought, turning over the pages of Dorothy's
letters, what a gift that untaught and solitary girl had for the framing
of a sentence, for the fashioning of a scene. Listen to her running on:
'After dinner wee sitt and talk till Mr B. com's in question and then I
am gon. the heat of the day is spent in reading or working and about
sixe or seven a Clock, I walke out into a Common that lyes hard by the
house where a great many young wenches keep Sheep and Cow's and sitt in
the shades singing of Ballads; I goe to them and compare their voyces
and Beauty's to some Ancient Shepherdesses that I have read of and finde
a vaste difference there, but trust mee I think these are as innocent as
those could bee. I talke to them, and finde they want nothing to make
them the happiest People in the world, but the knoledge that they are
soe. most commonly when we are in the middest of our discourse one looks
aboute her and spyes her Cow's goeing into the Corne and then away they
all run, as if they had wing's at theire heels. I that am not soe nimble
stay behinde, and when I see them driveing home theire Cattle I think
tis time for mee to retyre too. when I have supped I goe into the Garden
and soe to the syde of a small River that runs by it where I sitt downe
and wish you with mee. . . .'
One could have sworn that she had the makings of a writer in her. But
'if I should not sleep this fortnight I should not come to that'--one
can measure the opposition that was in the air to a woman writing when
one finds that even a woman with a great turn for writing has brought
herself to believe that to write a book was to be ridiculous, even to
show oneself distracted. And so we come, I continued, replacing the
single short volume of Dorothy Osborne's letters upon the shelf, to Mrs
And with Mrs Behn we turn a very important corner on the road. We leave
behind, shut up in their parks among their folios, those solitary great
ladies who wrote without audience or criticism, for their own delight
alone. We come to town and rub shoulders with ordinary people in the
streets. Mrs Behn was a middle-class woman with all the plebeian virtues
of humour, vitality and courage; a woman forced by the death of her
husband and some unfortunate adventures of her own to make her living by
her wits. She had to work on equal terms with men. She made, by working
very hard, enough to live on. The importance of that fact outweighs
anything that she actually wrote, even the splendid 'A Thousand Martyrs
I have made', or 'Love in Fantastic Triumph sat', for here begins the
freedom of the mind, or rather the possibility that in the course of
time the mind will be free to write what it likes. For now that Aphra
Behn had done it, girls could go to their parents and say, You need not
give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen. Of course the answer
for many years to come was, Yes, by living the life of Aphra Behn! Death
would be better! and the door was slammed faster than ever. That
profoundly interesting subject, the value that men set upon women's
chastity and its effect upon their education, here suggests itself for
discussion, and might provide an interesting book if any student at
Girton or Newnham cared to go into the matter. Lady Dudley, sitting in
diamonds among the midges of a Scottish moor, might serve for
frontispiece. Lord Dudley, THE TIMES said when Lady Dudley died the
other day, 'a man of cultivated taste and many accomplishments, was
benevolent and bountiful, but whimsically despotic. He insisted upon his
wife's wearing full dress, even at the remotest shooting-lodge in the
Highlands; he loaded her with gorgeous jewels', and so on, 'he gave her
everything--always excepting any measure of responsibility'. Then Lord
Dudley had a stroke and she nursed him and ruled his estates with
supreme competence for ever after. That whimsical despotism was in the
nineteenth century too.
But to return. Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing at
the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by
degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind,
but was of practical importance. A husband might die, or some disaster
overtake the family. Hundreds of women began as the eighteenth century
drew on to add to their pin money, or to come to the rescue of their
families by making translations or writing the innumerable bad novels
which have ceased to be recorded even in text-books, but are to be
picked up in the fourpenny boxes in the Charing Cross Road. The extreme
activity of mind which showed itself in the later eighteenth century
among women--the talking, and the meeting, the writing of essays on
Shakespeare, the translating of the classics--was founded on the solid
fact that women could make money by writing. Money dignifies what is
frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at 'blue
stockings with an itch for scribbling', but it could not be denied that
they could put money in their purses. Thus, towards the end of the
eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting
history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance
than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses.
The middle-class woman began to write. For if PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
matters, and MIDDLEMARCH and VILLETTE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS matter, then
it matters far more than I can prove in an hour's discourse that women
generally, and not merely the lonely aristocrat shut up in her country
house among her folios and her flatterers, took to writing. Without
those forerunners, Jane Austen and the Brontлs and George Eliot could no
more have written than Shakespeare could have written without Marlowe,
or Marlowe without Chaucer, or Chaucer without those forgotten poets who
paved the ways and tamed the natural savagery of the tongue. For
masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of
many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people,
so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. Jane
Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney, and
George Eliot done homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter--the
valiant old woman who tied a bell to her bedstead in order that she
might wake early and learn Greek. All women together ought to let
flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously
but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who
earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she--shady and amorous
as she was--who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you
to-night: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.
Here, then, one had reached the early nineteenth century. And here, for
the first time, I found several shelves given up entirely to the works
of women. But why, I could not help asking, as I ran my eyes over them,
were they, with very few exceptions, all novels? The original impulse
was to poetry. The 'supreme head of song' was a poetess. Both in France
and in England the women poets precede the women novelists. Moreover, I
thought, looking at the four famous names, what had George Eliot in
common with Emily Brontл? Did not Charlotte Brontл fail entirely to
understand Jane Austen? Save for the possibly relevant fact that not one
of them had a child, four more incongruous characters could not have met
together in a room--so much so that it is tempting to invent a meeting
and a dialogue between them. Yet by some strange force they were all
compelled when they wrote, to write novels. Had it something to do with
being born of the middle class, I asked; and with the fact, which Miss
Emily Davies a little later was so strikingly to demonstrate, that the
middle-class family in the early nineteenth century was possessed only of
a single sitting-room between them? If a woman wrote, she would have to
write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so
vehemently to complain,--"women never have an half hour . . . that they
can call their own"--she was always interrupted. Still it would be
easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play.
Less concentration is required. Jane Austen wrote like that to the end
of her days. 'How she was able to effect all this', her nephew writes in
his Memoir, 'is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to,
and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room,
subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her
occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any
persons beyond her own family party. [* MEMOIR OF JANE AUSTEN, by her
nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh.] Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or
covered them with a piece of blotting-paper. Then, again, all the
literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was
training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.
Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the
common sitting-room. People's feelings were impressed on her; personal
relations were always before her eyes. Therefore, when the middle-class
woman took to writing, she naturally wrote novels, even though, as seems
evident enough, two of the four famous women here named were not by
nature novelists. Emily Brontл should have written poetic plays; the
overflow of George Eliot's capacious mind should have spread itself when
the creative impulse was spent upon history or biography. They wrote
novels, however; one may even go further, I said, taking PRIDE AND
PREJUDICE from the shelf, and say that they wrote good novels. Without
boasting or giving pain to the opposite sex, one may say that PRIDE AND
PREJUDICE is a good book. At any rate, one would not have been ashamed
to have been caught in the act of writing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Yet Jane
Austen was glad that a hinge creaked, so that she might hide her
manuscript before anyone came in. To Jane Austen there was something
discreditable in writing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. And, I wondered, would
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not
thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors? I read a
page or two to see; but I could not find any signs that her
circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest. That, perhaps, was
the chief miracle about it. Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing
without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without
preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at ANTONY
AND CLEOPATRA; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they
may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for
that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare,
and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and
so does Shakespeare. If Jane Austen suffered in any way from her
circumstances it was in the narrowness of life that was imposed upon
her. It was impossible for a woman to go about alone. She never
travelled; she never drove through London in an omnibus or had luncheon
in a shop by herself. But perhaps it was the nature of Jane Austen not
to want what she had not. Her gift and her circumstances matched each
other completely. But I doubt whether that was true of Charlotte Brontл,
I said, opening JANE EYRE and laying it beside PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
I opened it at chapter twelve and my eye was caught by the phrase
'Anybody may blame me who likes'. What were they blaming Charlotte
Brontл for? I wondered. And I read how Jane Eyre used to go up on to the
roof when Mrs Fairfax was making jellies and looked over the fields at
the distant view. And then she longed--and it was for this that they
blamed her--that 'then I longed for a power of vision which might
overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions
full of life I had heard of but never seen: that then I desired more of
practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind,
of acquaintance with variety of character than was here within my reach.
I valued what was good in Mrs Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I
believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and
what I believed in I wished to behold.
'Who blames me? Many, no doubt, and I shall he called discontented. I
could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to
pain sometimes. . . .
'It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity:
they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in
silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions
ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to
be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need
exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as
their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute
a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in
their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine
themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the
piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh
at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has
pronounced necessary for their sex.
'When thus alone I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh. . . .'
That is an awkward break, I thought. It is upsetting to come upon Grace
Poole all of a sudden. The continuity is disturbed. One might say, I
continued, laying the book down beside PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, that the
woman who wrote those pages had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but
if one reads them over and marks that jerk in them, that indignation,
one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire.
Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where
she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write
wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her
characters. She is at war with her lot. How could she help but die
young, cramped and thwarted?
One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have
happened if Charlotte Brontл had possessed say three hundred a year--but
the foolish woman sold the copyright of her novels outright for fifteen
hundred pounds; had somehow possessed more knowledge of the busy world,
and towns and regions full of life; more practical experience, and
intercourse with her kind and acquaintance with a variety of character.
In those words she puts her finger exactly not only upon her own defects
as a novelist but upon those of her sex at that time. She knew, no one
better, how enormously her genius would have profited if it had not
spent itself in solitary visions over distant fields; if experience and
intercourse and travel had been granted her. But they were not granted;
they were withheld; and we must accept the fact that all those good
novels, VILLETTE, EMMA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, MIDDLEMARCH, were written by
women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a
respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that
respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to
buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write
WUTHERING HEIGHTS or JANE EYRE. One of them, it is true, George Eliot,
escaped after much tribulation, but only to a secluded villa in St
John's Wood. And there she settled down in the shadow of the world's
disapproval. 'I wish it to be understood', she wrote, 'that I should
never invite anyone to come and see me who did not ask for the
invitation'; for was she not living in sin with a married man and might
not the sight of her damage the chastity of Mrs Smith or whoever it
might be that chanced to call? One must submit to the social convention,
and be 'cut off from what is called the world'. At the same time,
on the other side of Europe, there was a young man living freely
with this gypsy or with that great lady; going to the wars; picking up
unhindered and uncensored all that varied experience of human life which
served him so splendidly later when he came to write his books. Had
Tolstoi lived at the Priory in seclusion with a married lady 'cut off
from what is called the world', however edifying the moral lesson, he
could scarcely, I thought, have written WAR AND PEACE.
But one could perhaps go a little deeper into the question of
novel-writing and the effect of sex upon the novelist. If one shuts
one's eyes and thinks of the novel as a whole, it would seem to be a
creation owning a certain looking-glass likeness to life, though of
course with simplifications and distortions innumerable. At any rate, it
is a structure leaving a shape on the mind's eye, built now in squares,
now pagoda shaped, now throwing out wings and arcades, now solidly
compact and domed like the Cathedral of Saint Sofia at Constantinople.
This shape, I thought, thinking back over certain famous novels, starts
in one the kind of emotion that is appropriate to it. But that emotion
at once blends itself with others, for the 'shape' is not made by the
relation of stone to stone, but by the relation of human being to human
being. Thus a novel starts in us all sorts of antagonistic and opposed
emotions. Life conflicts with something that is not life. Hence the
difficulty of coming to any agreement about novels, and the immense sway
that our private prejudices have upon us. On the one hand we feel
You--John the hero--must live, or I shall be in the depths of despair.
On the other, we feel, Alas, John, you must die, because the shape of
the book requires it. Life conflicts with something that is not life.
Then since life it is in part, we judge it as life. James is the sort of
man I most detest, one says. Or, This is a farrago of absurdity. I could
never feel anything of the sort myself. The whole structure, it is
obvious, thinking back on any famous novel, is one of infinite
complexity, because it is thus made up of so many different judgements,
of so many different kinds of emotion. The wonder is that any book so
composed holds together for more than a year or two, or can possibly
mean to the English reader what it means for the Russian or the Chinese.
But they do hold together occasionally very remarkably. And what holds
them together in these rare instances of survival (I was thinking of WAR
AND PEACE) is something that one calls integrity, though it has nothing
to do with paying one's bills or behaving honourably in an emergency.
What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the
conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes, one feels, I
should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known
people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is, so
it happens. One holds every phrase, every scene to the light as one
reads--for Nature seems, very oddly, to have provided us with an inner
light by which to judge of the novelist's integrity or disintegrity. Or
perhaps it is rather that Nature, in her most irrational mood, has
traced in invisible ink on the walls of the mind a premonition which
these great artists confirm; a sketch which only needs to be held to the
fire of genius to become visible. When one so exposes it and sees it
come to life one exclaims in rapture, But this is what I have always
felt and known and desired! And one boils over with excitement, and,
shutting the book even with a kind of reverence as if it were something
very precious, a stand-by to return to as long as one lives, one puts it
back on the shelf, I said, taking WAR AND PEACE and putting it back in
its place. If, on the other hand, these poor sentences that one takes
and tests rouse first a quick and eager response with their bright
colouring and their dashing gestures but there they stop: something
seems to check them in their development: or if they bring to light only
a faint scribble in that corner and a blot over there, and nothing
appears whole and entire, then one heaves a sigh of disappointment and
says. Another failure. This novel has come to grief somewhere.
And for the most part, of course, novels do come to grief somewhere. The
imagination falters under the enormous strain. The insight is confused;
it can no longer distinguish between the true and the false, it has no
longer the strength to go on with the vast labour that calls at every
moment for the use of so many different faculties. But how would all
this be affected by the sex of the novelist, I wondered, looking at JANE
EYRE and the others. Would the fact of her sex in any way interfere with
the integrity of a woman novelist--that integrity which I take to be the
backbone of the writer? Now, in the passages I have quoted from JANE
EYRE, it is clear that anger was tampering with the integrity of
Charlotte Brontл the novelist. She left her story, to which her entire
devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance. She remembered
that she had been starved of her proper due of experience--she had been
made to stagnate in a parsonage mending stockings when she wanted to
wander free over the world. Her imagination swerved from indignation and
we feel it swerve. But there were many more influences than anger
tugging at her imagination and deflecting it from its path. Ignorance,
for instance. The portrait of Rochester is drawn in the dark. We feel
the influence of fear in it; just as we constantly feel an acidity which
is the result of oppression, a buried suffering smouldering beneath her
passion, a rancour which contracts those books, splendid as they are,
with a spasm of pain.
And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are
to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of
women differ very often from the values which have been made by the
other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that
prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are 'important'; the
worship of fashion, the buying of clothes 'trivial'. And these values
are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important
book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an
insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a
drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene
in a shop--everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value
persists. The whole structure, therefore, of the early
nineteenth-century novel was raised, if one was a woman, by a mind which
was slightly pulled from the straight, and made to alter its clear
vision in deference to external authority. One has only to skim those
old forgotten novels and listen to the tone of voice in which they are
written to divine that the writer was meeting criticism; she was saying
this by way of aggression, or that by way of conciliation. She was
admitting that she was 'only a woman', or protesting that she was 'as
good as a man'. She met that criticism as her temperament dictated, with
docility and diffidence, or with anger and emphasis. It does not matter
which it was; she was thinking of something other than the thing itself.
Down comes her book upon our heads. There was a flaw in the centre of
it. And I thought of all the women's novels that lie scattered, like
small pock-marked apples in an orchard, about the second-hand book shops
of London. It was the flaw in the centre that had rotted them. She had
altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.
But how impossible it must have been for them not to budge either to the
right or to the left. What genius, what integrity it must have required
in face of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal
society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking.
Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontл. It is another feather, perhaps
the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write.
Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely
ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue--write this,
think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now
grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked,
now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but
must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them,
like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined; dragging even into the
criticism of poetry criticism of sex; [*1] admonishing them, if they
would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within
certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable--'. . .
female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously
acknowledging the limitations of their sex'. [*2] That puts the matter
in a nutshell, and when I tell you, rather to your surprise, that this
sentence was written not in August 1828 but in August 1928, you will
agree, I think, that however delightful it is to us now, it represents a
vast body of opinion--I am not going to stir those old pools; I take
only what chance has floated to my feet--that was far more vigorous and
far more vocal a century ago. It would have needed a very stalwart young
woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs and chidings and promises of
prizes. One must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself,
Oh, but they can't buy literature too. Literature is open to everybody.
I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass.
Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no
bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
[*1 [She] has a metaphysical purpose, and that is a dangerous obsession,
especially with a woman, for women rarely possess men's healthy love of
rhetoric. It is a strange lack in the sex which is in other things more
primitive and more materialistic.'--NEW CRITERION, June 1928.]
[*2 'If, like the reporter, you believe that female novelists should
only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations
of their sex (Jane Austen [has] demonstrated how gracefully this gesture
can be accomplished . . .).'--LIFE AND LETTERS, August 1928.]
But whatever effect discouragement and criticism had upon their
writing--and I believe that they had a very great effect--that was
unimportant compared with the other difficulty which faced them (I was
still considering those early nineteenth-century novelists) when they
came to set their thoughts on paper--that is that they had no tradition
behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For
we think back through our mothers if we are women. It is useless to go
to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for
pleasure. Lamb, Browne, Thackeray, Newman, Sterne, Dickens, De
Quincey--whoever it may be--never helped a woman yet, though she may
have learnt a few tricks of them and adapted them to her use. The
weight, the pace, the stride of a man's mind are too unlike her own for
her to lift anything substantial from him successfully. The ape is too
distant to be sedulous. Perhaps the first thing she would find, setting
pen to paper, was that there was no common sentence ready for her use.
All the great novelists like Thackeray and Dickens and Balzac have
written a natural prose, swift but not slovenly, expressive but not
precious, taking their own tint without ceasing to be common property.
They have based it on the sentence that was current at the time. The
sentence that was current at the beginning of the nineteenth century ran
something like this perhaps: 'The grandeur of their works was an
argument with them, not to stop short, but to proceed. They could have
no higher excitement or satisfaction than in the exercise of their art
and endless generations of truth and beauty. Success prompts to
exertion; and habit facilitates success.' That is a man's sentence;
behind it one can see Johnson, Gibbon and the rest. It was a sentence
that was unsuited for a woman's use. Charlotte Brontл, with all her
splendid gift for prose, stumbled and fell with that clumsy weapon in
her hands. George Eliot committed atrocities with it that beggar
description. Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a
perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never
departed from it. Thus, with less genius for writing than Charlotte
Brontл, she got infinitely more said. Indeed, since freedom and fullness
of expression are of the essence of the art, such a lack of tradition,
such a scarcity and inadequacy of tools, must have told enormously upon
the writing of women. Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end
to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or
domes. And this shape too has been made by men out of their own needs
for their own uses. There is no reason to think that the form of the
epic or of the poetic play suit a woman any more than the sentence suits
her. But all the older forms of literature were hardened and set by the
time she became a writer. The novel alone was young enough to be soft in
her hands another reason, perhaps, why she wrote novels. Yet who shall
say that even now 'the novel' (I give it inverted commas to mark my
sense of the words' inadequacy), who shall say that even this most
pliable of all forms is rightly shaped for her use? No doubt we shall
find her knocking that into shape for herself when she has the free use
of her limbs; and providing some new vehicle, not necessarily in verse,
for the poetry in her. For it is the poetry that is still denied outlet.
And I went on to ponder how a woman nowadays would write a poetic
tragedy in five acts. Would she use verse?--would she not use prose
But these are difficult questions which lie in the twilight of the
future. I must leave them, if only because they stimulate me to wander
from my subject into trackless forests where I shall be lost and, very
likely, devoured by wild beasts. I do not want, and I am sure that you
do not want me, to broach that very dismal subject, the future of
fiction. so that I will only pause here one moment to draw your
attention to the great part which must be played in that future so far
as women are concerned by physical conditions. The book has somehow to
be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women's
books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and
framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted
work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that
feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are
going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what
treatment suits them--whether these hours of lectures, for instance,
which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit
them--what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest
not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is
different; and what should that difference be? All this should be
discussed and discovered; all this is part of the question of women and
fiction. And yet, I continued, approaching the bookcase again, where
shall I find that elaborate study of the psychology of women by a woman?
If through their incapacity to play football women are not going to be
allowed to practise medicine--
Happily my thoughts were now given another turn.
I had come at last, in the course of this rambling, to the shelves which
hold books by the living; by women and by men; for there are almost as
many books written by women now as by men. Or if that is not yet quite
true, if the male is still the voluble sex, it is certainly true that
women no longer write novels solely. There are Jane Harrison's books on
Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee's books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell's
books on Persia. There are books on all sorts of subjects which a
generation ago no woman could have touched. There are poems and plays
and criticism; there are histories and biographies, books of travel and
books of scholarship and research; there are even a few philosophies and
books about science and economics. And though novels predominate, novels
themselves may very well have changed from association with books of a
different feather. The natural simplicity, the epic age of women's
writing, may have gone. Reading and criticism may have given her a wider
range, a greater subtlety. The impulse towards autobiography may be
spent. She may be beginning to use writing as an art, not as a method of
selfexpression. Among these new novels one might find an answer to
several such questions.
I took down one of them at random. It stood at the very end of the
shelf, was called LIFE'S ADVENTURE, or some such title, by Mary
Carmichael, and was published in this very month of October. It seems to
be her first book, I said to myself, but one must read it as if it were
the last volume in a fairly long series, continuing all those other
books that I have been glancing at--Lady Winchilsea's poems and Aphra
Behn's plays and the novels of the four great novelists. For books
continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.
And I must also consider her--this unknown woman--as the descendant of
all those other women whose circumstances I have been glancing at and
see what she inherits of their characteristics and restrictions. So,
with a sigh, because novels so often provide an anodyne and not an
antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a
burning brand, I settled down with a notebook and a pencil to make what
I could of Mary Carmichael's first novel, LIFE'S ADVENTURE.
To begin with, I ran my eye up and down the page. I am going to get the
hang of her sentences first, I said, before I load my memory with blue
eyes and brown and the relationship that there may be between Chloe and
Roger. There will be time for that when I have decided whether she has a
pen in her hand or a pickaxe. So I tried a sentence or two on my tongue.
Soon it was obvious that something was not quite in order. The smooth
gliding of sentence after sentence was interrupted. Something tore,
something scratched; a single word here and there flashed its torch in
my eyes. She was 'unhanding' herself as they say in the old plays. She
is like a person striking a match that will not light, I thought. But
why, I asked her as if she were present, are Jane Austen's sentences not
of the right shape for you? Must they all be scrapped because Emma and
Mr Woodhouse are dead? Alas, I sighed, that it should be so. For while
Jane Austen breaks from melody to melody as Mozart from song to song, to
read this writing was like being out at sea in an open boat. Up one
went, down one sank. This terseness, this short-windedness, might mean
that she was afraid of something; afraid of being called 'sentimental'
perhaps; or she remembers that women's writing has been called flowery
and so provides a superfluity of thorns; but until I have read a scene
with some care, I cannot be surewhether she is being herself or someone
else. At any rate, she does not lower one's vitality, I thought, reading
more carefully. But she is heaping up too many facts. She will not be
able to use half of them in a book of this size. (It was about half the
length of JANE EYRE.) However, by some means or other she succeeded in
getting us all--Roger, Chloe, Olivia, Tony and Mr Bigham--in a canoe up
the river. Wait a moment, I said, leaning back in my chair, I must
consider the whole thing more carefully before I go any further.
I am almost sure, I said to myself, that Mary Carmichael is playing a
trick on us. For I feel as one feels on a switchback railway when the
car, instead of sinking, as one has been led to expect, swerves up
again. Mary is tampering with the expected sequence. First she broke the
sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every
right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of
breaking, but for the sake of creating. Which of the two it is I cannot
be sure until she has faced herself with a situation. I will give her
every liberty, I said, to choose what that situation shall be; she shall
make it of tin cans and old kettles if she likes; but she must convince
me that she believes it to be a situation; and then when she has made it
she must face it. She must jump. And, determined to do my duty by her as
reader if she would do her duty by me as writer, I turned the page and
read . . . I am sorry to break off so abruptly. Are there no men
present? Do you promise me that behind that red curtain over there the
figure of Sir Charles Biron is not concealed? We are all women you
assure me? Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were
these--'Chloe liked Olivia . . .' Do not start. Do not blush. Let us
admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes
happen. Sometimes women do like women.
'Chloe liked Olivia,' I read. And then it struck me how immense a change
was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.
Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought, letting
my mind, I am afraid, wander a little from LIFE'S ADVENTURE, the whole
thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly.
Cleopatra's only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller
than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no
more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between
the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between
women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious
women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I
tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women
are represented as friends. There is an attempt at it in DIANA OF THE
CROSSWAYS. They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek
tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost
without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was
strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane
Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation
to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman's life is that; and
how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the
black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose. Hence, perhaps,
the peculiar nature of woman in fiction; the astonishing extremes of her
beauty and horror; her alternations between heavenly goodness and
hellish depravity--for so a lover would see her as his love rose or
sank, was prosperous or unhappy. This is not so true of the
nineteenth-century novelists, of course. Woman becomes much more various
and complicated there. Indeed it was the desire to write about women
perhaps that led men by degrees to abandon the poetic drama which, with
its violence, could make so little use of them, and to devise the novel
as a more fitting receptacle. Even so it remains obvious, even in the
writing of Proust, that a man is terribly hampered and partial in his
knowledge of women, as a woman in her knowledge of men.
Also, I continued, looking down at the page again, it is becoming
evident that women, like men, have other interests besides the perennial
interests of domesticity. 'Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a laboratory
together. . ..' I read on and discovered that these two young women were
engaged in mincing liver, which is, it seems, a cure for pernicious
anaemia; although one of them was married and had--I think I am right in
stating--two small children. Now all that, of course, has had to be left
out, and thus the splendid portrait of the fictitious woman is much too
simple and much too monotonous. Suppose, for instance, that men were
only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never
the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the
plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would
suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of
Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no
Jaques--literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed
literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have
been shut upon women. Married against their will, kept in one room, and
to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or
truthful account of them? Love was the only possible interpreter. The
poet was forced to be passionate or bitter, unless indeed he chose to
'hate women', which meant more often than not that he was unattractive
Now if Chloe likes Olivia and they share a laboratory, which of itself
will make their friendship more varied and lasting because it will be
less personal; if Mary Carmichael knows how to write, and I was
beginning to enjoy some quality in her style; if she has a room to
herself, of which I am not quite sure; if she has five hundred a year of
her own--but that remains to be proved--then I think that something of
great importance has happened.
For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it
she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been.
It is all half lights and profound shadows like those serpentine caves
where one goes with a candle peering up and down, not knowing where one
is stepping. And I began to read the book again, and read how Chloe
watched Olivia put a jar on a shelf and say how it was time to go home
to her children. That is a sight that has never been seen since the
world began, I exclaimed. And I watched too, very curiously. For I
wanted to see how Mary Carmichael set to work to catch those unrecorded
gestures, those unsaid or half-said words, which form themselves, no
more palpably than the shadows of moths on the ceiling, when women are
alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex. She
will need to hold her breath, I said, reading on, if she is to do it;
for women are so suspicious of any interest that has not some obvious
motive behind it, so terribly accustomed to concealment and suppression,
that they are off at the flicker of an eye turned observingly in their
direction. The only way for you to do it, I thought, addressing Mary
Carmichael as if she were there, would be to talk of something else,
looking steadily out of the window, and thus note, not with a pencil in
a notebook, but in the shortest of shorthand, in words that are hardly
syllabled yet, what happens when Olivia--this organism that has been
under the shadow of the rock these million years--feels the light fall
on it, and sees coming her way a piece of strange food--knowledge,
adventure, art. And she reaches out for it, I thought, again raising my
eyes from the page, and has to devise some entirely new combination of
her resources, so highly developed for other purposes, so as to absorb
the new into the old without disturbing the infinitely intricate and
elaborate balance of the whole.
But, alas, I had done what I had determined not to do; I had slipped
unthinkingly into praise of my own sex. 'Highly developed'--'infinitely
intricate'--such are undeniably terms of praise, and to praise one's own
sex is always suspect, often silly; moreover, in this case, how could
one justify it? One could not go to the map and say Columbus discovered
America and Columbus was a woman; or take an apple and remark, Newton
discovered the laws of gravitation and Newton was a woman; or look into
the sky and say aeroplanes are flying overhead and aeroplanes were
invented by women. There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise
height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the
fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good
mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or
the capacity of a housekeeper. Few women even now have been graded at
the universities; the great trials of the professions, army and navy,
trade, politics and diplomacy have hardly tested them. They remain even
at this moment almost unclassified. But if I want to know all that a
human being can tell me about Sir Hawley Butts, for instance, I have
only to open Burke or Debrett and I shall find that he took such and
such a degree; owns a hall; has an heir; was Secretary to a Board;
represented Great Britain in Canada; and has received a certain number
of degrees, offices, medals and other distinctions by which his merits
are stamped upon him indelibly. Only Providence can know more about Sir
Hawley Butts than that.
When, therefore, I say 'highly developed', 'infinitely intricate' of
women, I am unable to verify my words either in Whitaker, Debrett or the
University Calendar. In this predicament what can I do? And I looked at
the bookcase again. There were the biographies: Johnson and Goethe and
Carlyle and Sterne and Cowper and Shelley and Voltaire and Browning and
many others. And I began thinking of all those great men who have for
one reason or another admired, sought out, lived with, confided in, made
love to, written of, trusted in, and shown what can only be described as
some need of and dependence upon certain persons of the opposite sex.
That all these relationships were absolutely Platonic I would not
affirm, and Sir William Joynson Hicks would probably deny. But we should
wrong these illustrious men very greatly if we insisted that they got
nothing from these alliances but comfort, flattery and the pleasures of
the body. What they got, it is obvious, was something that their own sex
was unable to supply; and it would not be rash, perhaps, to define it
further, without quoting the doubtless rhapsodical words of the poets,
as some stimulus; some renewal of creative power which is in the gift
only of the opposite sex to bestow. He would open the door of
drawing-room or nursery, I thought, and find her among her children
perhaps, or with a piece of embroidery on her knee--at any rate, the
centre of some different order and system of life, and the contrast
between this world and his own, which might be the law courts or the
House of Commons, would at once refresh and invigorate; and there would
follow, even in the simplest talk, such a natural difference of opinion
that the dried ideas in him would be fertilized anew; and the sight of
her creating in a different medium from his own would so quicken his
creative power that insensibly his sterile mind would begin to plot
again, and he would find the phrase or the scene which was lacking when
he put on his hat to visit her. Every Johnson has his Thrale, and holds
fast to her for some such reasons as these, and when the Thrale marries
her Italian music master Johnson goes half mad with rage and disgust,
not merely that he will miss his pleasant evenings at Streatham, but
that the light of his life will be 'as if gone out'.
And without being Dr Johnson or Goethe or Carlyle or Voltaire, one may
feel, though very differently from these great men, the nature of this
intricacy and the power of this highly developed creative faculty among
women. One goes into the room--but the resources of the English language
would he much put to the stretch, and whole flights of words would need
to wing their way illegitimately into existence before a woman could say
what happens when she goes into a room. The rooms differ so completely;
they are calm or thunderous; open on to the sea, or, on the contrary,
give on to a prison yard; are hung with washing; or alive with opals and
silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers--one has only to go
into any room in any street for the whole of that extremely complex
force of femininity to fly in one's face. How should it be otherwise?
For women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this
time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has,
indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must
needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics. But
this creative power differs greatly from the creative power of men. And
one must conclude that it would be a thousand pities if it were hindered
or wasted, for it was won by centuries of the most drastic discipline,
and there is nothing to take its place. It would be a thousand pities if
women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two
sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the
world, how should we manage with one only? Ought not education to bring
out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities? For we
have too much likeness as it is, and if an explorer should come back and
bring word of other sexes looking through the branches of other trees at
other skies, nothing would he of greater service to humanity; and we
should have the immense pleasure into the bargain of watching Professor
X rush for his measuring-rods to prove himself 'superior'.
Mary Carmichael, I thought, still hovering at a little distance above
the page, will have her work cut out for her merely as an observer. I am
afraid indeed that she will be tempted to become, what I think the less
interesting branch of the species--the naturalist-novelist, and not the
contemplative. There are so many new facts for her to observe. She will
not need to limit herself any longer to the respectable houses of the
upper middle classes. She will go without kindness or condescension, but
in the spirit of fellowship, into those small, scented rooms where sit
the courtesan, the harlot and the lady with the pug dog. There they
still sit in the rough and ready-made clothes that the male writer has
had perforce to clap upon their shoulders. But Mary Carmichael will have
out her scissors and fit them close to every hollow and angle. It will
be a curious sight, when it comes, to see these women as they are, but
we must wait a little, for Mary Carmichael will still be encumbered with
that self-consciousness in the presence of 'sin' which is the legacy of
our sexual barbarity. She will still wear the shoddy old fetters of
class on her feet.
However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor
do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer
afternoon. But what do they do then? and there came to my mind's eye one
of those long streets somewhere south of the river whose infinite rows
are innumerably populated. With the eye of the imagination I saw a very
ancient lady crossing the street on the arm of a middle-aged woman, her
daughter, perhaps, both so respectably booted and furred that their
dressing in the afternoon must be a ritual, and the clothes themselves
put away in cupboards with camphor, year after year, throughout the
summer months. They cross the road when the lamps are being lit (for the
dusk is their favourite hour), as they must have done year after year.
The elder is close on eighty; but if one asked her what her life has
meant to her, she would say that she remembered the streets lit for the
battle of Balaclava, or had heard the guns fire in Hyde Park for the
birth of King Edward the Seventh. And if one asked her, longing to pin
down the moment with date and season, but what were you doing on the
fifth of April 1868, or the second of November 1875, she would look
vague and say that she could remember nothing. For all the dinners are
cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and gone
out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No
biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without
meaning to, inevitably lie.
All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said,
addressing Mary Carmichael as if she were present; and went on in
thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the
pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from
the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo, and the rings
embedded in their fat swollen fingers, talking with a gesticulation like
the swing of Shakespeare's words; or from the violet-sellers and
match-sellers and old crones stationed under doorways; or from drifting
girls whose faces, like waves in sun and cloud, signal the coming of men
and women and the flickering lights of shop windows. All that you will
have to explore, I said to Mary Carmichael, holding your torch firm in
your hand. Above all, you must illumine your own soul with its
profundities and its shallows, and its vanities and its generosities,
and say what your beauty means to you or your plainness, and what is
your relation to the everchanging and turning world of gloves and shoes
and stuffs swaying up and down among the faint scents that come through
chemists' bottles down arcades of dress material over a floor of
pseudo-marble. For in imagination I had gone into a shop; it was laid
with black and white paving; it was hung, astonishingly beautifully,
with coloured ribbons. Mary Carmichael might well have a look at that in
passing, I thought, for it is a sight that would lend itself to the pen
as fittingly as any snowy peak or rocky gorge in the Andes. And there is
the girl behind the counter too--I would as soon have her true history
as the hundred and fiftieth life of Napoleon or seventieth study of
Keats and his use of Miltonic inversion which old Professor Z and his
like are now inditing. And then I went on very warily, on the very tips
of my toes (so cowardly am I, so afraid of the lash that was once almost
laid on my own shoulders), to murmur that she should also learn to
laugh, without bitterness, at the vanities--say rather at the
peculiarities, for it is a less offensive word--of the other sex. For
there is a spot the size of a shilling at the back of the head which one
can never see for oneself. It is one of the good offices that sex can
discharge for sex--to describe that spot the size of a shilling at the
back of the head. Think how much women have profited by the comments of
Juvenal; by the criticism of Strindberg. Think with what humanity and
brilliancy men, from the earliest ages, have pointed out to women that
dark place at the back of the head! And if Mary were very brave and very
honest, she would go behind the other sex and tell us what she found
there. A true picture of man as a whole can never be painted until a
woman has described that spot the size of a shilling. Mr Woodhouse and
Mr Casuabon are spots of that size and nature. Not of course that anyone
in their senses would counsel her to hold up to scorn and ridicule of
set purpose--literature shows the futility of what is written in that
spirit. Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be
amazingly interesting. Comedy is bound to be enriched. New facts are
bound to be discovered.
However, it was high time to lower my eyes to the page again. It would
be better, instead of speculating what Mary Carmichael might write and
should write, to see what in fact Mary Carmichael did write. So I began
to read again. I remembered that I had certain grievances against her.
She had broken up Jane Austen's sentence, and thus given me no chance of
pluming myself upon my impeccable taste, my fastidious ear. For it was
useless to say, 'Yes, yes, this is very nice; but Jane Austen wrote much
better than you do', when I had to admit that there was no point of
likeness between them. Then she had gone further and broken the
sequence--the expected order. Perhaps she had done this unconsciously,
merely giving things their natural order, as a woman would, if she wrote
like a woman. But the effect was somehow baffling; one could not see a
wave heaping itself, a crisis coming round the next corner. Therefore I
could not plume myself either upon the depths of my feelings and my
profound knowledge of the human heart. For whenever I was about to feel
the usual things in the usual places, about love, about death, the
annoying creature twitched me away, as if the important point were just
a little further on. And thus she made it impossible for me to roll out
my sonorous phrases about 'elemental feelings', the 'common stuff of
humanity', 'the depths of the human heart', and ail those other phrases
which support us in our belief that, however clever we may be on top, we
are very serious, very profound and very humane underneath. She made me
feel, on the contrary, that instead of being serious and profound and
humane, one might be--and the thought was far less seductive--merely
lazy minded and conventional into the bargain.
But I read on, and noted certain other facts. She was no 'genius' that
was evident. She had nothing like the love of Nature, the fiery
imagination, the wild poetry, the brilliant wit, the brooding wisdom of
her great predecessors, Lady Winchilsea, Charlotte Brontл, Emily Brontл,
Jane Austen and George Eliot; she could not write with the melody and
the dignity of Dorothy Osborne--indeed she was no more than a clever
girl whose books will no doubt be pulped by the publishers in ten years'
time. But, nevertheless, she had certain advantages which women of far
greater gift lacked even half a century ago. Men were no longer to her
'the opposing faction'; she need not waste her time railing against
them; she need not climb on to the roof and ruin her peace of mind
longing for travel, experience and a knowledge of the world and
character that were denied her. Fear and hatred were almost gone, or
traces of them showed only in a slight exaggeration of the joy of
freedom, a tendency to the caustic and satirical, rather than to the
romantic, in her treatment of the other sex. Then there could be no
doubt that as a novelist she enjoyed some natural advantages of a high
order. She had a sensibility that was very wide, eager and free. It
responded to an almost imperceptible touch on it. It feasted like a
plant newly stood in the air on every sight and sound that came its way.
It ranged, too, very subtly and curiously, among almost unknown or
unrecorded things; it lighted on small things and showed that perhaps
they were not small after all. It brought buried things to light and
made one wonder what need there had been to bury them. Awkward though
she was and without the unconscious bearing of long descent which makes
the least turn of the pen of a Thackeray or a Lamb delightful to the
ear, she had--I began to think--mastered the first great lesson; she
wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman,
so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes
only when sex is unconscious of itself.
All this was to the good. But no abundance of sensation or fineness of
perception would avail unless she could build up out of the fleeting and
the personal the lasting edifice which remains unthrown. I had said that
I would wait until she faced herself with 'a situation'. And I meant by
that until she proved by summoning, beckoning and getting together that
she was not a skimmer of surfaces merely, but had looked beneath into
the depths. Now is the time, she would say to herself at a certain
moment, when without doing anything violent I can show the meaning of
all this. And she would begin--how unmistakable that quickening
is!--beckoning and summoning, and there would rise up in memory, half
forgotten, perhaps quite trivial things in other chapters dropped by the
way. And she would make their presence felt while someone sewed or
smoked a pipe as naturally as possible, and one would feel, as she went
on writing, as if one had gone to the top of the world and seen it laid
out, very majestically, beneath.
At any rate, she was making the attempt. And as I watched her
lengthening out for the test, I saw, but hoped that she did not see, the
bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs
and the pedagogues all at her shouting warning and advice. You can't do
this and you shan't do that! Fellows and scholars only allowed on the
grass! Ladies not admitted without a letter of introduction! Aspiring
and graceful female novelists this way! So they kept at her like the
crowd at a fence on the racecourse, and it was her trial to take her
fence without looking to right or to left. If you stop to curse you are
lost, I said to her; equally, if you stop to laugh. Hesitate or fumble
and you are done for. Think only of the jump, I implored her, as if I
had put the whole of my money on her back; and she went over it like a
bird. But there was a fence beyond that and a fence beyond that. Whether
she had the staying power I was doubtful, for the clapping and the
crying were fraying to the nerves. But she did her best. Considering
that Mary Carmichael was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her
first novel in a bed-sitting-room, without enough of those desirable
things, time, money and idleness, she did not do so badly, I thought.
Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last
chapter--people's noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry
sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing-room--give her
a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and
leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book
one of these days. She will be a poet, I said, putting LIFE'S ADVENTURE,
by Mary Carmichael, at the end of the shelf, in another hundred years'
Next day the light of the October morning was falling in dusty shafts
through the uncurtained windows, and the hum of traffic rose from the
street. London then was winding itself up again; the factory was astir;
the machines were beginning. It was tempting, after all this reading, to
look out of the window and see what London was doing on the morning of
the 26th of October 1928. And what was London doing? Nobody, it seemed,
was reading ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. London was wholly indifferent, it
appeared, to Shakespeare's plays. Nobody cared a straw--and I do not
blame them--for the future of fiction, the death of poetry or the
development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive
of her mind. If opinions upon any of these matters had been chalked on
the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them. The nonchalance of
the hurrying feet would have rubbed them out in half an hour. Here came
an errand-boy; here a woman with a dog on a lead. The fascination of the
London street is that no two people are ever alike; each seems bound on
some private affair of his own. There were the business-like, with their
little bags; there were the drifters rattling sticks upon area railings;
there were affable characters to whom the streets serve for clubroom,
hailing men in carts and giving information without being asked for it.
Also there were funerals to which men, thus suddenly reminded of the
passing of their own bodies, lifted their hats. And then a very
distinguished gentleman came slowly down a doorstep and paused to avoid
collision with a bustling lady who had, by some means or other, acquired
a splendid fur coat and a bunch of Parma violets. They all seemed
separate, self-absorbed, on business of their own.
At this moment, as so often happens in London, there was a complete lull
and suspension of traffic. Nothing came down the street; nobody passed.
A single leaf detached itself from the plane tree at the end of the
street, and in that pause and suspension fell. Somehow it was like a
signal falling, a signal pointing to a force in things which one had
overlooked. It seemed to point to a river, which flowed past, invisibly,
round the corner, down the street, and took people and eddied them
along, as the stream at Oxbridge had taken the undergraduate in his boat
and the dead leaves. Now it was bringing from one side of the street to
the other diagonally a girl in patent leather boots, and then a young
man in a maroon overcoat; it was also bringing a taxi-cab; and it
brought all three together at a point directly beneath my window; where
the taxi stopped; and the girl and the young man stopped; and they got
into the taxi; and then the cab glided off as if it were swept on by the
The sight was ordinary enough; what was strange was the rhythmical order
with which my imagination had invested it; and the fact that the
ordinary sight of two people getting into a cab had the power to
communicate something of their own seeming satisfaction. The sight of
two people coming down the street and meeting at the corner seems to
ease the mind of some strain, I thought, watching the taxi turn and make
off. Perhaps to think, as I had been thinking these two days, of one sex
as distinct from the other is an effort. It interferes with the unity of
the mind. Now that effort had ceased and that unity had been restored by
seeing two people come together and get into a taxicab. The mind is
certainly a very mysterious organ, I reflected, drawing my head in from
the window, about which nothing whatever is known, though we depend upon
it so completely. Why do I feel that there are severances and
oppositions in the mind, as there are strains from obvious causes on the
body? What does one mean by 'the unity of the mind'? I pondered, for
clearly the mind has so great a power of concentrating at any point at
any moment that it seems to have no single state of being. It can
separate itself from the people in the street, for example, and think of
itself as apart from them, at an upper window looking down on them. Or
it can think with other people spontaneously, as, for instance, in a
crowd waiting to hear some piece of news read out. it can think back
through its fathers or through its mothers, as I have said that a woman
writing thinks back through her mothers. Again if one is a woman one is
often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in
walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of that
civilization, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and
critical. Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing
the world into different perspectives. But some of these states of mind
seem, even if adopted spontaneously, to be less comfortable than others.
In order to keep oneself continuing in them one is unconsciously holding
something back, and gradually the repression becomes an effort. But
there may be some state of mind in which one could continue without
effort because nothing is required to be held back. And this perhaps, I
thought, coming in from the window, is one of them. For certainly when I
saw the couple get into the taxicab the mind felt as if, after being
divided, it had come together again in a natural fusion. The obvious
reason would be that it is natural for the sexes to co-operate. One has
a profound, if irrational, instinct in favour of the theory that the
union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most
complete happiness. But the sight of the two people getting into the
taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are
two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and
whether they also require to be united in order to get complete
satisfaction and happiness? And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan
of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one
female; and in the man's brain the man predominates over the woman, and
in the woman's brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and
comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony
together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman
part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have
intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he
said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes
place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties.
Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a
mind that is purely feminine, I thought. But it would he well to test
what one meant by man-womanly, and conversely by woman-manly, by pausing
and looking at a book or two.
Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is
androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women;
a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their
interpretation. Perhaps the androgynous mind is less apt to make these
distinctions than the single-sexed mind. He meant, perhaps, that the
androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion
without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and
undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare's mind as the type of
the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind, though it would be impossible
to say what Shakespeare thought of women. And if it be true that it is
one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think
specially or separately of sex, how much harder it is to attain that
condition now than ever before. Here I came to the books by living
writers, and there paused and wondered if this fact were not at the root
of something that had long puzzled me. No age can ever have been as
stridently sex-conscious as our own; those innumerable books by men
about women in the British Museum are a proof of it. The Suffrage
campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an
extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an
emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not
have troubled to think about had they not been challenged. And when one
is challenged, even by a few women in black bonnets, one retaliates, if
one has never been challenged before, rather excessively. That perhaps
accounts for some of the characteristics that I remember to have found
here, I thought, taking down a new novel by Mr A, who is in the prime of
life and very well thought of, apparently, by the reviewers. I opened
it. Indeed, it was delightful to read a man's writing again. It was so
direct, so straightforward after the writing of women. It indicated such
freedom of mind, such liberty of person, such confidence in himself. One
had a sense of physical well-being in the presence of this
well-nourished, well-educated, free mind, which had never been thwarted
or opposed, but had had full liberty from birth to stretch itself in
whatever way it liked. All this was admirable. But after reading a
chapter or two a shadow seemed to lie across the page. it was a straight
dark bar, a shadow shaped something like the letter 'I'. One began
dodging this way and that to catch a glimpse of the landscape behind it.
Whether that was indeed a tree or a woman walking I was not quite sure.
Back one was always hailed to the letter 'I'. One began to be tired of
'I'. Not but what this 'I' was a most respectable 'I'; honest and
logical; as hard as a nut, and polished for centuries by good teaching
and good feeding. I respect and admire that 'I' from the bottom of my
heart. But--here I turned a page or two, looking for something or
other--the worst of it is that in the shadow of the letter 'I' all is
shapeless as mist. Is that a tree? No, it is a woman. But . . . she has
not a bone in her body, I thought, watching Phoebe, for that was her name,
coming across the beach. Then Alan got up and the shadow of Alan at once
obliterated Phoebe. For Alan had views and Phoebe was quenched in the
flood of his views. And then Alan, I thought, has passions; and here I
turned page after page very fast, feeling that the crisis was
approaching, and so it was. It took place on the beach under the sun. It
was done very openly. It was done very vigorously. Nothing could have
been more indecent. But . . . I had said 'but' too often. One cannot go
on saying 'but'. One must finish the sentence somehow, I rebuked myself.
Shall I finish it, 'But--I am bored!' But why was I bored? Partly
because of the dominance of the letter 'I' and the aridity, which, like
the giant beech tree, it casts within its shade. Nothing will grow
there. And partly for some more obscure reason. There seemed to be some
obstacle, some impediment in Mr A's mind which blocked the fountain of
creative energy and shored it within narrow limits. And remembering the
lunch party at Oxbridge, and the cigarette ash and the Manx cat and
Tennyson and Christina Rossetti all in a bunch, it seemed possible that
the impediment lay there. As he no longer hums under his breath, 'There
has fallen a splendid tear from the passion-flower at the gate', when
Phoebe crosses the beach, and she no longer replies, 'My heart is like a
singing bird whose nest is in a water'd shoot', when Alan approaches
what can he do? Being honest as the day and logical as the sun, there is
only one thing he can do. And that he does, to do him justice, over and
over (I said turning the pages) and over again. And that, I added, aware
of the awful nature of the confession, seems somehow dull. Shakespeare's
indecency uproots a thousand other things in one's mind, and is far from
being dull. But Shakespeare does it for pleasure; Mr A, as the nurses
say, does it on purpose. He does it in protest. He is protesting against
the equality of the other sex by asserting his own superiority. He is
therefore impeded and inhibited and self-conscious as Shakespeare might
have been if he too had known Miss Clough and Miss Davies. Doubtless
Elizabethan literature would have been very different from what it is if
the women's movement had begun in the sixteenth century and not in the
What, then, it amounts to, if this theory of the two sides of the mind
holds good, is that virility has now become self-conscious--men, that is
to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains. It is a
mistake for a woman to read them, for she will inevitably look for
something that she will not find. It is the power of suggestion that one
most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading,
very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.
Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was
that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into
different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other. Thus,
when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the
ground--dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind,
it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is
the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of
But whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that one must deplore. For
it means--here I had come to rows of books by Mr Galsworthy and Mr
Kipling--that some of the finest works of our greatest living writers
fall upon deaf ears. Do what she will a woman cannot find in them that
fountain of perpetual life which the critics assure her is there. It is
not only that they celebrate male virtues, enforce male values and
describe the world of men; it is that the emotion with which these books
are permeated is to a woman incomprehensible. It is coming, it is
gathering, it is about to burst on one's head, one begins saying long
before the end. That picture will fall on old Jolyon's head; he will die
of the shock; the old clerk will speak over him two or three obituary
words; and all the swans on the Thames will simultaneously burst out
singing. But one will rush away before that happens and hide in the
gooseberry bushes, for the emotion which is so deep, so subtle, so
symbolical to a man moves a woman to wonder. So with Mr Kipling's
officers who turn their Backs; and his Sowers who sow the Seed; and his
Men who are alone with their Work; and the Flag--one blushes at all
these capital letters as if one had been caught eavesdropping at some
purely masculine orgy. The fact is that neither Mr Galsworthy nor Mr
Kipling has a spark of the woman in him. Thus all their qualities seem
to a woman, if one may generalize, crude and immature. They lack
suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard
it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within.
And in that restless mood in which one takes books out and puts them
back again without looking at them I began to envisage an age to come of
pure, of self-assertive virility, such as the letters of professors
(take Sir Walter Raleigh's letters, for instance) seem to forebode, and
the rulers of Italy have already brought into being. For one can hardly
fail to be impressed in Rome by the sense of unmitigated masculinity;
and whatever the value of unmitigated masculinity upon the state, one
may question the effect of it upon the art of poetry. At any rate,
according to the newspapers, there is a certain anxiety about fiction in
Italy. There has been a meeting of academicians whose object it is 'to
develop the Italian novel'. 'Men famous by birth, or in finance,
industry or the Fascist corporations' came together the other day and
discussed the matter, and a telegram was sent to the Duce expressing the
hope 'that the Fascist era would soon give birth to a poet worthy of
it'. We may all join in that pious hope, but it is doubtful whether
poetry can come of an incubator. Poetry ought to have a mother as well
as a father. The Fascist poem, one may fear, will be a horrid little
abortion such as one sees in a glass jar in the museum of some county
town. Such monsters never live long, it is said; one has never seen a
prodigy of that sort cropping grass in a field. Two heads on one body do
not make for length of life.
However, the blame for all this, if one is anxious to lay blame, rests
no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are
responsible: Lady Bessborough when she lied to Lord Granville; Miss
Davies when she told the truth to Mr Greg. All who have brought about a
state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me,
when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy
age, before Miss Davies and Miss Clough were born, when the writer used
both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare then,
for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so were Keats and Sterne and Cowper
and Lamb and Coleridge. Shelley perhaps was sexless. Milton and Ben
Jonson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and
Tolstoi. In our time Proust was wholly androgynous, if not perhaps a
little too much of a woman. But that failing is too rare for one to
complain of it, since without some mixture of the kind the intellect
seems to predominate and the other faculties of the mind harden and
become barren. However, I consoled myself with the reflection that this
is perhaps a passing phase; much of what I have said in obedience to my
promise to give you the course of my thoughts will seem out of date;
much of what flames in my eyes will seem dubious to you who have not yet
come of age.
Even so, the very first sentence that I would write here, I said,
crossing over to the writing-table and taking up the page headed Women
and Fiction, is that it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their
sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be
woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least
stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any
way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech;
for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It
ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly,
as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it
cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place
in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can
be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The
whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the
writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must
be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light
glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, I thought, once
his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its
nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done.
Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float
calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat
and the under-graduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man
and the woman, I thought, seeing them come together across the street,
and the current swept them away, I thought, hearing far off the roar of
London's traffic, into that tremendous stream.
Here, then, Mary Beton ceases to speak. She has told you how she reached
the conclusion--the prosaic conclusion--that it is necessary to have five
hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write
fiction or poetry. She has tried to lay bare the thoughts and
impressions that led her to think this. She has asked you to follow her
flying into the arms of a Beadle, lunching here, dining there, drawing
pictures in the British Museum, taking books from the shelf, looking out
of the window. While she has been doing all these things, you no doubt
have been observing her failings and foibles and deciding what effect
they have had on her opinions. You have been contradicting her and
making whatever additions and deductions seem good to you. That is all
as it should be, for in a question like this truth is only to be had by
laying together many varieties of error. And I will end now in my own
person by anticipating two criticisms, so obvious that you can hardly
fail to make them.
No opinion has been expressed, you may say, upon the comparative merits
of the sexes even as writers. That was done purposely, because, even if
the time had come for such a valuation--and it is far more important at
the moment to know how much money women had and how many rooms than to
theorize about their capacities--even if the time had come I do not
believe that gifts, whether of mind or character, can be weighed like
sugar and butter, not even in Cambridge, where they are so adept at
putting people into classes and fixing caps on their heads and letters
after their names. I do not believe that even the Table of Precedency
which you will find in Whitaker's ALMANAC represents a final order of
values, or that there is any sound reason to suppose that a Commander of
the Bath will ultimately walk in to dinner behind a Master in Lunacy.
All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all
this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the
private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides', and it
is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost
importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the
Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot. As people mature they cease
to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots. At
any rate, where books are concerned, it is notoriously difficult to fix
labels of merit in such a way that they do not come off. Are not reviews
of current literature a perpetual illustration of the difficulty of
judgement? 'This great book', 'this worthless book', the same book is
called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing. No,
delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of
all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most
servile of attitudes. So long as you write what you wish to write, that
is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours,
nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a
shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot
in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is
the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity
which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere
flea-bite in comparison.
Next I think that you may object that in all this I have made too much
of the importance of material things. Even allowing a generous margin
for symbolism, that five hundred a year stands for the power to
contemplate, that a lock on the door means the power to think for
oneself, still you may say that the mind should rise above such things;
and that great poets have often been poor men. Let me then quote to you
the words of your own Professor of Literature, who knows better than I
do what goes to the making of a poet. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch writes:'
[* THE ART OF WRITING, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.]
'What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so?
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson,
Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne--we may stop there. Of
these, all but Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men, and of
these three, Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only
one not fairly well to do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is
a sad thing to say: but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that
poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich,
holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact, nine out of those twelve
were University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the
means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard
fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well to do, and
I challenge you that, if he had not been well to do, he would no more
have attained to write SAUL or THE RING AND THE BOOK than Ruskin would
have attained to writing MODERN PAINTERS if his father had not dealt
prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income; and,
moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats; whom Atropos slew young,
as she slew John Clare in a mad-house, and James Thomson by the laudanum
he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us
face them. It is--however dishonouring to us as a nation--certain that,
by some fault in our commonwealth, the poor poet has not in these days,
nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance. Believe me--and I
have spent a great part of ten years in watching some three hundred and
twenty elementary schools, we may prate of democracy, but actually, a
poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an
Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which
great writings are born.'
Nobody could put the point more plainly. 'The poor poet has not in these
days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance . . . a poor
child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian
slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great
writings are born.' That is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon
material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women
have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the
beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the
sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of
writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a
room of one's own. However, thanks to the toils of those obscure women
in the past, of whom I wish we knew more, thanks, curiously enough to
two wars, the Crimean which let Florence Nightingale out of her
drawing-room, and the European War which opened the doors to the average
woman some sixty years later, these evils are in the way to be bettered.
Otherwise you would not be here tonight, and your chance of earning five
hundred pounds a year, precarious as I am afraid that it still is, would
be minute in the extreme.
Still, you may object, why do you attach so much importance to this
writing of books by women when, according to you, it requires so much
effort, leads perhaps to the murder of one's aunts, will make one almost
certainly late for luncheon, and may bring one into very grave disputes
with certain very good fellows? My motives, let me admit, are partly
selfish. Like most uneducated Englishwomen, I like reading--I like
reading books in the bulk. Lately my diet has become a trifle
monotonous; history is too much about wars; biography too much about
great men; poetry has shown, I think, a tendency to sterility, and
fiction but I have sufficiently exposed my disabilities as a critic of
modern fiction and will say no more about it. Therefore I would ask you
to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or
however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess
yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the
future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at
street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For
I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me--and
there are thousands like me--you would write books of travel and
adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and
criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly
profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each
other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with
poetry and philosophy. Moreover, if you consider any great figure of the
past, like Sappho, like the Lady Murasaki, like Emily Brontл, you will
find that she is an inheritor as well as an originator, and has come
into existence because women have come to have the habit of writing
naturally; so that even as a prelude to poetry such activity on your
part would be invaluable.
But when I look back through these notes and criticize my own train of
thought as I made them, I find that my motives were not altogether
selfish. There runs through these comments and discursions the
conviction--or is it the instinct?--that good books are desirable and
that good writers, even if they show every variety of human depravity,
are still good human beings. Thus when I ask you to write more books I
am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the
world at large. How to justify this instinct or belief I do not know,
for philosophic words, if one has not been educated at a university, are
apt to play one false. What is meant by 'reality'? It would seem to be
something very erratic, very undependable--now to be found in a dusty
road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the
sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It
overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world
more real than the world of speech--and then there it is again in an
omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell
in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But
whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains
over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what
is left of past time and of our loves and hates. Now the writer, as I
think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of
this reality. It is his business to find it and collect it and
communicate it to the rest of us. So at least I infer from reading LEAR
or EMMA or LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU. For the reading of these books
seems to perform a curious couching operation on the senses; one sees
more intensely afterwards; the world seems bared of its covering and
given an intenser life. Those are the enviable people who live at enmity
with unreality; and those are the pitiable who are knocked on the head
by the thing done without knowing or caring. So that when I ask you to
earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the
presence of reality, an invigorating life, it would appear, whether one
can impart it or not.
Here I would stop, but the pressure of convention decrees that every
speech must end with a peroration. And a peroration addressed to women
should have something, you will agree, particularly exalting and
ennobling about it. I should implore you to remember your
responsibilities, to be higher, more spiritual; I should remind, you how
much depends upon you, and what an influence you can exert upon the
future. But those exhortations can safely, I think, be left to the other
sex, who will put them, and indeed have put them, with far greater
eloquence than I can compass. When I rummage in my own mind I find no
noble sentiments about being companions and equals and influencing the
world to higher ends. I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that
it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream
of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound
exalted. Think of things in themselves.
And again I am reminded by dipping into newspapers and novels and
biographies that when a woman speaks to women she should have something
very unpleasant up her sleeve. Women are hard on women. Women dislike
women. Women--but are you not sick to death of the word? I can assure
you that I am. Let us agree, then, that a paper read by a woman to women
should end with something particularly disagreeable.
But how does it go? What can I think of? The truth is, I often like
women. I like their unconventionality. I like their completeness. I like
their anonymity. I like--but I must not run on in this way. That
cupboard there,--you say it holds clean table-napkins only; but what if
Sir Archibald Bodkin were concealed among them? Let me then adopt a
sterner tone. Have I, in the preceding words, conveyed to you
sufficiently the warnings and reprobation of mankind? I have told you
the very low opinion in which you were held by Mr Oscar Browning. I have
indicated what Napoleon once thought of you and what Mussolini thinks
now. Then, in case any of you aspire to fiction, I have copied out for
your benefit the advice of the critic about courageously acknowledging
the limitations of your sex. I have referred to Professor X and given
prominence to his statement that women are intellectually, morally and
physically inferior to men. I have handed on all that has come my way
without going in search of it, and here is a final warning--from Mr John
Langdon Davies. [* A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN, by John Langdon Davies.] Mr
John Langdon Davies warns women 'that when children cease to be
altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary'. I hope
you will make a note of it.
How can I further encourage you to go about the business of life? Young
women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning,
you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a
discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or
led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and
you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of
civilization. What is your excuse? It is all very well for you to say,
pointing to the streets and squares and forests of the globe swarming
with black and white and coffee-coloured inhabitants, all busily engaged
in traffic and enterprise and love-making, we have had other work on our
hands. Without our doing, those seas would be unsailed and those fertile
lands a desert. We have borne and bred and washed and taught, perhaps to
the age of six or seven years, the one thousand six hundred and
twenty-three million human beings who are, according to statistics, at
present in existence, and that, allowing that some had help, takes time.
There is truth in what you say--I will not deny it. But at the same time
may I remind you that there have been at least two colleges for women in
existence in England since the year 1866; that after the year 1880 a
married woman was allowed by law to possess her own property; and that
in 1919--which is a whole nine years ago she was given a vote? May I
also remind you that most of the professions have been open to you for
close on ten years now? When you reflect upon these immense privileges
and the length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact
that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of
earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree
that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure
and money no longer holds good. Moreover, the economists are telling us
that Mrs Seton has had too many children. You must, of course, go on
bearing children, but, so they say, in twos and threes, not in tens and
Thus, with some time on your hands and with some book learning in your
brains--you have had enough of the other kind, and are sent to college
partly, I suspect, to be uneducated--surely you should embark upon
another stage of your very long, very laborious and highly obscure
career. A thousand pens are ready to suggest what you should do and what
effect you will have. My own suggestion is a little fantastic, I admit;
I prefer, therefore, to put it in the form of fiction.
I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister;
but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died
young--alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses
now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this
poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still
lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not
here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the
children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are
continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in
the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your
power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or
so--I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of
the little separate lives which we live as individuals--and have five
hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of
freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a
little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in
their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky,
too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past
Milton's bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face
the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that
we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not
only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and
the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which
she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the
unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she
will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that
effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born
again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we
cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she
would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty
and obscurity, is worth while.
Title: Between the Acts (1941)
Author: Virginia Woolf
It was a summer's night and they were talking, in the big room with
the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool. The county
council had promised to bring water to the village, but they
Mrs. Haines, the wife of the gentleman farmer, a goosefaced woman
with eyes protruding as if they saw something to gobble in the
gutter, said affectedly: "What a subject to talk about on a night
Then there was silence; and a cow coughed; and that led her to say
how odd it was, as a child, she had never feared cows, only horses.
But, then, as a small child in a perambulator, a great cart-horse
had brushed within an inch of her face. Her family, she told the
old man in the arm-chair, had lived near Liskeard for many
centuries. There were the graves in the churchyard to prove it.
A bird chuckled outside. "A nightingale?" asked Mrs. Haines. No,
nightingales didn't come so far north. It was a daylight bird,
chuckling over the substance and succulence of the day, over worms,
snails, grit, even in sleep.
The old man in the arm-chair--Mr. Oliver, of the Indian Civil
Service, retired--said that the site they had chosen for the
cesspool was, if he had heard aright, on the Roman road. From an
aeroplane, he said, you could still see, plainly marked, the scars
made by the Britons; by the Romans; by the Elizabethan manor house;
and by the plough, when they ploughed the hill to grow wheat in the
"But you don't remember . . ." Mrs. Haines began. No, not that.
Still he did remember--and he was about to tell them what, when
there was a sound outside, and Isa, his son's wife, came in with
her hair in pigtails; she was wearing a dressing-gown with faded
peacocks on it. She came in like a swan swimming its way; then was
checked and stopped; was surprised to find people there; and lights
burning. She had been sitting with her little boy who wasn't well,
she apologized. What had they been saying?
"Discussing the cesspool," said Mr. Oliver.
"What a subject to talk about on a night like this!" Mrs. Haines
What had HE said about the cesspool; or indeed about anything? Isa
wondered, inclining her head towards the gentleman farmer, Rupert
Haines. She had met him at a Bazaar; and at a tennis party. He
had handed her a cup and a racquet--that was all. But in his
ravaged face she always felt mystery; and in his silence, passion.
At the tennis party she had felt this, and at the Bazaar. Now a
third time, if anything more strongly, she felt it again.
"I remember," the old man interrupted, "my mother. . . ." Of his
mother he remembered that she was very stout; kept her tea-caddy
locked; yet had given him in that very room a copy of Byron. It
was over sixty years ago, he told them, that his mother had given
him the works of Byron in that very room. He paused.
"She walks in beauty like the night," he quoted.
"So we'll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon."
Isa raised her head. The words made two rings, perfect rings, that
floated them, herself and Haines, like two swans down stream. But
his snow-white breast was circled with a tangle of dirty duckweed;
and she too, in her webbed feet was entangled, by her husband, the
stockbroker. Sitting on her three-cornered chair she swayed, with
her dark pigtails hanging, and her body like a bolster in its faded
Mrs. Haines was aware of the emotion circling them, excluding her.
She waited, as one waits for the strain of an organ to die out
before leaving church. In the car going home to the red villa in
the cornfields, she would destroy it, as a thrush pecks the wings
off a butterfly. Allowing ten seconds to intervene, she rose;
paused; and then, as if she had heard the last strain die out,
offered Mrs. Giles Oliver her hand.
But Isa, though she should have risen at the same moment that Mrs.
Haines rose, sat on. Mrs. Haines glared at her out of goose-like
eyes, gobbling, "Please, Mrs. Giles Oliver, do me the kindness to
recognize my existence. . . ." which she was forced to do, rising
at last from her chair, in her faded dressing-gown, with the
pigtails falling over each shoulder.
Pointz Hall was seen in the light of an early summer morning to be
a middle-sized house. It did not rank among the houses that are
mentioned in guide books. It was too homely. But this whitish
house with the grey roof, and the wing thrown out at right angles,
lying unfortunately low on the meadow with a fringe of trees on the
bank above it so that smoke curled up to the nests of the rooks,
was a desirable house to live in. Driving past, people said to
each other: "I wonder if that'll ever come into the market?" And
to the chauffeur: "Who lives there?"
The chauffeur didn't know. The Olivers, who had bought the place
something over a century ago, had no connection with the Warings,
the Elveys, the Mannerings or the Burnets; the old families who had
all intermarried, and lay in their deaths intertwisted, like the
ivy roots, beneath the churchyard wall.
Only something over a hundred and twenty years the Olivers had been
there. Still, on going up the principal staircase--there was
another, a mere ladder at the back for the servants--there was a
portrait. A length of yellow brocade was visible half-way up; and,
as one reached the top, a small powdered face, a great head-dress
slung with pearls, came into view; an ancestress of sorts. Six or
seven bedrooms opened out of the corridor. The butler had been a
soldier; had married a lady's maid; and, under a glass case there
was a watch that had stopped a bullet on the field of Waterloo.
It was early morning. The dew was on the grass. The church clock
struck eight times. Mrs. Swithin drew the curtain in her bedroom--
the faded white chintz that so agreeably from the outside tinged
the window with its green lining. There with her old hands on the
hasp, jerking it open, she stood: old Oliver's married sister; a
widow. She always meant to set up a house of her own; perhaps in
Kensington, perhaps at Kew, so that she could have the benefit of
the gardens. But she stayed on all through the summer; and when
winter wept its damp upon the panes, and choked the gutters with
dead leaves, she said: "Why, Bart, did they build the house in the
hollow, facing north?" Her brother said, "Obviously to escape from
nature. Weren't four horses needed to drag the family coach
through the mud?" Then he told her the famous story of the great
eighteenth-century winter; when for a whole month the house had
been blocked by snow. And the trees had fallen. So every year,
when winter came, Mrs. Swithin retired to Hastings.
But it was summer now. She had been waked by the birds. How they
sang! attacking the dawn like so many choir boys attacking an iced
cake. Forced to listen, she had stretched for her favourite
reading--an Outline of History--and had spent the hours between
three and five thinking of rhododendron forests in Piccadilly; when
the entire continent, not then, she understood, divided by a
channel, was all one; populated, she understood, by elephant-
bodied, seal-necked, heaving, surging, slowly writhing, and, she
supposed, barking monsters; the iguanodon, the mammoth, and the
mastodon; from whom presumably, she thought, jerking the window
open, we descend.
It took her five seconds in actual time, in mind time ever so much
longer, to separate Grace herself, with blue china on a tray, from
the leather-covered grunting monster who was about, as the door
opened, to demolish a whole tree in the green steaming undergrowth
of the primeval forest. Naturally, she jumped, as Grace put the
tray down and said: "Good morning, Ma'am." "Batty," Grace called
her, as she felt on her face the divided glance that was half meant
for a beast in a swamp, half for a maid in a print frock and white
"How those birds sing!" said Mrs. Swithin, at a venture. The
window was open now; the birds certainly were singing. An obliging
thrush hopped across the lawn; a coil of pinkish rubber twisted in
its beak. Tempted by the sight to continue her imaginative
reconstruction of the past, Mrs. Swithin paused; she was given to
increasing the bounds of the moment by flights into past or future;
or sidelong down corridors and alleys; but she remembered her
mother--her mother in that very room rebuking her. "Don't stand
gaping, Lucy, or the wind'll change . . ." How often her mother
had rebuked her in that very room--"but in a very different world,"
as her brother would remind her. So she sat down to morning tea,
like any other old lady with a high nose, thin cheeks, a ring on
her finger and the usual trappings of rather shabby but gallant old
age, which included in her case a cross gleaming gold on her
The nurses after breakfast were trundling the perambulator up and
down the terrace; and as they trundled they were talking--not
shaping pellets of information or handing ideas from one to
another, but rolling words, like sweets on their tongues; which, as
they thinned to transparency, gave off pink, green, and sweetness.
This morning that sweetness was: "How cook had told 'im off about
the asparagus; how when she rang I said: how it was a sweet costume
with blouse to match;" and that was leading to something about a
feller as they walked up and down the terrace rolling sweets,
trundling the perambulator.
It was a pity that the man who had built Pointz Hall had pitched
the house in a hollow, when beyond the flower garden and the
vegetables there was this stretch of high ground. Nature had
provided a site for a house; man had built his house in a hollow.
Nature had provided a stretch of turf half a mile in length and
level, till it suddenly dipped to the lily pool. The terrace was
broad enough to take the entire shadow of one of the great trees
laid flat. There you could walk up and down, up and down, under
the shade of the trees. Two or three grew close together; then
there were gaps. Their roots broke the turf, and among those bones
were green waterfalls and cushions of grass in which violets grew
in spring or in summer the wild purple orchis.
Amy was saying something about a feller when Mabel, with her hand
on the pram, turned sharply, her sweet swallowed. "Leave off
grubbing," she said sharply. "Come along, George."
The little boy had lagged and was grouting in the grass. Then the
baby, Caro, thrust her fist out over the coverlet and the furry
bear was jerked overboard. Amy had to stoop. George grubbed. The
flower blazed between the angles of the roots. Membrane after
membrane was torn. It blazed a soft yellow, a lambent light under
a film of velvet; it filled the caverns behind the eyes with light.
All that inner darkness became a hall, leaf smelling, earth
smelling of yellow light. And the tree was beyond the flower; the
grass, the flower and the tree were entire. Down on his knees
grubbing he held the flower complete. Then there was a roar and a
hot breath and a stream of coarse grey hair rushed between him and
the flower. Up he leapt, toppling in his fright, and saw coming
towards him a terrible peaked eyeless monster moving on legs,
"Good morning, sir," a hollow voice boomed at him from a beak of
The old man had sprung upon him from his hiding-place behind a
"Say good morning, George; say 'Good morning, Grandpa,'" Mabel
urged him, giving him a push towards the man. But George stood
gaping. George stood gazing. Then Mr. Oliver crumpled the paper
which he had cocked into a snout and appeared in person. A very
tall old man, with gleaming eyes, wrinkled cheeks, and a head with
no hair on it. He turned.
"Heel!" he bawled, "heel, you brute!" And George turned; and the
nurses turned holding the furry bear; they all turned to look at
Sohrab the Afghan hound bounding and bouncing among the flowers.
"Heel!" the old man bawled, as if he were commanding a regiment.
It was impressive, to the nurses, the way an old boy of his age
could still bawl and make a brute like that obey him. Back came
the Afghan hound, sidling, apologetic. And as he cringed at the
old man's feet, a string was slipped over his collar; the noose
that old Oliver always carried with him.
"You wild beast . . . you bad beast," he grumbled, stooping.
George looked at the dog only. The hairy flanks were sucked in and
out; there was a blob of foam on its nostrils. He burst out
Old Oliver raised himself, his veins swollen, his cheeks flushed;
he was angry. His little game with the paper hadn't worked. The
boy was a cry-baby. He nodded and sauntered on, smoothing out the
crumpled paper and muttering, as he tried to find his line in the
column, "A cry-baby--a cry-baby." But the breeze blew the great
sheet out; and over the edge he surveyed the landscape--flowing
fields, heath and woods. Framed, they became a picture. Had he
been a painter, he would have fixed his easel here, where the
country, barred by trees, looked like a picture. Then the breeze
"M. Daladier," he read finding his place in the column, "has been
successful in pegging down the franc. . . ."
Mrs. Giles Oliver drew the comb through the thick tangle of hair
which, after giving the matter her best attention, she had never
had shingled or bobbed; and lifted the heavily embossed silver
brush that had been a wedding present and had its uses in
impressing chambermaids in hotels. She lifted it and stood in
front of the three-folded mirror, so that she could see three
separate versions of her rather heavy, yet handsome, face; and
also, outside the glass, a slip of terrace, lawn and tree tops.
Inside the glass, in her eyes, she saw what she had felt overnight
for the ravaged, the silent, the romantic gentleman farmer. "In
love," was in her eyes. But outside, on the washstand, on the
dressing-table, among the silver boxes and tooth-brushes, was the
other love; love for her husband, the stockbroker--"The father of
my children," she added, slipping into the clichй conveniently
provided by fiction. Inner love was in the eyes; outer love on the
dressing-table. But what feeling was it that stirred in her now
when above the looking-glass, out of doors, she saw coming across
the lawn the perambulator; two nurses; and her little boy George,
She tapped on the window with her embossed hairbrush. They were
too far off to hear. The drone of the trees was in their ears; the
chirp of birds; other incidents of garden life, inaudible,
invisible to her in the bedroom, absorbed them. Isolated on a
green island, hedged about with snowdrops, laid with a counterpane
of puckered silk, the innocent island floated under her window.
Only George lagged behind.
She returned to her eyes in the looking-glass. "In love," she must
be; since the presence of his body in the room last night could so
affect her; since the words he said, handing her a teacup, handing
her a tennis racquet, could so attach themselves to a certain spot
in her; and thus lie between them like a wire, tingling, tangling,
vibrating--she groped, in the depths of the looking-glass, for a
word to fit the infinitely quick vibrations of the aeroplane
propeller that she had seen once at dawn at Croydon. Faster,
faster, faster, it whizzed, whirred, buzzed, till all the flails
became one flail and up soared the plane away and away. . . .
"Where we know not, where we go not, neither know nor care," she
hummed. "Flying, rushing through the ambient, incandescent, summer
silent . . ."
The rhyme was "air." She put down her brush. She took up the
"Three, four, eight, Pyecombe," she said.
"Mrs. Oliver speaking. . . . What fish have you this morning?
Cod? Halibut? Sole? Plaice?"
"There to lose what binds us here," she murmured. "Soles.
Filleted. In time for lunch please," she said aloud. "With a
feather, a blue feather . . . flying mounting through the air . . .
there to lose what binds us here . . ." The words weren't worth
writing in the book bound like an account book in case Giles
suspected. "Abortive," was the word that expressed her. She never
came out of a shop, for example, with the clothes she admired; nor
did her figure, seen against the dark roll of trousering in a shop
window, please her. Thick of waist, large of limb, and, save for
her hair, fashionable in the tight modern way, she never looked
like Sappho, or one of the beautiful young men whose photographs
adorned the weekly papers. She looked what she was: Sir Richard's
daughter; and niece of the two old ladies at Wimbledon who were so
proud, being O'Neils, of their descent from the Kings of Ireland.
A foolish, flattering lady, pausing on the threshold of what she
once called "the heart of the house," the threshold of the library,
had once said: "Next to the kitchen, the library's always the
nicest room in the house." Then she added, stepping across the
threshold: "Books are the mirrors of the soul."
In this case a tarnished, a spotted soul. For as the train took
over three hours to reach this remote village in the very heart of
England, no one ventured so long a journey, without staving off
possible mind-hunger, without buying a book on a bookstall. Thus
the mirror that reflected the soul sublime, reflected also the soul
bored. Nobody could pretend, as they looked at the shuffle of
shilling shockers that week-enders had dropped, that the looking-
glass always reflected the anguish of a Queen or the heroism of
At this early hour of a June morning the library was empty. Mrs.
Giles had to visit the kitchen. Mr. Oliver still tramped the
terrace. And Mrs. Swithin was of course at church. The light but
variable breeze, foretold by the weather expert, flapped the yellow
curtain, tossing light, then shadow. The fire greyed, then glowed,
and the tortoiseshell butterfly beat on the lower pane of the
window; beat, beat, beat; repeating that if no human being ever
came, never, never, never, the books would be mouldy, the fire out
and the tortoiseshell butterfly dead on the pane.
Heralded by the impetuosity of the Afghan hound, the old man
entered. He had read his paper; he was drowsy; and so sank down
into the chintz-covered chair with the dog at his feet--the Afghan
hound. His nose on his paws, his haunches drawn up, he looked a
stone dog, a crusader's dog, guarding even in the realms of death
the sleep of his master. But the master was not dead; only
dreaming; drowsily, seeing as in a glass, its lustre spotted,
himself, a young man helmeted; and a cascade falling. But no
water; and the hills, like grey stuff pleated; and in the sand a
hoop of ribs; a bullock maggot-eaten in the sun; and in the shadow
of the rock, savages; and in his hand a gun. The dream hand
clenched; the real hand lay on the chair arm, the veins swollen but
only with a brownish fluid now.
The door opened.
"Am I," Isa apologized, "interrupting?"
Of course she was--destroying youth and India. It was his fault,
since she had persisted in stretching his thread of life so fine,
so far. Indeed he was grateful to her, watching her as she
strolled about the room, for continuing.
Many old men had only their India--old men in clubs, old men in
rooms off Jermyn Street. She in her striped dress continued him,
murmuring, in front of the book cases: "The moor is dark beneath
the moon, rapid clouds have drunk the last pale beams of even. . . .
I have ordered the fish," she said aloud, turning, "though
whether it'll be fresh or not I can't promise. But veal is dear,
and everybody in the house is sick of beef and mutton. . . .
Sohrab," she said, coming to a standstill in front of them, "What's
HE been doing?"
His tail never wagged. He never admitted the ties of domesticity.
Either he cringed or he bit. Now his wild yellow eyes gazed at
her, gazed at him. He could outstare them both. Then Oliver
"Your little boy's a cry-baby," he said scornfully.
"Oh," she sighed, pegged down on a chair arm, like a captive
balloon, by a myriad of hair-thin ties into domesticity. "What's
"I took the newspaper," he explained, "so . . ."
He took it and crumpled it into a beak over his nose. "So," he had
sprung out from behind a tree on to the children.
"And he howled. He's a coward, your boy is."
She frowned. He was not a coward, her boy wasn't. And she loathed
the domestic, the possessive; the maternal. And he knew it and did
it on purpose to tease her, the old brute, her father-in-law.
She looked away.
"The library's always the nicest room in the house," she quoted,
and ran her eyes along the books. "The mirror of the soul" books
were. The Faerie Queene and Kinglake's Crimea; Keats and the
Kreutzer Sonata. There they were, reflecting. What? What remedy
was there for her at her age--the age of the century, thirty-nine--
in books? Book-shy she was, like the rest of her generation; and
gun-shy too. Yet as a person with a raging tooth runs her eye in a
chemist shop over green bottles with gilt scrolls on them lest one
of them may contain a cure, she considered: Keats and Shelley;
Yeats and Donne. Or perhaps not a poem; a life. The life of
Garibaldi. The life of Lord Palmerston. Or perhaps not a person's
life; a county's. The Antiquities of Durham; The Proceedings of
the Archжological Society of Nottingham. Or not a life at all, but
science--Eddington, Darwin, or Jeans.
None of them stopped her toothache. For her generation the
newspaper was a book; and, as her father-in-law had dropped the
Times, she took it and read: "A horse with a green tail . . ."
which was fantastic. Next, "The guard at Whitehall . . ." which
was romantic and then, building word upon word she read: "The
troopers told her the horse had a green tail; but she found it was
just an ordinary horse. And they dragged her up to the barrack
room where she was thrown upon a bed. Then one of the troopers
removed part of her clothing, and she screamed and hit him about
the face. . . ."
That was real; so real that on the mahogany door panels she saw the
Arch in Whitehall; through the Arch the barrack room; in the
barrack room the bed, and on the bed the girl was screaming and
hitting him about the face, when the door (for in fact it was a
door) opened and in came Mrs. Swithin carrying a hammer.
She advanced, sidling, as if the floor were fluid under her shabby
garden shoes, and, advancing, pursed her lips and smiled, sidelong,
at her brother. Not a word passed between them as she went to the
cupboard in the corner and replaced the hammer, which she had taken
without asking leave; together--she unclosed her fist--with a
handful of nails.
"Cindy--Cindy," he growled, as she shut the cupboard door.
Lucy, his sister, was three years younger than he was. The name
Cindy, or Sindy, for it could be spelt either way, was short for
Lucy. It was by this name that he had called her when they were
children; when she had trotted after him as he fished, and had made
the meadow flowers into tight little bunches, winding one long
grass stalk round and round and round. Once, she remembered, he
had made her take the fish off the hook herself. The blood had
shocked her--"Oh!" she had cried--for the gills were full of blood.
And he had growled: "Cindy!" The ghost of that morning in the
meadow was in her mind as she replaced the hammer where it belonged
on one shelf; and the nails where they belonged on another; and
shut the cupboard about which, for he still kept his fishing tackle
there, he was still so very particular.
"I've been nailing the placard on the Barn," she said, giving him a
little pat on the shoulder.
The words were like the first peal of a chime of bells. As the
first peals, you hear the second; as the second peals, you hear the
third. So when Isa heard Mrs. Swithin say: "I've been nailing the
placard to the Barn," she knew she would say next:
"For the pageant."
And he would say:
"Today? By Jupiter! I'd forgotten!"
"If it's fine," Mrs. Swithin continued, "they'll act on the
terrace . . ."
"And if it's wet," Bartholomew continued, "in the Barn."
"And which will it be?" Mrs. Swithin continued. "Wet or fine?"
Then, for the seventh time in succession, they both looked out of
Every summer, for seven summers now, Isa had heard the same words;
about the hammer and the nails; the pageant and the weather. Every
year they said, would it be wet or fine; and every year it was--one
or the other. The same chime followed the same chime, only this
year beneath the chime she heard: "The girl screamed and hit him
about the face with a hammer."
"The forecast," said Mr. Oliver, turning the pages till he found
it, "says: Variable winds; fair average temperature; rain at
He put down the paper, and they all looked at the sky to see
whether the sky obeyed the meteorologist. Certainly the weather
was variable. It was green in the garden; grey the next. Here
came the sun--an illimitable rapture of joy, embracing every
flower, every leaf. Then in compassion it withdrew, covering its
face, as if it forebore to look on human suffering. There was a
fecklessness, a lack of symmetry and order in the clouds, as they
thinned and thickened. Was it their own law, or no law, they
obeyed? Some were wisps of white hair merely. One, high up, very
distant, had hardened to golden alabaster; was made of immortal
marble. Beyond that was blue, pure blue, black blue; blue that had
never filtered down; that had escaped registration. It never fell
as sun, shadow, or rain upon the world, but disregarded the little
coloured ball of earth entirely. No flower felt it; no field; no
Mrs. Swithin's eyes glazed as she looked at it. Isa thought her
gaze was fixed because she saw God there, God on his throne. But
as a shadow fell next moment on the garden Mrs. Swithin loosed and
lowered her fixed look and said:
"It's very unsettled. It'll rain, I'm afraid. We can only pray,"
she added, and fingered her crucifix.
"And provide umbrellas," said her brother.
Lucy flushed. He had struck her faith. When she said "pray," he
added "umbrellas." She half covered the cross with her fingers.
She shrank; she cowered; but next moment she exclaimed:
"Oh there they are--the darlings!"
The perambulator was passing across the lawn.
Isa looked too. What an angel she was--the old woman! Thus to
salute the children; to beat up against those immensities and the
old man's irreverences her skinny hands, her laughing eyes! How
courageous to defy Bart and the weather!
"He looks blooming," said Mrs. Swithin.
"It's astonishing how they pick up," said Isa.
"He ate his breakfast?" Mrs. Swithin asked.
"Every scrap," said Isa.
"And baby? No sign of measles?"
Isa shook her head. "Touch wood," she added, tapping the table.
"Tell me, Bart," said Mrs. Swithin turning to her brother, "what's
the origin of that? Touch wood . . . Antaeus, didn't he touch
She would have been, he thought, a very clever woman, had she fixed
her gaze. But this led to that; that to the other. What went in
at this ear, went out at that. And all were circled, as happens
after seventy, by one recurring question. Hers was, should she
live at Kensington or at Kew? But every year, when winter came,
she did neither. She took lodgings at Hastings.
"Touch wood; touch earth; Antaeus," he muttered, bringing the
scattered bits together. Lempriere would settle it; or the
Encyclopжdia. But it was not in books the answer to his question--
why, in Lucy's skull, shaped so much like his own, there existed a
prayable being? She didn't, he supposed, invest it with hair,
teeth or toe-nails. It was, he supposed more of a force or a
radiance, controlling the thrush and the worm; the tulip and the
hound; and himself, too, an old man with swollen veins. It got her
out of bed on a cold morning and sent her down the muddy path to
worship it, whose mouthpiece was Streatfield. A good fellow, who
smoked cigars in the vestry. He needed some solace, doling out
preachments to asthmatic elders, perpetually repairing the
perpetually falling steeple, by means of placards nailed to Barns.
The love, he was thinking, that they should give to flesh and blood
they give to the church . . . when Lucy rapping her fingers on the
"What's the origin--the origin--of that?"
"Superstition," he said.
She flushed, and the little breath too was audible that she drew in
as once more he struck a blow at her faith. But, brother and
sister, flesh and blood was not a barrier, but a mist. Nothing
changed their affection; no argument; no fact; no truth. What she
saw he didn't; what he saw she didn't--and so on, ad infinitum.
"Cindy," he growled. And the quarrel was over.
The Barn to which Lucy had nailed her placard was a great building
in the farmyard. It was as old as the church, and built of the
same stone, but it had no steeple. It was raised on cones of grey
stone at the corners to protect it from rats and damp. Those who
had been to Greece always said it reminded them of a temple. Those
who had never been to Greece--the majority--admired it all the
same. The roof was weathered red-orange; and inside it was a
hollow hall, sun-shafted, brown, smelling of corn, dark when the
doors were shut, but splendidly illuminated when the doors at the
end stood open, as they did to let the wagons in--the long low
wagons, like ships of the sea, breasting the corn, not the sea,
returning in the evening shagged with hay. The lanes caught tufts
where the wagons had passed.
Now benches were drawn across the floor of the Barn. If it rained,
the actors were to act in the Barn; planks had been laid together
at one end to form a stage. Wet or fine, the audience would take
tea there. Young men and women--Jim, Iris, David, Jessica--were
even now busy with garlands of red and white paper roses left over
from the Coronation. The seeds and the dust from the sacks made
them sneeze. Iris had a handkerchief bound round her forehead;
Jessica wore breeches. The young men worked in shirt sleeves.
Pale husks had stuck in their hair, and it was easy to run a
splinter of wood into the fingers.
"Old Flimsy" (Mrs. Swithin's nickname) had been nailing another
placard on the Barn. The first had been blown down, or the village
idiot, who always tore down what had been nailed up, had done it,
and was chuckling over the placard under the shade of some hedge.
The workers were laughing too, as if old Swithin had left a wake of
laughter behind her. The old girl with a wisp of white hair
flying, knobbed shoes as if she had claws corned like a canary's,
and black stockings wrinkled over the ankles, naturally made David
cock his eye and Jessica wink back, as she handed him a length of
paper roses. Snobs they were; long enough stationed that is in
that one corner of the world to have taken indelibly the print of
some three hundred years of customary behaviour. So they laughed;
but respected. If she wore pearls, pearls they were.
"Old Flimsy on the hop," said David. She would be in and out
twenty times, and finally bring them lemonade in a great jug and a
plate of sandwiches. Jessie held the garland; he hammered. A hen
strayed in; a file of cows passed the door; then a sheep dog; then
the cowman, Bond, who stopped.
He contemplated the young people hanging roses from one rafter to
another. He thought very little of anybody, simples or gentry.
Leaning, silent, sardonic, against the door he was like a withered
willow, bent over a stream, all its leaves shed, and in his eyes
the whimsical flow of the waters.
"Hi--huh!" he cried suddenly. It was cow language presumably, for
the parti-coloured cow, who had thrust her head in at the door
lowered her horns, lashed her tail and ambled off. Bond followed
"That's the problem," said Mrs. Swithin. While Mr. Oliver
consulted the Encyclopжdia searching under Superstition for the
origin of the expression "Touch Wood," she and Isa discussed fish:
whether, coming from a distance, it would be fresh.
They were so far from the sea. A hundred miles away, Mrs. Swithin
said; no, perhaps a hundred and fifty. "But they do say," she
continued, "one can hear the waves on a still night. After a
storm, they say, you can hear a wave break. . . . I like that
story," she reflected. "Hearing the waves in the middle of the
night he saddled a horse and rode to the sea. Who was it, Bart,
who rode to the sea?"
He was reading.
"You can't expect it brought to your door in a pail of water," said
Mrs. Swithin, "as I remember when we were children, living in a
house by the sea. Lobsters, fresh from the lobster pots. How they
pinched the stick cook gave them! And salmon. You know if they're
fresh because they have lice in their scales."
Bartholomew nodded. A fact that was. He remembered, the house by
the sea. And the lobster.
They were bringing up nets full of fish from the sea; but Isa was
seeing--the garden, variable as the forecast said, in the light
breeze. Again, the children passed, and she tapped on the window
and blew them a kiss. In the drone of the garden it went unheeded.
"Are we really," she said, turning round, "a hundred miles from the
"Thirty-five only," her father-in-law said, as if he had whipped a
tape measure from his pocket and measured it exactly.
"It seems more," said Isa. "It seems from the terrace as if the
land went on for ever and ever."
"Once there was no sea," said Mrs. Swithin. "No sea at all between
us and the continent. I was reading that in a book this morning.
There were rhododendrons in the Strand; and mammoths in
"When we were savages," said Isa.
Then she remembered; her dentist had told her that savages could
perform very skilful operations on the brain. Savages had false
teeth, he said. False teeth were invented, she thought he said, in
the time of the Pharaohs.
"At least so my dentist told me," she concluded.
"Which man d'you go to now?" Mrs. Swithin asked her.
"The same old couple; Batty and Bates in Sloane Street."
"And Mr. Batty told you they had false teeth in the time of the
Pharaohs?" Mrs. Swithin pondered.
"Batty? Oh not Batty. Bates," Isa corrected her.
Batty, she recalled, only talked about Royalty. Batty, she told
Mrs. Swithin, had a patient a Princess.
"So he kept me waiting well over an hour. And you know, when one's
a child, how long that seems."
"Marriages with cousins," said Mrs. Swithin, "can't be good for the
Bart put his finger inside his mouth and projected the upper row
outside his lips. They were false. Yet, he said, the Olivers
hadn't married cousins. The Olivers couldn't trace their descent
for more than two or three hundred years. But the Swithins could.
The Swithins were there before the Conquest.
"The Swithins," Mrs. Swithin began. Then she stopped. Bart would
crack another joke about Saints, if she gave him the chance. And
she had had two jokes cracked at her already; one about an
umbrella; another about superstition.
So she stopped and said, "How did we begin this talk?" She counted
on her fingers. "The Pharaohs. Dentists. Fish . . . Oh yes, you
were saying, Isa, you'd ordered fish; and you were afraid it
wouldn't be fresh. And I said 'That's the problem. . . .'"
The fish had been delivered, Mitchell's boy, holding them in a
crook of his arm, jumped off his motor bike. There was no feeding
the pony with lumps of sugar at the kitchen door, nor time for
gossip, since his round had been increased. He had to deliver
right over the hill at Bickley; also go round by Waythorn, Roddam,
and Pyeminster, whose names, like his own, were in Domesday Book.
But the cook--Mrs. Sands she was called, but by old friends Trixie--
had never in all her fifty years been over the hill, nor wanted
He dabbed them down on the kitchen table, the filleted soles, the
semi-transparent boneless fish. And before Mrs. Sands had time to
peel the paper off, he was gone, giving a slap to the very fine
yellow cat who rose majestically from the basket chair and advanced
superbly to the table, winding the fish.
Were they a bit whiffy? Mrs. Sands held them to her nose. The cat
rubbed itself this way, that way against the table legs, against
her legs. She would save a slice for Sunny--his drawing-room name
Sung-Yen had undergone a kitchen change into Sunny. She took them,
the cat attendant, to the larder, and laid them on a plate in
that semi-ecclesiastical apartment. For the house before the
Reformation, like so many houses in that neighbourhood, had a
chapel; and the chapel had become a larder, changing, like the
cat's name, as religion changed. The Master (his drawing-room
name; in the kitchen they called him Bartie) would bring gentlemen
sometimes to see the larder--often when cook wasn't dressed. Not
to see the hams that hung from hooks, or the butter on a blue
slate, or the joint for tomorrow's dinner, but to see the cellar
that opened out of the larder and its carved arch. If you
tapped--one gentleman had a hammer--there was a hollow sound; a
reverberation; undoubtedly, he said, a concealed passage where once
somebody had hid. So it might be. But Mrs. Sands wished they
wouldn't come into her kitchen telling stories with the girls
about. It put ideas into their silly heads. They heard dead men
rolling barrels. They saw a white lady walking under the trees.
No one would cross the terrace after dark. If a cat sneezed,
"There's the ghost!"
Sunny had his little bit off the fillet. Then Mrs. Sands took an
egg from the brown basket full of eggs; some with yellow fluff
sticking to the shells; then a pinch of flour to coat those semi-
transparent slips; and a crust from the great earthenware crock
full of crusts. Then, returning to the kitchen, she made those
quick movements at the oven, cinder raking, stoking, damping, which
sent strange echoes through the house, so that in the library, the
sitting-room, the dining-room, and the nursery, whatever they were
doing, thinking, saying, they knew, they all knew, it was getting
on for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
"The sandwiches . . ." said Mrs. Swithin, coming into the kitchen.
She refrained from adding "Sands" to "sandwiches," for Sand and
sandwiches clashed. "Never play," her mother used to say, "on
people's names." And Trixie was not a name that suited, as Sands
did, the thin, acid woman, red-haired, sharp and clean, who never
dashed off masterpieces, it was true; but then never dropped
hairpins in the soup. "What in the name of Thunder?" Bart had
said, raising a hairpin in his spoon, in the old days, fifteen
years ago, before Sands came, in the time of Jessie Pook.
Mrs. Sands fetched bread; Mrs. Swithin fetched ham. One cut the
bread; the other the ham. It was soothing, it was consolidating,
this handwork together. The cook's hands cut, cut, cut. Whereas
Lucy, holding the loaf, held the knife up. Why's stale bread, she
mused, easier to cut than fresh? And so skipped, sidelong, from
yeast to alcohol; so to fermentation; so to inebriation; so to
Bacchus; and lay under purple lamps in a vineyard in Italy, as she
had done, often; while Sands heard the clock tick; saw the cat;
noted a fly buzz; and registered, as her lips showed, a grudge she
mustn't speak against people making work in the kitchen while they
had a high old time hanging paper roses in the barn.
"Will it be fine?" asked Mrs. Swithin, her knife suspended. In the
kitchen they humoured old Mother Swithin's fancies.
"Seems like it," said Mrs. Sands, giving her sharp look-out of the
"It wasn't last year," said Mrs. Swithin. "D'you remember what a
rush we had--when the rain came--getting in the chairs?" She cut
again. Then she asked about Billy, Mrs. Sands's nephew,
apprenticed to the butcher.
"He's been doing," Mrs. Sands said, "what boys shouldn't; cheeking
"That'll be all right," said Mrs. Swithin, half meaning the boy,
half meaning the sandwich, as it happened a very neat one, trimmed,
"Mr. Giles may be late," she added, laying it, complacently, on top
of the pile.
For Isa's husband, the stockbroker, was coming from London. And
the local train, which met the express train, arrived by no means
punctually, even if he caught the early train which was by no means
certain. In which case it meant--but what it meant to Mrs. Sands,
when people missed their trains, and she, whatever she might want
to do, must wait, by the oven, keeping meat hot, no one knew.
"There!" said Mrs. Swithin, surveying the sandwiches, some neat,
some not, "I'll take 'em to the barn." As for the lemonade, she
assumed, without a flicker of doubt, that Jane the kitchenmaid
would follow after.
Candish paused in the dining-room to move a yellow rose. Yellow,
white, carnation red--he placed them. He loved flowers, and
arranging them, and placing the green sword or heart shaped leaf
that came, fitly, between them. Queerly, he loved them,
considering his gambling and drinking. The yellow rose went there.
Now all was ready--silver and white, forks and napkins, and in the
middle the splashed bowl of variegated roses. So, with one last
look, he left the dining-room.
Two pictures hung opposite the window. In real life they had never
met, the long lady and the man holding his horse by the rein. The
lady was a picture, bought by Oliver because he liked the picture;
the man was an ancestor. He had a name. He held the rein in his
hand. He had said to the painter:
"It you want my likeness, dang it sir, take it when the leaves are
on the trees." There were leaves on the trees. He had said:
"Ain't there room for Colin as well as Buster?" Colin was his
famous hound. But there was only room for Buster. It was, he
seemed to say, addressing the company not the painter, a damned
shame to leave out Colin whom he wished buried at his feet, in the
same grave, about 1750; but that skunk the Reverend Whatshisname
wouldn't allow it.
He was a talk producer, that ancestor. But the lady was a picture.
In her yellow robe, leaning, with a pillar to support her, a silver
arrow in her hand, and a feather in her hair, she led the eye up,
down, from the curve to the straight, through glades of greenery
and shades of silver, dun and rose into silence. The room was
Empty, empty, empty; silent, silent, silent. The room was a shell,
singing of what was before time was; a vase stood in the heart of
the house, alabaster, smooth, cold, holding the still, distilled
essence of emptiness, silence.
Across the hall a door opened. One voice, another voice, a third
voice came wimpling and warbling: gruff--Bart's voice; quavering--
Lucy's voice; middle-toned--Isa's voice. Their voices impetuously,
impatiently, protestingly came across the hall saying: "The
train's late"; saying: "Keep it hot"; saying: "We won't, no
Candish, we won't wait."
Coming out from the library the voices stopped in the hall. They
encountered an obstacle evidently; a rock. Utterly impossible was
it, even in the heart of the country, to be alone? That was the
shock. After that, the rock was raced round, embraced. If it was
painful, it was essential. There must be society. Coming out of
the library it was painful, but pleasant, to run slap into Mrs.
Manresa and an unknown young man with tow-coloured hair and a
twisted face. No escape was possible; meeting was inevitable.
Uninvited, unexpected, droppers-in, lured off the high road by the
very same instinct that caused the sheep and the cows to desire
propinquity, they had come. But they had brought a lunch basket.
Here it was.
"We couldn't resist when we saw the name on the signpost," Mrs.
Manresa began in her rich fluty voice. "And this is a friend--
William Dodge. We were going to sit all alone in a field. And I
said: 'Why not ask our dear friends,' seeing the signpost, 'to
shelter us?' A seat at the table--that's all we want. We have our
grub. We have our glasses. We ask nothing but--" society
apparently, to be with her kind.
And she waved her hand upon which there was a glove, and under the
glove it seemed rings, at old Mr. Oliver.
He bowed deep over her hand; a century ago, he would have kissed
it. In all this sound of welcome, protestation, apology and again
welcome, there was an element of silence, supplied by Isabella,
observing the unknown young man. He was of course a gentleman;
witness socks and trousers; brainy--tie spotted, waistcoat undone;
urban, professional, that is putty coloured, unwholesome; very
nervous, exhibiting a twitch at this sudden introduction, and
fundamentally infernally conceited, for he deprecated Mrs.
Manresa's effusion, yet was her guest.
Isa felt antagonised, yet curious. But when Mrs. Manresa added, to
make all shipshape: "He's an artist," and when William Dodge
corrected her: "I'm a clerk in an office"--she thought he said
Education or Somerset House--she had her finger on the knot which
had tied itself so tightly, almost to the extent of squinting,
certainly of twitching, in his face.
Then they went in to lunch, and Mrs. Manresa bubbled up, enjoying
her own capacity to surmount, without turning a hair, this minor
social crisis--this laying of two more places. For had she not
complete faith in flesh and blood? and aren't we all flesh and
blood? and how silly to make bones of trifles when we're all flesh
and blood under the skin--men and women too! But she preferred
"Or what are your rings for, and your nails, and that really
adorable little straw hat?" said Isabella addressing Mrs. Manresa
silently and thereby making silence add its unmistakable
contribution to talk. Her hat, her rings, her finger nails red as
roses, smooth as shells, were there for all to see. But not her
life history. That was only scraps and fragments to all of them,
excluding perhaps William Dodge, whom she called "Bill" publicly--a
sign perhaps that he knew more than they did. Some of the things
that he knew--that she strolled the garden at midnight in silk
pyjamas, had the loud speaker playing jazz, and a cocktail bar, of
course they knew also. But nothing private; no strict biographical
She had been born, but it was only gossip said so, in Tasmania: her
grandfather had been exported for some hanky-panky mid-Victorian
scandal; malversation of trusts was it? But the story got no
further the only time Isabella heard it than "exported," for the
husband of the communicative lady--Mrs. Blencowe of the Grange--
took exception, pedantically, to "exported," said "expatriated" was
more like it, but not the right word, which he had on the tip of
his tongue, but couldn't get at. And so the story dwindled away.
Sometimes she referred to an uncle, a Bishop. But he was thought
to have been a Colonial Bishop only. They forgot and forgave very
easily in the Colonies. Also it was said her diamonds and rubies
had been dug out of the earth with his own hands by a "husband" who
was not Ralph Manresa. Ralph, a Jew, got up to look the very spit
and image of the landed gentry, supplied from directing City
companies--that was certain--tons of money; and they had no child.
But surely with George the Sixth on the throne it was old
fashioned, dowdy, savoured of moth-eaten furs, bugles, cameos and
black-edged notepaper, to go ferreting into people's pasts?
"All I need," said Mrs. Manresa ogling Candish, as if he were a
real man, not a stuffed man, "is a corkscrew." She had a bottle of
champagne, but no corkscrew.
"Look, Bill," she continued, cocking her thumb--she was opening the
bottle--"at the pictures. Didn't I tell you you'd have a treat?"
Vulgar she was in her gestures, in her whole person, over-sexed,
over-dressed for a picnic. But what a desirable, at least
valuable, quality it was--for everybody felt, directly she spoke,
"She's said it, she's done it, not I," and could take advantage of
the breach of decorum, of the fresh air that blew in, to follow
like leaping dolphins in the wake of an ice-breaking vessel. Did
she not restore to old Bartholomew his spice islands, his youth?
"I told him," she went on, ogling Bart now, "that he wouldn't look
at our things" (of which they had heaps and mountains) "after
yours. And I promised him you'd show him the--the--" here the
champagne fizzed up and she insisted upon filling Bart's glass
first. "What is it all you learned gentlemen rave about? An arch?
Norman? Saxon? Who's the last from school? Mrs. Giles?"
She ogled Isabella now, conferring youth upon her; but always when
she spoke to women, she veiled her eyes, for they, being
conspirators, saw through it.
So with blow after blow, with champagne and ogling, she staked out
her claim to be a wild child of nature, blowing into this--she did
give one secret smile--sheltered harbour; which did make her smile,
after London; yet it did, too, challenge London. For on she went
to offer them a sample of her life; a few gobbets of gossip; mere
trash; but she gave it for what it was worth; how last Tuesday she
had been sitting next so and so; and she added, very casually a
Christian name; then a nickname; and he'd said--for, as a mere
nobody they didn't mind what they said to her--and "in strict
confidence, I needn't tell you," she told them. And they all
pricked their ears. And then, with a gesture of her hands as if
tossing overboard that odious crackling-under-the-pot London life--
so--she exclaimed "There! . . . And what's the first thing I do
when I come down here?" They had only come last night, driving
through June lanes, alone with Bill it was understood, leaving
London, suddenly become dissolute and dirty, to sit down to dinner.
"What do I do? Can I say it aloud? Is it permitted, Mrs. Swithin?
Yes, everything can be said in this house. I take off my stays"
(here she pressed her hands to her sides--she was stout) "and roll
in the grass. Roll--you'll believe that . . ." She laughed
wholeheartedly. She had given up dealing with her figure and thus
"That's genuine," Isa thought. Quite genuine. And her love of the
country too. Often when Ralph Manresa had to stay in town she came
down alone; wore an old garden hat; taught the village women NOT
how to pickle and preserve; but how to weave frivolous baskets out
of coloured straw. Pleasure's what they want she said. You often
heard her, if you called, yodelling among the hollyhocks "Hoity te
doity te ray do . . ."
A thorough good sort she was. She made old Bart feel young. Out
of the corner of his eye, as he raised his glass, he saw a flash of
white in the garden. Someone passing.
The scullery maid, before the plates came out, was cooling her
cheeks by the lily pond.
There had always been lilies there, self-sown from wind-dropped
seed, floating red and white on the green plates of their leaves.
Water, for hundreds of years, had silted down into the hollow, and
lay there four or five feet deep over a black cushion of mud.
Under the thick plate of green water, glazed in their self-centred
world, fish swam--gold, splashed with white, streaked with black or
silver. Silently they manoeuvred in their water world, poised in
the blue patch made by the sky, or shot silently to the edge where
the grass, trembling, made a fringe of nodding shadow. On the
water-pavement spiders printed their delicate feet. A grain fell
and spiralled down; a petal fell, filled and sank. At that the
fleet of boat-shaped bodies paused; poised; equipped; mailed; then
with a waver of undulation off they flashed.
It was in that deep centre, in that black heart, that the lady had
drowned herself. Ten years since the pool had been dredged and a
thigh bone recovered. Alas, it was a sheep's, not a lady's. And
sheep have no ghosts, for sheep have no souls. But, the servants
insisted, they must have a ghost; the ghost must be a lady's; who
had drowned herself for love. So none of them would walk by the
lily pool at night, only now when the sun shone and the gentry
still sat at table.
The flower petal sank; the maid returned to the kitchen;
Bartholomew sipped his wine. Happy he felt as a boy; yet reckless
as an old man; an unusual, an agreeable sensation. Fumbling in his
mind for something to say to the adorable lady, he chose the first
thing that came handy; the story of the sheep's thigh. "Servants,"
he said, "must have their ghost." Kitchenmaids must have their
"But so must I!" cried the wild child of nature, Mrs. Manresa. She
became, of a sudden, solemn as an owl. She KNEW, she said,
pinching a bit of bread to make this emphatic, that Ralph, when he
was at the war, couldn't have been killed without her seeing him--
"wherever I was, whatever I was doing," she added, waving her hands
so that the diamonds flashed in the sun.
"I don't feel that," said Mrs. Swithin, shaking her head.
"No," Mrs. Manresa laughed. "You wouldn't. None of you would.
You see I'm on a level with . . ." she waited till Candish had
retired, "the servants. I'm nothing like so grown up as you are."
She preened, approving her adolescence. Rightly or wrongly? A
spring of feeling bubbled up through her mud. They had laid theirs
with blocks of marble. Sheep's bones were sheep's bones to them,
not the relics of the drowned Lady Ermyntrude.
"And which camp," said Bartholomew turning to the unknown guest,
"d'you belong to? The grown, or the ungrown?"
Isabella opened her mouth, hoping that Dodge would open his, and so
enable her to place him. But he sat staring. "I beg your pardon,
sir?" he said. They all looked at him. "I was looking at the
The picture looked at nobody. The picture drew them down the paths
Lucy broke it.
"Mrs. Manresa, I'm going to ask you a favour--If it comes to a
pinch this afternoon, will you sing?"
This afternoon? Mrs. Manresa was aghast. Was it the pageant? She
had never dreamt it was this afternoon. They would never have
thrust themselves in--had they known it was this afternoon. And,
of course, once more the chime pealed. Isa heard the first chime;
and the second; and the third--If it was wet, it would be in the
Barn; if it was fine on the terrace. And which would it be, wet or
fine? And they all looked out of the window. Then the door
opened. Candish said Mr. Giles had come. Mr. Giles would be down
in a moment.
Giles had come. He had seen the great silver-plated car at the
door with the initials R. M. twisted so as to look at a distance
like a coronet. Visitors, he had concluded, as he drew up behind;
and had gone to his room to change. The ghost of convention rose
to the surface, as a blush or a tear rises to the surface at the
pressure of emotion; so the car touched his training. He must
change. And he came into the dining-room looking like a cricketer,
in flannels, wearing a blue coat with brass buttons; though he was
enraged. Had he not read, in the morning paper, in the train, that
sixteen men had been shot, others prisoned, just over there, across
the gulf, in the flat land which divided them from the continent?
Yet he changed. It was Aunt Lucy, waving her hand at him as he
came in, who made him change. He hung his grievances on her, as
one hangs a coat on a hook, instinctively. Aunt Lucy, foolish,
free; always, since he had chosen, after leaving college, to take a
job in the city, expressing her amazement, her amusement, at men
who spent their lives, buying and selling--ploughs? glass beads was
it? or stocks and shares?--to savages who wished most oddly--for
were they not beautiful naked?--to dress and live like the English?
A frivolous, a malignant statement hers was of a problem which, for
he had no special gift, no capital, and had been furiously in love
with his wife--he nodded to her across the table--had afflicted him
for ten years. Given his choice, he would have chosen to farm.
But he was not given his choice. So one thing led to another; and
the conglomeration of things pressed you flat; held you fast, like
a fish in water. So he came for the week-end, and changed.
"How d'you do?" he said all round; nodded to the unknown guest;
took against him; and ate his fillet of sole.
He was the very type of all that Mrs. Manresa adored. His hair
curled; far from running away, as many chins did, his was firm; the
nose straight, if short; the eyes, of course, with that hair, blue;
and finally to make the type complete, there was something fierce,
untamed, in the expression which incited her, even at forty-five,
to furbish up her ancient batteries.
"He is my husband," Isabella thought, as they nodded across the
bunch of many-coloured flowers. "The father of my children." It
worked, that old clichй; she felt pride; and affection; then pride
again in herself, whom he had chosen. It was a shock to find,
after the morning's look in the glass, and the arrow of desire shot
through her last night by the gentleman farmer, how much she felt
when he came in, not a dapper city gent, but a cricketer, of love;
and of hate.
They had met first in Scotland, fishing--she from one rock, he from
another. Her line had got tangled; she had given over, and had
watched him with the stream rushing between his legs, casting,
casting--until, like a thick ingot of silver bent in the middle,
the salmon had leapt, had been caught, and she had loved him.
Bartholomew too loved him; and noted his anger--about what? But he
remembered his guest. The family was not a family in the presence
of strangers. He must, rather laboriously, tell them the story of
the pictures at which the unknown guest had been looking when Giles
"That," he indicated the man with a horse, "was my ancestor. He
had a dog. The dog was famous. The dog has his place in history.
He left it on record that he wished his dog to be buried with him."
They looked at the picture.
"I always feel," Lucy broke the silence, "he's saying: 'Paint my
"But what about the horse?" said Mrs. Manresa.
"The horse," said Bartholomew, putting on his glasses. He looked
at the horse. The hindquarters were not satisfactory.
But William Dodge was still looking at the lady.
"Ah," said Bartholomew who had bought that picture because he liked
that picture, "you're an artist."
Dodge denied it, for the second time in half an hour, or so Isa
What for did a good sort like the woman Manresa bring these half-
breeds in her trail? Giles asked himself. And his silence made its
contribution to talk--Dodge that is, shook his head. "I like that
picture." That was all he could bring himself to say.
"And you're right," said Bartholomew. "A man--I forget his name--a
man connected with some Institute, a man who goes about giving
advice, gratis, to descendants like ourselves, degenerate
descendants, said . . . said . . ." He paused. They all looked at
the lady. But she looked over their heads, looking at nothing.
She led them down green glades into the heart of silence.
"Said it was by Sir Joshua?" Mrs. Manresa broke the silence
"No, no," William Dodge said hastily, but under his breath.
"Why's he afraid?" Isabella asked herself. A poor specimen he was;
afraid to stick up for his own beliefs--just as she was afraid, of
her husband. Didn't she write her poetry in a book bound like an
account book lest Giles might suspect? She looked at Giles.
He had finished his fish; he had eaten quickly, not to keep them
waiting. Now there was cherry tart. Mrs. Manresa was counting the
"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, apothecary, ploughboy . . .
that's me!" she cried, delighted to have it confirmed by the cherry
stones that she was a wild child of nature.
"You believe," said the old gentleman, courteously chaffing her,
"in that too?"
"Of course, of course I do!" she cried. Now she was on the rails
again. Now she was a thorough good sort again. And they too were
delighted; now they could follow in her wake and leave the silver
and dun shades that led to the heart of silence.
"I had a father," said Dodge beneath his breath to Isa who sat next
him, "who loved pictures."
"Oh, I too!" she exclaimed. Flurriedly, disconnectedly, she
explained. She used to stay when she was a child, when she had the
whooping cough, with an uncle, a clergyman; who wore a skull cap;
and never did anything; didn't even preach; but made up poems,
walking in his garden, saying them aloud.
"People thought him mad," she said. "I didn't. . . ."
"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, apothecary, ploughboy. . . . It
appears," said old Bartholomew, laying down his spoon, "that I am a
thief. Shall we take our coffee in the garden?" He rose.
Isa dragged her chair across the gravel, muttering: "To what dark
antre of the unvisited earth, or wind-brushed forest, shall we go
now? Or spin from star to star and dance in the maze of the moon?
Or. . . ."
She held her deck chair at the wrong angle. The frame with the
notches was upside down.
"Songs my uncle taught me?" said William Dodge, hearing her mutter.
He unfolded the chair and fixed the bar into the right notch.
She flushed, as if she had spoken in an empty room and someone had
stepped out from behind a curtain.
"Don't you, if you're doing something with your hands, talk
nonsense?" she stumbled. But what did he do with his hands, the
white, the fine, the shapely?
Giles went back to the house and brought more chairs and placed
them in a semi-circle, so that the view might be shared, and the
shelter of the old wall. For by some lucky chance a wall had been
built continuing the house, it might be with the intention of
adding another wing, on the raised ground in the sun. But funds
were lacking; the plan was abandoned, and the wall remained,
nothing but a wall. Later, another generation had planted fruit
trees, which in time had spread their arms widely across the red
orange weathered brick. Mrs. Sands called it a good year if she
could make six pots of apricot jam from them--the fruit was never
sweet enough for dessert. Perhaps three apricots were worth
enclosing in muslin bags. But they were so beautiful, naked, with
one flushed cheek, one green, that Mrs. Swithin left them naked,
and the wasps burrowed holes.
The ground sloped up, so that to quote Figgis's Guide Book (1833),
"it commanded a fine view of the surrounding country. . . . The
spire of Bolney Minster, Rough Norton woods, and on an eminence
rather to the left, Hogben's Folly, so called because. . . ."
The Guide Book still told the truth. 1833 was true in 1939. No
house had been built; no town had sprung up. Hogben's Folly was
still eminent; the very flat, field-parcelled land had changed only
in this--the tractor had to some extent superseded the plough. The
horse had gone; but the cow remained. If Figgis were here now,
Figgis would have said the same. So they always said when in
summer they sat there to drink coffee, if they had guests. When
they were alone, they said nothing. They looked at the view; they
looked at what they knew, to see if what they knew might perhaps be
different today. Most days it was the same.
"That's what makes a view so sad," said Mrs. Swithin, lowering
herself into the deck-chair which Giles had brought her. "And so
beautiful. It'll be there," she nodded at the strip of gauze laid
upon the distant fields, "when we're not."
Giles nicked his chair into position with a jerk. Thus only could
he show his irritation, his rage with old fogies who sat and looked
at views over coffee and cream when the whole of Europe--over
there--was bristling like. . . . He had no command of metaphor.
Only the ineffective word "hedgehog" illustrated his vision of
Europe, bristling with guns, poised with planes. At any moment
guns would rake that land into furrows; planes splinter Bolney
Minster into smithereens and blast the Folly. He, too, loved the
view. And blamed Aunt Lucy, looking at views, instead of--doing
what? What she had done was to marry a squire now dead; she had
borne two children, one in Canada, the other, married, in
Birmingham. His father, whom he loved, he exempted from censure;
as for himself, one thing followed another; and so he sat, with old
fogies, looking at views.
"Beautiful," said Mrs. Manresa, "beautiful . . ." she mumbled. She
was lighting a cigarette. The breeze blew out her match. Giles
hollowed his hand and lit another. She too was exempted--why, he
could not say.
"Since you're interested in pictures," said Bartholomew, turning to
the silent guest, "why, tell me, are we, as a race, so incurious,
irresponsive and insensitive"--the champagne had given him a flow
of unusual three-decker words--"to that noble art, whereas, Mrs.
Manresa, if she'll allow me my old man's liberty, has her
Shakespeare by heart?"
"Shakespeare by heart!" Mrs. Manresa protested. She struck an
attitude. "To be, or not to be, that is the question. Whether
'tis nobler . . . Go on!" she nudged Giles, who sat next her.
"Fade far away and quite forget what thou amongst the leaves hast
never known . . ." Isa supplied the first words that came into her
head by way of helping her husband out of his difficulty.
"The weariness, the torture, and the fret . . ." William Dodge
added, burying the end of his cigarette in a grave between two
"There!" Bartholomew exclaimed, cocking his forefinger aloft.
"That proves it! What springs touched, what secret drawer displays
its treasures, if I say"--he raised more fingers--"Reynolds!
"Why called 'Old'?" Mrs. Manresa thrust in.
"We haven't the words--we haven't the words," Mrs. Swithin
protested. "Behind the eyes; not on the lips; that's all."
"Thoughts without words," her brother mused. "Can that be?"
"Quite beyond me!" cried Mrs. Manresa, shaking her head. "Much too
clever! May I help myself? I know it's wrong. But I've reached
the age--and the figure--when I do what I like."
She took the little silver cream jug and let the smooth fluid curl
luxuriously into her coffee, to which she added a shovel full of
brown sugar candy. Sensuously, rhythmically, she stirred the
mixture round and round.
"Take what you like! Help yourself!" Bartholomew exclaimed. He
felt the champagne withdrawing and hastened, before the last trace
of geniality was withdrawn, to make the most of it, as if he cast
one last look into a lit-up chamber before going to bed.
The wild child, afloat once more on the tide of the old man's
benignity, looked over her coffee cup at Giles, with whom she felt
in conspiracy. A thread united them--visible, invisible, like
those threads, now seen, now not, that unite trembling grass blades
in autumn before the sun rises. She had met him once only, at a
cricket match. And then had been spun between them an early
morning thread before the twigs and leaves of real friendship
emerge. She looked before she drank. Looking was part of
drinking. Why waste sensation, she seemed to ask, why waste a
single drop that can be pressed out of this ripe, this melting,
this adorable world? Then she drank. And the air round her became
threaded with sensation. Bartholomew felt it; Giles felt it. Had
he been a horse, the thin brown skin would have twitched, as if a
fly had settled. Isabella twitched too. Jealousy, anger pierced
"And now," said Mrs. Manresa, putting down her cup, "about this
entertainment--this pageant, into which we've gone and butted"--she
made it, too, seem ripe like the apricot into which the wasps were
burrowing--"Tell me, what's it to be?" She turned. "Don't I
hear?" She listened. She heard laughter, down among the bushes,
where the terrace dipped to the bushes.
Beyond the lily pool the ground sank again, and in that dip of the
ground, bushes and brambles had mobbed themselves together. It was
always shady; sun-flecked in summer, dark and damp in winter. In
the summer there were always butterflies; fritillaries darting
through; Red Admirals feasting and floating; cabbage whites,
unambitiously fluttering round a bush, like muslin milkmaids,
content to spend a life there. Butterfly catching, for generation
after generation, began there; for Bartholomew and Lucy; for Giles;
for George it had began only the day before yesterday, when, in his
little green net, he had caught a cabbage white.
It was the very place for a dressing-room, just as, obviously, the
terrace was the very place for a play.
"The very place!" Miss La Trobe had exclaimed the first time she
came to call and was shown the grounds. It was a winter's day.
The trees were leafless then.
"That's the place for a pageant, Mr. Oliver!" she had exclaimed.
"Winding in and out between the trees. . . ." She waved her hand
at the trees standing bare in the clear light of January.
"There the stage; here the audience; and down there among the
bushes a perfect dressing-room for the actors."
She was always all agog to get things up. But where did she spring
from? With that name she wasn't presumably pure English. From the
Channel Islands perhaps? Only her eyes and something about her
always made Mrs. Bingham suspect that she had Russian blood in her.
"Those deep-set eyes; that very square jaw" reminded her--not that
she had been to Russia--of the Tartars. Rumour said that she had
kept a tea shop at Winchester; that had failed. She had been an
actress. That had failed. She had bought a four-roomed cottage
and shared it with an actress. They had quarrelled. Very little
was actually known about her. Outwardly she was swarthy, sturdy
and thick set; strode about the fields in a smock frock; sometimes
with a cigarette in her mouth; often with a whip in her hand; and
used rather strong language--perhaps, then, she wasn't altogether a
lady? At any rate, she had a passion for getting things up.
The laughter died away.
"Are they going to act?" Mrs. Manresa asked.
"Act; dance; sing; a little bit of everything," said Giles.
"Miss La Trobe is a lady of wonderful energy," said Mrs. Swithin.
"She makes everyone do something," said Isabella.
"Our part," said Bartholomew, "is to be the audience. And a very
important part too."
"Also, we provide the tea," said Mrs. Swithin.
"Shan't we go and help?" said Mrs. Manresa. "Cut up bread and
"No, no," said Mr. Oliver. "We are the audience."
"One year we had Gammer Gurton's Needle," said Mrs. Swithin. "One
year we wrote the play ourselves. The son of our blacksmith--Tony?
Tommy?--had the loveliest voice. And Elsie at the Crossways--how
she mimicked! Took us all off. Bart; Giles; Old Flimsy--that's
me. People are gifted--very. The question is--how to bring it
out? That's where she's so clever--Miss La Trobe. Of course,
there's the whole of English literature to choose from. But how
can one choose? Often on a wet day I begin counting up; what I've
read; what I haven't read."
"And leaving books on the floor," said her brother. "Like the pig
in the story; or was it a donkey?"
She laughed, tapping him lightly on the knee.
"The donkey who couldn't choose between hay and turnips and so
starved," Isabella explained, interposing--anything--between her
aunt and her husband, who hated this kind of talk this afternoon.
Books open; no conclusion come to; and he sitting in the audience.
"We remain seated"--"We are the audience." Words this afternoon
ceased to lie flat in the sentence. They rose, became menacing and
shook their fists at you. This afternoon he wasn't Giles Oliver
come to see the villagers act their annual pageant; manacled to a
rock he was, and forced passively to behold indescribable horror.
His face showed it; and Isa, not knowing what to say, abruptly,
half purposely, knocked over a coffee cup.
William Dodge caught it as it fell. He held it for a moment. He
turned it. From the faint blue mark, as of crossed daggers, in the
glaze at the bottom he knew that it was English, made perhaps at
Nottingham; date about 1760. His expression, considering the
daggers, coming to this conclusion, gave Giles another peg on which
to hang his rage as one hangs a coat on a peg, conveniently. A
toady; a lickspittle; not a downright plain man of his senses; but
a teaser and twitcher; a fingerer of sensations; picking and
choosing; dillying and dallying; not a man to have straightforward
love for a woman--his head was close to Isa's head--but simply a
---- At this word, which he could not speak in public, he pursed
his lips; and the signet-ring on his little finger looked redder,
for the flesh next it whitened as he gripped the arm of his chair.
"Oh what fun!" cried Mrs. Manresa in her fluty voice. "A little
bit of everything. A song; a dance; then a play acted by the
villagers themselves. Only," here she turned with her head on one
side to Isabella, "I'm sure SHE'S written it. Haven't you, Mrs.
Isa flushed and denied it.
"For myself," Mrs. Manresa continued, "speaking plainly, I can't
put two words together. I don't know how it is--such a chatterbox
as I am with my tongue, once I hold a pen--" She made a face,
screwed her fingers as if she held a pen in them. But the pen she
held thus on the little table absolutely refused to move.
"And my handwriting--so huge--so clumsy--" She made another face
and dropped the invisible pen.
Very delicately William Dodge set the cup in its saucer. "Now HE,"
said Mrs. Manresa, as if referring to the delicacy with which he
did this, and imputing to him the same skill in writing, "writes
beautifully. Every letter perfectly formed."
Again they all looked at him. Instantly he put his hands in his
Isabella guessed the word that Giles had not spoken. Well, was it
wrong if he was that word? Why judge each other? Do we know each
other? Not here, not now. But somewhere, this cloud, this crust,
this doubt, this dust--She waited for a rhyme, it failed her; but
somewhere surely one sun would shine and all, without a doubt,
would be clear.
She started. Again, sounds of laughter reached her.
"I think I hear them," she said. "They're getting ready. They're
dressing up in the bushes."
Miss La Trobe was pacing to and fro between the leaning birch
trees. One hand was deep stuck in her jacket pocket; the other
held a foolscap sheet. She was reading what was written there.
She had the look of a commander pacing his deck. The leaning
graceful trees with black bracelets circling the silver bark were
distant about a ship's length.
Wet would it be, or fine? Out came the sun; and, shading her eyes
in the attitude proper to an Admiral on his quarter-deck, she
decided to risk the engagement out of doors. Doubts were over.
All stage properties, she commanded, must be moved from the Barn to
the bushes. It was done. And the actors, while she paced, taking
all responsibility and plumping for fine, not wet, dressed among
the brambles. Hence the laughter.
The clothes were strewn on the grass. Cardboard crowns, swords
made of silver paper, turbans that were sixpenny dish cloths, lay
on the grass or were flung on the bushes. There were pools of red
and purple in the shade; flashes of silver in the sun. The dresses
attracted the butterflies. Red and silver, blue and yellow gave
off warmth and sweetness. Red Admirals gluttonously absorbed
richness from dish cloths, cabbage whites drank icy coolness from
silver paper. Flitting, tasting, returning, they sampled the
Miss La Trobe stopped her pacing and surveyed the scene. "It has
the makings . . ." she murmured. For another play always lay
behind the play she had just written. Shading her eyes, she
looked. The butterflies circling; the light changing; the children
leaping; the mothers laughing--
"No, I don't get it," she muttered and resumed her pacing.
"Bossy" they called her privately, just as they called Mrs. Swithin
"Flimsy." Her abrupt manner and stocky figure; her thick ankles
and sturdy shoes; her rapid decisions barked out in guttural
accents--all this "got their goat." No one liked to be ordered
about singly. But in little troops they appealed to her. Someone
must lead. Then too they could put the blame on her. Suppose it
"Miss La Trobe!" they hailed her now. "What's the idea about
She stopped. David and Iris each had a hand on the gramophone. It
must be hidden; yet must be close enough to the audience to be
heard. Well, hadn't she given orders? Where were the hurdles
covered in leaves? Fetch them. Mr. Streatfield had said he would
see to it. Where was Mr. Streatfield? No clergyman was visible.
Perhaps he's in the Barn? "Tommy, cut along and fetch him."
"Tommy's wanted in the first scene." "Beryl then . . ." The
mothers disputed. One child had been chosen; another not. Fair
hair was unjustly preferred to dark. Mrs. Ebury had forbidden
Fanny to act because of the nettle-rash. There was another name in
the village for nettle-rash.
Mrs. Ball's cottage was not what you might call clean. In the last
war Mrs. Ball lived with another man while her husband was in the
trenches. All this Miss La Trobe knew, but refused to be mixed up
in it. She splashed into the fine mesh like a great stone into the
lily pool. The criss-cross was shattered. Only the roots beneath
water were of use to her. Vanity, for example, made them all
malleable. The boys wanted the big parts; the girls wanted the
fine clothes. Expenses had to be kept down. Ten pounds was the
limit. Thus conventions were outraged. Swathed in conventions,
they couldn't see, as she could, that a dish cloth wound round a
head in the open looked much richer than real silk. So they
squabbled; but she kept out of it. Waiting for Mr. Streatfield,
she paced between the birch trees.
The other trees were magnificently straight. They were not too
regular; but regular enough to suggest columns in a church; in a
church without a roof; in an open-air cathedral, a place where
swallows darting seemed, by the regularity of the trees, to make a
pattern, dancing, like the Russians, only not to music, but to the
unheard rhythm of their own wild hearts.
The laughter died away.
"We must possess our souls in patience," said Mrs. Manresa again.
"Or could we help?" she suggested, glancing over her shoulder,
"with those chairs?"
Candish, a gardener, and a maid were all bringing chairs--for the
audience. There was nothing for the audience to do. Mrs. Manresa
suppressed a yawn. They were silent. They stared at the view, as
if something might happen in one of those fields to relieve them of
the intolerable burden of sitting silent, doing nothing, in
company. Their minds and bodies were too close, yet not close
enough. We aren't free, each one of them felt separately to feel
or think separately, nor yet to fall asleep. We're too close; but
not close enough. So they fidgeted.
The heat had increased. The clouds had vanished. All was sun now.
The view laid bare by the sun was flattened, silenced, stilled.
The cows were motionless; the brick wall, no longer sheltering,
beat back grains of heat. Old Mr. Oliver sighed profoundly. His
head jerked; his hand fell. It fell within an inch of the dog's
head on the grass by his side. Then up he jerked it again on to
Giles glared. With his hands bound tight round his knees he stared
at the flat fields. Staring, glaring, he sat silent.
Isabella felt prisoned. Through the bars of the prison, through
the sleep haze that deflected them, blunt arrows bruised her; of
love, then of hate. Through other people's bodies she felt neither
love nor hate distinctly. Most consciously she felt--she had drunk
sweet wine at luncheon--a desire for water. "A beaker of cold
water, a beaker of cold water," she repeated, and saw water
surrounded by walls of shining glass.
Mrs. Manresa longed to relax and curl in a corner with a cushion, a
picture paper, and a bag of sweets.
Mrs. Swithin and William surveyed the view aloofly, and with
How tempting, how very tempting, to let the view triumph; to
reflect its ripple; to let their own minds ripple; to let outlines
elongate and pitch over--so--with a sudden jerk.
Mrs. Manresa yielded, pitched, plunged, then pulled herself up.
"What a view!" she exclaimed, pretending to dust the ashes of her
cigarette, but in truth concealing her yawn. Then she sighed,
pretending to express not her own drowsiness, but something
connected with what she felt about views.
Nobody answered her. The flat fields glared green yellow, blue
yellow, red yellow, then blue again. The repetition was senseless,
"Then," said Mrs. Swithin, in a low voice, as if the exact moment
for speech had come, as if she had promised, and it was time to
fulfil her promise, "come, come and I'll show you the house."
She addressed no one in particular. But William Dodge knew she
meant him. He rose with a jerk, like a toy suddenly pulled
straight by a string.
"What energy!" Mrs. Manresa half sighed, half yawned. "Have I the
courage to go too?" Isabella asked herself. They were going; above
all things, she desired cold water, a beaker of cold water; but
desire petered out, suppressed by the leaden duty she owed to
others. She watched them go--Mrs. Swithin tottering yet tripping;
and Dodge unfurled and straightened, as he strode beside her along
the blazing tiles under the hot wall, till they reached the shade
of the house.
A match-box fell--Bartholomew's. His fingers had loosed it; he had
dropped it. He gave up the game; he couldn't be bothered. With
his head on one side, his hand dangling above the dog's head he
slept; he snored.
Mrs. Swithin paused for a moment in the hall among the gilt-clawed
"This," she said, "is the staircase. And now--up we go."
She went up, two stairs ahead of her guest. Lengths of yellow
satin unfurled themselves on a cracked canvas as they mounted.
"Not an ancestress," said Mrs. Swithin, as they came level with the
head in the picture. "But we claim her because we've known her--O,
ever so many years. Who was she?" she gazed. "Who painted her?"
She shook her head. She looked lit up, as if for a banquet, with
the sun pouring over her.
"But I like her best in the moonlight," Mrs. Swithin reflected, and
mounted more stairs.
She panted slightly, going upstairs. Then she ran her hand over
the sunk books in the wall on the landing, as if they were pan
"Here are the poets from whom we descend by way of the mind,
Mr. . . ." she murmured. She had forgotten his name. Yet she
had singled him out.
"My brother says, they built the house north for shelter, not south
for sun. So they're damp in the winter." She paused. "And now
what comes next?"
She stopped. There was a door.
"The morning room." She opened the door. "Where my mother
received her guests."
Two chairs faced each other on either side of a fine fluted
mantelpiece. He looked over her shoulder.
She shut the door.
"Now up, now up again." Again they mounted. "Up and up they
went," she panted, seeing, it seemed, an invisible procession, "up
and up to bed."
"A bishop; a traveller;--I've forgotten even their names. I
ignore. I forget."
She stopped at a window in the passage and held back the curtain.
Beneath was the garden, bathed in sun. The grass was sleek and
shining. Three white pigeons were flirting and tiptoeing as ornate
as ladies in ball dresses. Their elegant bodies swayed as they
minced with tiny steps on their little pink feet upon the grass.
Suddenly, up they rose in a flutter, circled, and flew away.
"Now," she said, "for the bedrooms." She tapped twice very
distinctly on a door. With her head on one side, she listened.
"One never knows," she murmured, "if there's somebody there." Then
she flung open the door.
He half expected to see somebody there, naked, or half dressed, or
knelt in prayer. But the room was empty. The room was tidy as a
pin, not slept in for months, a spare room. Candles stood on the
dressing-table. The counterpane was straight. Mrs. Swithin
stopped by the bed.
"Here," she said, "yes, here," she tapped the counterpane, "I was
born. In this bed."
Her voice died away. She sank down on the edge of the bed. She
was tired, no doubt, by the stairs, by the heat.
"But we have other lives, I think, I hope," she murmured. "We live
in others, Mr. . . . We live in things."
She spoke simply. She spoke with an effort. She spoke as if she
must overcome her tiredness out of charity towards a stranger, a
guest. She had forgotten his name. Twice she had said "Mr." and
The furniture was mid-Victorian, bought at Maples, perhaps, in the
forties. The carpet was covered with small purple dots. And a
white circle marked the place where the slop pail had stood by the
Could he say "I'm William"? He wished to. Old and frail she had
climbed the stairs. She had spoken her thoughts, ignoring, not
caring if he thought her, as he had, inconsequent, sentimental,
foolish. She had lent him a hand to help him up a steep place.
She had guessed his trouble. Sitting on the bed he heard her sing,
swinging her little legs, "Come and see my sea weeds, come and see
my sea shells, come and see my dicky bird hop upon its perch"--an
old child's nursery rhyme to help a child. Standing by the
cupboard in the corner he saw her reflected in the glass. Cut off
from their bodies, their eyes smiled, their bodiless eyes, at their
eyes in the glass.
Then she slipped off the bed.
"Now," she said, "what comes next?" and pattered down the corridor.
A door stood open. Everyone was out in the garden. The room was
like a ship deserted by its crew. The children had been playing--
there was a spotted horse in the middle of the carpet. The nurse
had been sewing--there was a piece of linen on the table. The baby
had been in the cot. The cot was empty.
"The nursery," said Mrs. Swithin.
Words raised themselves and became symbolical. "The cradle of our
race," she seemed to say.
Dodge crossed to the fireplace and looked at the Newfoundland Dog
in the Christmas Annual that was pinned to the wall. The room
smelt warm and sweet; of clothes drying; of milk; of biscuits and
warm water. "Good Friends" the picture was called. A rushing
sound came in through the open door. He turned. The old woman had
wandered out into the passage and leant against the window.
He left the door open for the crew to come back to and joined her.
Down in the courtyard beneath the window cars were assembling.
Their narrow black roofs were laid together like the blocks of a
floor. Chauffeurs were jumping down; here old ladies gingerly
advanced black legs with silver-buckled shoes; old men striped
trousers. Young men in shorts leapt out on one side; girls with
skin-coloured legs on the other. There was a purring and a
churning of the yellow gravel. The audience was assembling. But
they, looking down from the window, were truants, detached.
Together they leant half out of the window.
And then a breeze blew and all the muslin blinds fluttered out, as
if some majestic goddess, rising from her throne among her peers,
had tossed her amber-coloured raiment, and the other gods, seeing
her rise and go, laughed, and their laughter floated her on.
Mrs. Swithin put her hands to her hair, for the breeze had ruffled
"Mr. . . ." she began.
"I'm William," he interrupted.
At that she smiled a ravishing girl's smile, as if the wind had
warmed the wintry blue in her eyes to amber.
"I took you," she apologized, "away from your friends, William,
because I felt wound tight here. . . ." She touched her bony
forehead upon which a blue vein wriggled like a blue worm. But her
eyes in their caves of bone were still lambent. He saw her eyes
only. And he wished to kneel before her, to kiss her hand, and to
say: "At school they held me under a bucket of dirty water, Mrs.
Swithin; when I looked up, the world was dirty, Mrs. Swithin; so I
married; but my child's not my child, Mrs. Swithin. I'm a half-
man, Mrs. Swithin; a flickering, mind-divided little snake in the
grass, Mrs. Swithin; as Giles saw; but you've healed me. . . ." So
he wished to say; but said nothing; and the breeze went lolloping
along the corridors, blowing the blinds out.
Once more he looked and she looked down on to the yellow gravel
that made a crescent round the door. Pendant from her chain her
cross swung as she leant out and the sun struck it. How could she
weight herself down by that sleek symbol? How stamp herself, so
volatile, so vagrant, with that image? As he looked at it, they
were truants no more. The purring of the wheels became vocal.
"Hurry, hurry, hurry," it seemed to say, "or you'll be late.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, or the best seats'll be taken."
"O," cried Mrs. Swithin, "there's Mr. Streatfield!" And they saw a
clergyman, a strapping clergyman, carrying a hurdle, a leafy
hurdle. He was striding through the cars with the air of a person
of authority, who is awaited, expected, and now comes.
"Is it time," said Mrs. Swithin, "to go and join--" She left the
sentence unfinished, as if she were of two minds, and they
fluttered to right and to left, like pigeons rising from the grass.
The audience was assembling. They came streaming along the paths
and spreading across the lawn. Some were old; some were in the
prime of life. There were children among them. Among them, as Mr.
Figgis might have observed, were representatives of our most
respected families--the Dyces of Denton; the Wickhams of Owlswick;
and so on. Some had been there for centuries, never selling an
acre. On the other hand there were new-comers, the Manresas,
bringing the old houses up to date, adding bathrooms. And a
scatter of odds and ends, like Cobbet of Cobbs Corner, retired, it
was understood, on a pension from a tea plantation. Not an asset.
He did his own housework and dug in his garden. The building of a
car factory and of an aerodrome in the neighbourhood had attracted
a number of unattached floating residents. Also there was Mr.
Page, the reporter, representing the local paper. Roughly
speaking, however, had Figgis been there in person and called a
roll call, half the ladies and gentlemen present would have said:
"Adsum; I'm here, in place of my grandfather or great-grandfather,"
as the case might be. At this very moment, half-past three on a
June day in 1939 they greeted each other, and as they took their
seats, finding if possible a seat next one another, they said:
"That hideous new house at Pyes Corner! What an eyesore! And
those bungalows!--have you seen 'em?"
Again, had Figgis called the names of the villagers, they too would
have answered. Mrs. Sands was born Iliffe; Candish's mother was
one of the Perrys. The green mounds in the churchyard had been
cast up by their molings, which for centuries had made the earth
friable. True, there were absentees when Mr. Streatfield called
his roll call in the church. The motor bike, the motor bus, and
the movies--when Mr. Streatfield called his roll call, he laid the
blame on them.
Rows of chairs, deck chairs, gilt chairs, hired cane chairs, and
indigenous garden seats had been drawn up on the terrace. There
were plenty of seats for everybody. But some preferred to sit on
the ground. Certainly Miss La Trobe had spoken the truth when she
said: "The very place for a pageant!" The lawn was as flat as the
floor of a theatre. The terrace, rising, made a natural stage.
The trees barred the stage like pillars. And the human figure was
seen to great advantage against a background of sky. As for the
weather, it was turning out, against all expectation, a very fine
day. A perfect summer afternoon.
"What luck!" Mrs. Carter was saying. "Last year . . ." Then the
play began. Was it, or was it not, the play? Chuff, chuff, chuff
sounded from the bushes. It was the noise a machine makes when
something has gone wrong. Some sat down hastily, others stopped
talking guiltily. All looked at the bushes. For the stage was
empty. Chuff, chuff, chuff the machine buzzed in the bushes.
While they looked apprehensively and some finished their sentences,
a small girl, like a rosebud in pink, advanced; took her stand on a
mat, behind a conch, hung with leaves and piped:
Gentles and simples, I address you all . . .
So it was the play then. Or was it the prologue?
Come hither for our festival (she continued)
This is a pageant, all may see
Drawn from our island history.
England am I. . . .
"She's England," they whispered. "It's begun." "The prologue,"
they added, looking down at the programme.
"England am I," she piped again; and stopped.
She had forgotten her lines.
"Hear! Hear!" said an old man in a white waistcoat briskly.
"Blast 'em!" cursed Miss La Trobe, hidden behind the tree. She
looked along the front row. They glared as if they were exposed to
a frost that nipped them and fixed them all at the same level.
Only Bond the cowman looked fluid and natural.
"Music!" she signalled. "Music!" But the machine continued:
Chuff, chuff, chuff.
"A child new born . . ." she prompted.
"A child new born," Phyllis Jones continued,
Sprung from the sea
Whose billows blown by mighty storm
Cut off from France and Germany
She glanced back over her shoulder. Chuff, chuff, chuff, the
machine buzzed. A long line of villagers in shirts made of sacking
began passing in and out in single file behind her between the
trees. They were singing, but not a word reached the audience.
England am I, Phyllis Jones continued, facing the audience,
Now weak and small
A child, as all may see . . .
Her words peppered the audience as with a shower of hard little
stones. Mrs. Manresa in the very centre smiled; but she felt as if
her skin cracked when she smiled. There was a vast vacancy between
her, the singing villagers and the piping child.
Chuff, chuff, chuff, went the machine like a corn-cutter on a hot
The villagers were singing, but half their words were blown away.
Cutting the roads . . . up to the hill top . . . we climbed.
Down in the valley . . . sow, wild boar, hog, rhinoceros,
reindeer . . . Dug ourselves in to the hill top . . . Ground
roots between stones . . . Ground corn . . . till we too . . .
lay under g--r--o--u--n--d . . .
The words petered away. Chuff, chuff, chuff, the machine ticked.
Then at last the machine ground out a tune!
Armed against fate
The valiant Rhoderick
Armed and valiant
Bold and blatant
See the warriors--here they come . . .
The pompous popular tune brayed and blared. Miss La Trobe watched
from behind the tree. Muscles loosened; ice cracked. The stout
lady in the middle began to beat time with her hand on her chair.
Mrs. Manresa was humming:
My home is at Windsor, close to the Inn.
Royal George is the name of the pub.
And boys you'll believe me,
I don't want no asking . . .
She was afloat on the stream of the melody. Radiating royalty,
complacency, good humour, the wild child was Queen of the festival.
The play had begun.
But there was an interruption. "O," Miss La Trobe growled behind
her tree, "the torture of these interruptions!"
"Sorry I'm so late," said Mrs. Swithin. She pushed her way through
the chairs to a seat beside her brother.
"What's it all about? I've missed the prologue. England? That
little girl? Now she's gone . . ."
Phyllis had slipped off her mat.
"And who's this?" asked Mrs. Swithin.
It was Hilda, the carpenter's daughter. She now stood where
England had stood.
"O, England's grown . . ." Miss La Trobe prompted her.
"O, England's grown a girl now," Hilda sang out
("What a lovely voice!" someone exclaimed)
With roses in her hair,
Wild roses, red roses,
She roams the lanes and chooses
A garland for her hair.
"A cushion? Thank you so much," said Mrs. Swithin, stuffing the
cushion behind her back. Then she leant forward.
"That's England in the time of Chaucer, I take it. She's been
maying, nutting. She has flowers in her hair . . . But those
passing behind her--" she pointed. "The Canterbury pilgrims?
All the time the villagers were passing in and out between the
trees. They were singing; but only a word or two was audible
". . . wore ruts in the grass . . . built the house in the
lane . . ." The wind blew away the connecting words of their chant,
and then, as they reached the tree at the end they sang:
"To the shrine of the Saint . . . to the tomb . . . lovers . . .
believers . . . we come . . ."
They grouped themselves together.
Then there was a rustle and an interruption. Chairs were drawn
back. Isa looked behind her. Mr. and Mrs. Rupert Haines, detained
by a breakdown on the road, had arrived. He was sitting to the
right, several rows back, the man in grey.
Meanwhile the pilgrims, having done their homage to the tomb, were,
it appeared, tossing hay on their rakes,
I kissed a girl and let her go,
Another did I tumble,
In the straw and in the hay . . .
--that was what they were singing, as they scooped and tossed the
invisible hay, when she looked round again.
"Scenes from English history," Mrs. Manresa explained to Mrs.
Swithin. She spoke in a loud cheerful voice, as if the old lady
were deaf. "Merry England."
She clapped energetically.
The singers scampered away into the bushes. The tune stopped.
Chuff, chuff, chuff, the machine ticked. Mrs. Manresa looked at
her programme. It would take till midnight unless they skipped.
Early Briton; Plantagenets; Tudors; Stuarts--she ticked them off,
but probably she had forgotten a reign or two.
"Ambitious, ain't it?" she said to Bartholomew, while they waited.
Chuff, chuff, chuff went the machine. Could they talk? Could they
move? No, for the play was going on. Yet the stage was empty;
only the cows moved in the meadows; only the tick of the gramophone
needle was heard. The tick, tick, tick seemed to hold them
together, tranced. Nothing whatsoever appeared on the stage.
"I'd no notion we looked so nice," Mrs. Swithin whispered to
William. Hadn't she? The children; the pilgrims; behind the
pilgrims the trees, and behind them the fields--the beauty of the
visible world took his breath away. Tick, tick, tick the machine
"Marking time," said old Oliver beneath his breath.
"Which don't exist for us," Lucy murmured. "We've only the
"Isn't that enough?" William asked himself. Beauty--isn't that
enough? But here Isa fidgetted. Her bare brown arms went
nervously to her head. She half turned in her seat. "No, not for
us, who've the future," she seemed to say. The future disturbing
our present. Who was she looking for? William, turning, following
her eyes, saw only a man in grey.
The ticking stopped. A dance tune was put on the machine. In time
to it, Isa hummed: "What do I ask? To fly away, from night and
day, and issue where--no partings are--but eye meets eye--and . . .
O," she cried aloud: "Look at her!"
Everyone was clapping and laughing. From behind the bushes issued
Queen Elizabeth--Eliza Clark, licensed to sell tobacco. Could she
be Mrs. Clark of the village shop? She was splendidly made up.
Her head, pearl-hung, rose from a vast ruff. Shiny satins draped
her. Sixpenny brooches glared like cats' eyes and tigers' eyes;
pearls looked down; her cape was made of cloth of silver--in fact
swabs used to scour saucepans. She looked the age in person. And
when she mounted the soap box in the centre, representing perhaps a
rock in the ocean, her size made her appear gigantic. She could
reach a flitch of bacon or haul a tub of oil with one sweep of her
arm in the shop. For a moment she stood there, eminent, dominant,
on the soap box with the blue and sailing clouds behind her. The
breeze had risen.
The Queen of this great land . . .
--those were the first words that could be heard above the roar of
laughter and applause.
Mistress of ships and bearded men (she bawled)
Hawkins, Frobisher, Drake,
Tumbling their oranges, ingots of silver,
Cargoes of diamonds, ducats of gold,
Down on the jetty, there in the west land,--
(she pointed her fist at the blazing blue sky)
Mistress of pinnacles, spires and palaces--
(her arm swept towards the house)
For me Shakespeare sang--
(a cow mooed. A bird twittered)
The throstle, the mavis (she continued)
In the green wood, the wild wood,
Carolled and sang, praising England, the Queen,
Then there was heard too
On granite and cobble
From Windsor to Oxford
Loud laughter, low laughter
Of warrior and lover,
The fighter, the singer.
The ashen haired babe
(she stretched out her swarthy, muscular arm)
Stretched his arm in contentment
As home from the Isles came
The sea faring men. . . .
Here the wind gave a tug at her head dress. Loops of pearls made
it top-heavy. She had to steady the ruffle which threatened to
"Laughter, loud laughter," Giles muttered. The tune on the
gramophone reeled from side to side as if drunk with merriment.
Mrs. Manresa began beating her foot and humming in time to it.
"Bravo! Bravo!" she cried. "There's life in the old dog yet!"
And she trolloped out the words of the song with an abandonment
which, if vulgar, was a great help to the Elizabethan age. For the
ruff had become unpinned and great Eliza had forgotten her lines.
But the audience laughed so loud that it did not matter.
"I fear I am not in my perfect mind," Giles muttered to the same
tune. Words came to the surface--he remembered "a stricken deer in
whose lean flank the world's harsh scorn has struck its thorn. . . .
Exiled from its festival, the music turned ironical. . . . A
churchyard haunter at whom the owl hoots and the ivy mocks tap-tap-
tapping on the pane. . . . For they are dead, and I . . . I . . .
I," he repeated, forgetting the words, and glaring at his Aunt Lucy
who sat craned forward, her mouth gaping, and her bony little hands
What were they laughing at?
At Albert, the village idiot, apparently. There was no need to
dress him up. There he came, acting his part to perfection. He
came ambling across the grass, mopping and mowing.
I know where the tit nests, he began
In the hedgerow. I know, I know--
What don't I know?
All your secrets, ladies,
And yours too, gentlemen . . .
He skipped along the front row of the audience, leering at each in
turn. Now he was picking and plucking at Great Eliza's skirts.
She cuffed him on the ear. He tweaked her back. He was enjoying
"Albert having the time of his life," Bartholomew muttered.
"Hope he don't have a fit," Lucy murmured.
"I know . . . I know . . ." Albert tittered, skipping round the
"The village idiot," whispered a stout black lady--Mrs. Elmhurst--
who came from a village ten miles distant where they, too, had an
idiot. It wasn't nice. Suppose he suddenly did something
dreadful? There he was pinching the Queen's skirts. She half
covered her eyes, in case he did do--something dreadful.
Hoppety, jiggety, Albert resumed,
In at the window, out at the door,
What does the little bird hear? (he whistled on his fingers.)
And see! There's a mouse. . . .
(he made as if chasing it through the grass)
Now the clock strikes!
(he stood erect, puffing out his cheeks as if he were blowing
a dandelion clock)
One, two, three, four. . . .
And off he skipped, as if his turn was over.
"Glad that's over." said Mrs. Elmhurst, uncovering her face. "Now
what comes next? A tableau. . . ?"
For helpers, issuing swiftly from the bushes, carrying hurdles, had
enclosed the Queen's throne with screens papered to represent
walls. They had strewn the ground with rushes. And the pilgrims
who had continued their march and their chant in the background,
now gathered round the figure of Eliza on her soap box as if to
form the audience at a play.
Were they about to act a play in the presence of Queen Elizabeth?
Was this, perhaps, the Globe theatre?
"What does the programme say?" Mrs. Herbert Winthrop asked, raising
She mumbled through the blurred carbon sheet. Yes; it was a scene
from a play.
"About a false Duke; and a Princess disguised as a boy; then the
long lost heir turns out to be the beggar, because of a mole on his
cheek; and Carinthia--that's the Duke's daughter, only she's been
lost in a cave--falls in love with Ferdinando who had been put into
a basket as a baby by an aged crone. And they marry. That's I
think what happens," she said, looking up from the programme.
"Play out the play," great Eliza commanded. An aged crone tottered
("Mrs. Otter of the End House," someone murmured.)
She sat herself on a packing case, and made motions, plucking her
dishevelled locks and rocking herself from side to side as if she
were an aged beldame in a chimney corner.
("The crone, who saved the rightful heir," Mrs. Winthrop
'Twas a winter's night (she croaked out)
I mind me that, I to whom all's one now, summer or winter.
You say the sun shines? I believe you, Sir.
'Oh but it's winter, and the fog's abroad'
All's one to Elsbeth, summer or winter,
By the fireside, in the chimney corner, telling her beads.
I've cause to tell 'em.
Each bead (she held a bead between thumb and finger)
'Twas a winter's night, before cockcrow,
Yet the cock did crow ere he left me--
The man with a hood on his face, and the bloody hands
And the babe in the basket.
'Tee hee' he mewed, as who should say 'I want my toy'
"Tee hee, tee hee!" I could not slay him!
For that, Mary in Heaven forgive me
The sins I've sinned before cockcrow!
Down to the creek i' the dawn I slipped
Where the gull haunts and the heron stands
Like a stake on the edge of the marshes . . .
(Three young men swaggered on to the stage and accosted her)
--"Are you come to torture me, Sirs?
There is little blood in this arm,
(she extended her skinny forearm from her ragged shift)
Saints in Heaven preserve me!
She bawled. They bawled. All together they bawled, and so loud
that it was difficult to make out what they were saying: apparently
it was: Did she remember concealing a child in a cradle among the
rushes some twenty years previously? A babe in a basket, crone! A
babe in a basket? they bawled. The wind howls and the bittern
shrieks, she replied.
"There is little blood in my arm," Isabella repeated.
That was all she heard. There was such a medley of things going
on, what with the beldame's deafness, the bawling of the youths,
and the confusion of the plot that she could make nothing of it.
Did the plot matter? She shifted and looked over her right
shoulder. The plot was only there to beget emotion. There were
only two emotions: love; and hate. There was no need to puzzle out
the plot. Perhaps Miss La Trobe meant that when she cut this knot
in the centre?
Don't bother about the plot: the plot's nothing.
But what was happening? The Prince had come.
Plucking up his sleeve, the beldame recognized the mole; and,
staggering back in her chair, shrieked:
My child! My child!
Recognition followed. The young Prince (Albert Perry) was almost
smothered in the withered arms of the beldame. Then suddenly he
"Look where she comes!" he cried.
They all looked where she came--Sylvia Edwards in white satin.
Who came? Isa looked. The nightingale's song? The pearl in
night's black ear? Love embodied.
All arms were raised; all faces stared.
"Hail, sweet Carinthia!" said the Prince, sweeping his hat off.
And she to him, raising her eyes:
"My love! My lord!"
"It was enough. Enough. Enough," Isa repeated.
All else was verbiage, repetition.
The beldame meanwhile, because that was enough, had sunk back on
her chair, the beads dangling from her fingers.
"Look to the beldame there--old Elsbeth's sick!"
(They crowded round her)
She fell back lifeless. The crowd drew away. Peace, let her pass.
She to whom all's one now, summer or winter.
Peace was the third emotion. Love. Hate. Peace. Three emotions
made the ply of human life. Now the priest, whose cotton wool
moustache confused his utterance, stepped forward and pronounced
From the distaff of life's tangled skein, unloose her hands
(They unloosed her hands)
Of her frailty, let nothing now remembered be.
Call for the robin redbreast and the wren.
And roses fall your crimson pall.
(Petals were strewn from wicker baskets)
Cover the corpse. Sleep well.
(They covered the corpse)
On you, fair Sirs (he turned to the happy couple)
Let Heaven rain benediction!
Haste ere the envying sun
Night's curtain hath undone. Let music sound
And the free air of Heaven waft you to your slumber!
Lead on the dance!
The gramophone blared. Dukes, priests, shepherds, pilgrims and
serving men took hands and danced. The idiot scampered in and out.
Hands joined, heads knocking, they danced round the majestic figure
of the Elizabethan age personified by Mrs. Clark, licensed to sell
tobacco, on her soap box.
It was a mellay; a medley; an entrancing spectacle (to William) of
dappled light and shade on half clothed, fantastically coloured,
leaping, jerking, swinging legs and arms. He clapped till his
Mrs. Manresa applauded loudly. Somehow she was the Queen; and he
(Giles) was the surly hero.
"Bravo! Bravo!" she cried, and her enthusiasm made the surly hero
squirm on his seat. Then the great lady in the bath chair, the
lady whose marriage with the local peer had obliterated in his
trashy title a name that had been a name when there were brambles
and briars where the Church now stood--so indigenous was she that
even her body, crippled by arthritis, resembled an uncouth,
nocturnal animal, now nearly extinct--clapped and laughed loud--
the sudden laughter of a startled jay.
"Ha, ha, ha!" she laughed and clutched the arms of her chair with
ungloved twisted hands.
"A-maying, a-maying," they bawled. "In and out and round about,
a-maying, a-maying. . . ."
It didn't matter what the words were; or who sang what. Round and
round they whirled, intoxicated by the music. Then, at a sign from
Miss La Trobe behind the tree, the dance stopped. A procession
formed. Great Eliza descended from her soap box. Taking her
skirts in her hand, striding with long strides, surrounded by Dukes
and Princes, followed by the lovers arm in arm, with Albert the
idiot playing in and out, and the corpse on its bier concluding the
procession, the Elizabethan age passed from the scene.
"Curse! Blast! Damn 'em!" Miss La Trobe in her rage stubbed her
toe against a root. Here was her downfall; here was the Interval.
Writing this skimble-skamble stuff in her cottage, she had agreed
to cut the play here; a slave to her audience,--to Mrs. Sands'
grumble--about tea; about dinner;--she had gashed the scene here.
Just as she had brewed emotion, she spilt it. So she signalled:
Phyllis! And, summoned, Phyllis popped up on the mat again in the
Gentles and simples, I address you all (she piped.)
Our act is done, our scene is over.
Past is the day of crone and lover.
The bud has flowered; the flower has fallen.
But soon will rise another dawning,
For time whose children small we be
Hath in his keeping, you shall see,
You shall see. . . .
Her voice petered out. No one was listening. Heads bent, they
read "Interval" on the programme. And, cutting short her words,
the megaphone announced in plain English: "An interval." Half an
hour's interval, for tea. Then the gramophone blared out:
Armed against fate,
The valiant Rhoderick,
Bold and blatant,
Firm, elatant, etc., etc.
At that, the audience stirred. Some rose briskly; others stooped,
retrieving walking-sticks, hats, bags. And then, as they raised
themselves and turned about, the music modulated. The music
chanted: Dispersed are we. It moaned: Dispersed are we. It
lamented: Dispersed are we, as they streamed, spotting the grass
with colour, across the lawns, and down the paths: Dispersed are
Mrs. Manresa took up the strain. Dispersed are we. "Freely,
boldly, fearing no one" (she pushed a deck chair out of her way).
"Youths and maidens" (she glanced behind her; but Giles had his
back turned). "Follow, follow, follow me. . . . Oh Mr. Parker,
what a pleasure to see YOU here! I'm for tea!"
"Dispersed are we," Isabella followed her, humming. "All is over.
The wave has broken. Left us stranded, high and dry. Single,
separate on the shingle. Broken is the three-fold ply . . . Now I
follow" (she pushed her chair back . . . The man in grey was lost
in the crowd by the ilex) "that old strumpet" (she invoked Mrs.
Manresa's tight, flowered figure in front of her) "to have tea."
Dodge remained behind. "Shall I," he murmured, "go or stay? Slip
out some other way? Or follow, follow, follow the dispersing
Dispersed are we, the music wailed; dispersed are we. Giles
remained like a stake in the tide of the flowing company.
"Follow?" He kicked his chair back. "Whom? Where?" He stubbed
his light tennis shoes on the wood. "Nowhere. Anywhere." Stark
still he stood.
Here Cobbet of Cobbs Corner, alone under the monkey puzzle tree,
rose and muttered: "What was in her mind, eh? What idea lay
behind, eh? What made her indue the antique with this glamour--
this sham lure, and set 'em climbing, climbing, climbing up the
monkey puzzle tree?"
Dispersed are we, the music wailed. Dispersed are we. He turned
and sauntered slowly after the retreating company.
Now Lucy, retrieving her bag from beneath the seat, chirruped to
"Bart, my dear, come with me. . . . D'you remember, when we were
children, the play we acted in the nursery?"
He remembered. Red Indians the game was; a reed with a note
wrapped up in a pebble.
"But for us, my old Cindy"--he picked up his hat--"the game's
over." The glare and the stare and the beat of the tom-tom, he
meant. He gave her his arm. Off they strolled. And Mr. Page, the
reporter, noted, "Mrs. Swithin: Mr. B. Oliver," then turning, added
further "Lady Haslip, of Haslip Manor," as he spied that old lady
wheeled in her chair by her footman winding up the procession.
To the valediction of the gramophone hid in the bushes the audience
departed. Dispersed, it wailed, Dispersed are we.
Now Miss La Trobe stepped from her hiding. Flowing, and streaming,
on the grass, on the gravel, still for one moment she held them
together--the dispersing company. Hadn't she, for twenty-five
minutes, made them see? A vision imparted was relief from
agony . . . for one moment . . . one moment. Then the music petered
out on the last word we. She heard the breeze rustle in the
branches. She saw Giles Oliver with his back to the audience.
Also Cobbet of Cobbs Corner. She hadn't made them see. It was a
failure, another damned failure! As usual. Her vision escaped her.
And turning, she strode to the actors, undressing, down in the
hollow, where butterflies feasted upon swords of silver paper; where
the dish cloths in the shadow made pools of yellow.
Cobbet had out his watch. Three hours till seven, he noted; then
water the plants. He turned.
Giles, nicking his chair into its notch, turned too, in the other
direction. He took the short cut by the fields to the Barn. This
dry summer the path was hard as brick across the fields. This dry
summer the path was strewn with stones. He kicked--a flinty yellow
stone, a sharp stone, edged as if cut by a savage for an arrow. A
barbaric stone; a pre-historic. Stone-kicking was a child's game.
He remembered the rules. By the rules of the game, one stone, the
same stone, must be kicked to the goal. Say a gate, or a tree. He
played it alone. The gate was a goal; to be reached in ten. The
first kick was Manresa (lust). The second, Dodge (perversion).
The third himself (coward). And the fourth and the fifth and all
the others were the same.
He reached it in ten. There, couched in the grass, curled in an
olive green ring, was a snake. Dead? No, choked with a toad in
its mouth. The snake was unable to swallow, the toad was unable to
die. A spasm made the ribs contract; blood oozed. It was birth
the wrong way round--a monstrous inversion. So, raising his foot,
he stamped on them. The mass crushed and slithered. The white
canvas on his tennis shoes was bloodstained and sticky. But it was
action. Action relieved him. He strode to the Barn, with blood on
The Barn, the Noble Barn, the barn that had been built over seven
hundred years ago and reminded some people of a Greek temple,
others of the middle ages, most people of an age before their own,
scarcely anybody of the present moment, was empty.
The great doors stood open. A shaft of light like a yellow banner
sloped from roof to floor. Festoons of paper roses, left over from
the Coronation, drooped from the rafters. A long table, on which
stood an urn, plates and cups, cakes and bread and butter,
stretched across one end. The Barn was empty. Mice slid in and
out of holes or stood upright, nibbling. Swallows were busy with
straw in pockets of earth in the rafters. Countless beetles and
insects of various sorts burrowed in the dry wood. A stray bitch
had made the dark corner where the sacks stood a lying-in ground
for her puppies. All these eyes, expanding and narrowing, some
adapted to light, others to darkness, looked from different angles
and edges. Minute nibblings and rustlings broke the silence.
Whiffs of sweetness and richness veined the air. A blue-bottle had
settled on the cake and stabbed its yellow rock with its short
drill. A butterfly sunned itself sensuously on a sunlit yellow
But Mrs. Sands was approaching. She was pushing her way through
the crowd. She had turned the corner. She could see the great
open door. But butterflies she never saw, mice were only black
pellets in kitchen drawers; moths she bundled in her hands and
put out of the window. Bitches suggested only servant girls
misbehaving. Had there been a cat she would have seen it--any cat,
a starved cat with a patch of mange on its rump opened the flood
gates of her childless heart. But there was no cat. The Barn was
empty. And so running, panting, set upon reaching the Barn and
taking up her station behind the tea urn before the company came,
she reached the Barn. And the butterfly rose and the bluebottle.
Following her in a scud came the servants and helpers--David, John,
Irene, Lois. Water boiled. Steam issued. Cake was sliced.
Swallows swooped from rafter to rafter. And the company entered.
"This fine old Barn . . ." said Mrs. Manresa, stopping in the
doorway. It was not for her to press ahead of the villagers. It
was for her, moved by the beauty of the Barn, to stand still; to
draw aside; to gaze; to let other people come first.
"We have one, much like it, at Lathom," said Mrs. Parker, stopping,
for the same reasons. "Perhaps," she added, "not quite so large."
The villagers hung back. Then, hesitating, dribbled past.
"And the decorations . . ." said Mrs. Manresa, looking round for
someone to congratulate. She stood smiling, waiting. Then old
Mrs. Swithin came in. She was gazing up too, but not at the
decorations. At the swallows apparently.
"They come every year," she said, "the same birds." Mrs. Manresa
smiled benevolently, humouring the old lady's whimsy. It was
unlikely, she thought, that the birds were the same.
"The decorations, I suppose, are left over from the Coronation,"
said Mrs. Parker. "We kept ours too. We built a village hall."
Mrs. Manresa laughed. She remembered. An anecdote was on the tip
of her tongue, about a public lavatory built to celebrate the same
occasion, and how the Mayor . . . Could she tell it? No. The old
lady, gazing at the swallows, looked too refined. "Refeened"--Mrs.
Manresa qualified the word to her own advantage, thus confirming
her approval of the wild child she was, whose nature was somehow
"just human nature." Somehow she could span the old lady's
"refeenment," also the boy's fun--Where was that nice fellow Giles?
She couldn't see him; nor Bill either. The villagers still hung
back. They must have someone to start the ball rolling.
"Well, I'm dying for my tea!" she said in her public voice; and
strode forward. She laid hold of a thick china mug. Mrs. Sands
giving precedence, of course, to one of the gentry, filled it at
once. David gave her cake. She was the first to drink, the first
to bite. The villagers still hung back. "It's all my eye about
democracy," she concluded. So did Mrs. Parker, taking her mug too.
The people looked to them. They led; the rest followed.
"What delicious tea!" each exclaimed, disgusting though it was,
like rust boiled in water, and the cake fly-blown. But they had a
duty to society.
"They come every year," said Mrs. Swithin, ignoring the fact that
she spoke to the empty air. "From Africa." As they had come, she
supposed, when the Barn was a swamp.
The Barn filled. Fumes rose. China clattered; voices chattered.
Isa pressed her way to the table.
"Dispersed are we," she murmured. And held her cup out to be
filled. She took it. "Let me turn away," she murmured, turning,
"from the array"--she looked desolately round her--"of china faces,
glazed and hard. Down the ride, that leads under the nut tree and
the may tree, away, till I come to the wishing well, where the
washerwoman's little boy--" she dropped sugar, two lumps, into her
tea, "dropped a pin. He got his horse, so they say. But what wish
should I drop into the well?" She looked round. She could not see
the man in grey, the gentleman farmer; nor anyone known to her.
"That the waters should cover me," she added, "of the wishing
The noise of china and chatter drowned her murmur. "Sugar for
you?" they were saying. "Just a spot of milk? And you?" "Tea
without milk or sugar. That's the way I like it." "A bit too
strong? Let me add water."
"That's what I wished," Isa added, "when I dropped my pin. Water.
Water . . ."
"I must say," the voice said behind her, "it's brave of the King
and Queen. They're said to be going to India. She looks such a
dear. Someone I know said his hair. . . ."
"There," Isa mused, "would the dead leaf fall, when the leaves
fall, on the water. Should I mind not again to see may tree or nut
tree? Not again to hear on the trembling spray the thrush sing, or
to see, dipping and diving as if he skimmed waves in the air, the
She was looking at the canary yellow festoons left over from the
"I thought they said Canada, not India," the voice said behind her
back. To which the other voice answered: "D'you believe what the
papers say? For instance, about the Duke of Windsor. He landed on
the south coast. Queen Mary met him. She'd been buying furniture--
that's a fact. And the papers say she met him . . ."
"Alone, under a tree, the withered tree that keeps all day,
murmuring of the sea, and hears the Rider gallop . . ."
Isa filled in the phrase. Then she started. William Dodge was by
He smiled. She smiled. They were conspirators; each murmuring
some song my uncle taught me.
"It's the play," she said. "The play keeps running in my head."
"Hail, sweet Carinthia. My love. My life," he quoted.
"My lord, my liege," she bowed ironically.
She was handsome. He wanted to see her, not against the tea urn,
but with her glass green eyes and thick body, the neck was broad as
a pillar, against an arum lily or a vine. He wished she would say:
"Come along. I'll show you the greenhouse, the pig sty, or the
stable." But she said nothing, and they stood there holding their
cups, remembering the play. Then he saw her face change, as if she
had got out of one dress and put on another. A small boy battled
his way through the crowd, striking against skirts and trousers as
if he were swimming blindly.
"Here!" she cried raising her arm.
He made a bee-line for her. He was her little boy, apparently, her
son, her George. She gave him cake; then a mug of milk. Then
Nurse came up. Then again she changed her dress. This time, from
the expression in her eyes it was apparently something in the
nature of a strait waistcoat. Hirsute, handsome, virile, the young
man in blue jacket and brass buttons, standing in a beam of dusty
light, was her husband. And she his wife. Their relations, as he
had noted at lunch, were as people say in novels "strained." As he
had noted at the play, her bare arm had raised itself nervously to
her shoulder when she turned--looking for whom? But here he was;
and the muscular, the hirsute, the virile plunged him into emotions
in which the mind had no share. He forgot how she would have
looked against vine leaf in a greenhouse. Only at Giles he looked;
and looked and looked. Of whom was he thinking as he stood with
his face turned? Not of Isa. Of Mrs. Manresa?
Mrs. Manresa half-way down the Barn had gulped her cup of tea. How
can I rid myself, she asked, of Mrs. Parker? If they were of her
own class, how they bored her--her own sex! Not the class below--
cooks, shopkeepers, farmers' wives; nor the class above--peeresses,
countesses; it was the women of her own class that bored her. So
she left Mrs. Parker, abruptly.
"Oh Mrs. Moore," she hailed the keeper's wife. "What did you think
of it? And what did baby think of it?" Here she pinched baby. "I
thought it every bit as good as anything I'd seen in London. . . .
But we mustn't be outdone. We'll have a play of our own. In OUR
Barn. We'll show 'em" (here she winked obliquely at the table; so
many bought cakes, so few made at home) "how WE do it."
Then cracking her jokes, she turned; saw Giles; caught his eye; and
swept him in, beckoning. He came. And what--she looked down--had
he done with his shoes? They were bloodstained. Vaguely some
sense that he had proved his valour for her admiration flattered
her. If vague it was sweet. Taking him in tow, she felt: I am the
Queen, he my hero, my sulky hero.
"That's Mrs. Neale!" she exclaimed. "A perfect marvel of a woman,
aren't you, Mrs. Neale! She runs our post office, Mrs. Neale. She
can do sums in her head, can't you, Mrs. Neale? Twenty-five
halfpenny stamps, two packets of stamped envelopes and a packet of
postcards--how much does that come to, Mrs. Neale?"
Mrs. Neale laughed; Mrs. Manresa laughed; Giles too smiled, and
looked down at his shoes.
She drew him down the Barn, in and out, from one to another. She
knew 'em all. Every one was a thorough good sort. No, she
wouldn't allow it, not for a moment--Pinsent's bad leg. "No, no.
We're not going to take that for an excuse, Pinsent." If he
couldn't bowl, he could bat. Giles agreed. A fish on a line meant
the same to him and Pinsent; also jays and magpies. Pinsent stayed
on the land; Giles went to an office. That was all. And she was a
thorough good sort, making him feel less of an audience, more of an
actor, going round the Barn in her wake.
Then, at the end by the door, they came upon the old couple, Lucy
and Bartholomew, sitting on their Windsor chairs.
Chairs had been reserved for them. Mrs. Sands had sent them tea.
It would have caused more bother than it was worth--asserting the
democratic principle; standing in the crowd at the table.
"Swallows," said Lucy, holding her cup, looking at the birds.
Excited by the company they were flitting from rafter to rafter.
Across Africa, across France they had come to nest here. Year
after year they came. Before there was a channel, when the earth,
upon which the Windsor chair was planted, was a riot of
rhododendrons, and humming birds quivered at the mouths of scarlet
trumpets, as she had read that morning in her Outline of History,
they had come . . . Here Bart rose from his chair.
But Mrs. Manresa absolutely refused to take his seat. "Go on
sitting, go on sitting," she pressed him down again. "I'll squat
on the floor." She squatted. The surly knight remained in
"And what did you think of the play?" she asked.
Bartholomew looked at his son. His son remained silent.
"And you Mrs. Swithin?" Mrs. Manresa pressed the old lady.
Lucy mumbled, looking at the swallows.
"I was hoping you'd tell me," said Mrs. Manresa. "Was it an old
play? Was it a new play?"
No one answered.
"Look!" Lucy exclaimed.
"The birds?" said Mrs. Manresa, looking up.
There was a bird with a straw in its beak; and the straw dropped.
Lucy clapped her hands. Giles turned away. She was mocking him as
"Going?" said Bartholomew. "Time for the next act?"
And he heaved himself up from his chair. Regardless of Mrs.
Manresa and of Lucy, off he strolled too.
"Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow," he muttered, feeling for
his cigar case, following his son.
Mrs. Manresa was nettled. What for had she squatted on the floor
then? Were her charms fading? Both were gone. But, woman of
action as she was, deserted by the male sex, she was not going to
suffer tortures of boredom from the refeened old lady. Up she
scrambled, putting her hands to hair as if it were high time that
she went too, though it was nothing of the kind and her hair was
perfectly tidy. Cobbet in his corner saw through her little game.
He had known human nature in the East. It was the same in the
West. Plants remained--the carnation, the zinnia, and the
geranium. Automatically he consulted his watch; noted time to
water at seven; and observed the little game of the woman following
the man to the table in the West as in the East.
William at the table, now attached to Mrs. Parker and Isa, watched
him approach. Armed and valiant, bold and blatant, firm elatant--
the popular march tune rang in his head. And the fingers of
William's left hand closed firmly, surreptitiously, as the hero
Mrs. Parker was deploring to Isa in a low voice the village idiot.
"Oh that idiot!" she was saying. But Isa was immobile, watching
her husband. She could feel the Manresa in his wake. She could
hear in the dusk in their bedroom the usual explanation. It made
no difference; his infidelity--but hers did.
"The idiot?" William answered Mrs. Parker for her. "He's in the
"But surely," said Mrs. Parker, and told Giles how creepy the
idiot--"We have one in our village"--had made her feel. "Surely,
Mr. Oliver, we're more civilized?"
"WE?" said Giles. "WE?" He looked, once, at William. He knew not
his name; but what his left hand was doing. It was a bit of luck--
that he could despise him, not himself. Also Mrs. Parker. But not
Isa--not his wife. She had not spoken to him, not one word. Nor
looked at him either.
"Surely," said Mrs. Parker, looking from one to the other. "Surely
Giles then did what to Isa was his little trick; shut his lips;
frowned; and took up the pose of one who bears the burden of the
world's woe, making money for her to spend.
"No," said Isa, as plainly as words could say it. "I don't admire
you," and looked, not at his face, but at his feet. "Silly little
boy, with blood on his boots."
Giles shifted his feet. Whom then did she admire? Not Dodge.
That he could take for certain. Who else? Some man he knew. Some
man, he was sure, in the Barn. Which man? He looked round him.
Then Mr. Streatfield, the clergyman, interrupted. He was carrying
"So I shake hands with my heart!" he exclaimed, nodding his
handsome, grizzled head and depositing his burden safely.
Mrs. Parker took the tribute to herself.
"Mr. Streatfield!" she exclaimed. "Doing all the work! While we
"Like to see the greenhouse?" said Isa suddenly, turning to William
O not now, he could have cried. But had to follow, leaving Giles
to welcome the approaching Manresa, who had him in thrall.
The path was narrow. Isa went ahead. And she was broad; she
fairly filled the path, swaying slightly as she walked, and
plucking a leaf here and there from the hedge.
"Fly then, follow," she hummed, "the dappled herds in the cedar
grove, who, sporting, play, the red with the roe, the stag with the
doe. Fly, away. I grieving stay. Alone I linger, I pluck the
bitter herb by the ruined wall, the churchyard wall, and press its
sour, its sweet, its sour, long grey leaf, so, twixt thumb and
finger. . . ."
She threw away the shred of Old Man's Beard that she had picked in
passing and kicked open the greenhouse door. Dodge had lagged
behind. She waited. She picked up a knife from the plank. He saw
her standing against the green glass, the fig tree, and the blue
hydrangea, knife in hand.
"She spake," Isa murmured. "And from her bosom's snowy antre drew
the gleaming blade. 'Plunge blade!' she said. And struck.
'Faithless!' she cried. Knife, too! It broke. So too my heart,"
She was smiling ironically as he came up.
"I wish the play didn't run in my head," she said. Then she sat
down on a plank under the vine. And he sat beside her. The little
grapes above them were green buds; the leaves thin and yellow as
the web between birds' claws.
"Still the play?" he asked. She nodded. "That was your son," he
said, "in the Barn?"
She had a daughter too, she told him, in the cradle.
"And you--married?" she asked. From her tone he knew she guessed,
as women always guessed, everything. They knew at once they had
nothing to fear, nothing to hope. At first they resented--serving
as statues in a greenhouse. Then they liked it. For then they
could say--as she did--whatever came into their heads. And hand
him, as she handed him, a flower.
"There's something for your buttonhole, Mr. . . ." she said,
handing him a sprig of scented geranium.
"I'm William," he said, taking the furry leaf and pressing it
between thumb and finger.
"I'm Isa," she answered. Then they talked as if they had known
each other all their lives; which was odd, she said, as they always
did, considering she'd known him perhaps one hour. Weren't they,
though, conspirators, seekers after hidden faces? That confessed,
she paused and wondered, as they always did, why they could speak
so plainly to each other. And added: "Perhaps because we've never
met before, and never shall again."
"The doom of sudden death hanging over us," he said. "There's no
retreating and advancing"--he was thinking of the old lady showing
him the house--"for us as for them."
The future shadowed their present, like the sun coming through the
many-veined transparent vine leaf; a criss-cross of lines making no
They had left the greenhouse door open, and now music came through
it. A.B.C., A.B.C., A.B.C.--someone was practising scales. C.A.T.
C.A.T. C.A.T. . . . Then the separate letters made one word
"Cat." Other words followed. It was a simple tune, like a nursery
The King is in his counting house,
Counting out his money,
The Queen is in her parlour
Eating bread and honey.
They listened. Another voice, a third voice, was saying something
simple. And they sat on in the greenhouse, on the plank with the
vine over them, listening to Miss La Trobe or whoever it was,
practising her scales.
He could not find his son. He had lost him in the crowd. So old
Bartholomew left the Barn, and went to his own room, holding his
cheroot and murmuring:
"O sister swallow, O sister swallow,
How can thy heart be full of the spring?"
"How can my heart be full of the spring?" he said aloud, standing
in front of the book case. Books: the treasured life-blood of
immortal spirits. Poets; the legislators of mankind. Doubtless,
it was so. But Giles was unhappy. "How can my heart, how can my
heart," he repeated, puffing at his cheroot. "Condemned in life's
infernal mine, condemned in solitude to pine . . ." Arms akimbo,
he stood in front of his country gentleman's library. Garibaldi;
Wellington; Irrigation Officers' Reports; and Hibbert on the
Diseases of the Horse. A great harvest the mind had reaped; but
for all this, compared with his son, he did not care one damn.
"What's the use, what's the use," he sank down into his chair
muttering, "O sister swallow, O sister swallow, of singing your
song?" The dog, who had followed him, flopped down on to the floor
at his feet. Flanks sucked in and out, the long nose resting on
his paws, a fleck of foam on the nostril, there he was, his
familiar spirit, his Afghan hound.
The door trembled and stood half open. That was Lucy's way of
coming in--as if she did not know what she would find. Really! It
was her brother! And his dog! She seemed to see them for the
first time. Was it that she had no body? Up in the clouds, like
an air ball, her mind touched ground now and then with a shock of
surprise. There was nothing in her to weight a man like Giles to
She perched on the edge of a chair like a bird on a telegraph wire
before starting for Africa.
"Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow . . ." he murmured.
From the garden--the window was open--came the sound of someone
practising scales. A.B.C. A.B.C. A.B.C. Then the separate
letters formed one word "Dog." Then a phrase. It was a simple
tune, another voice speaking.
"Hark hark, the dogs do bark
The beggars are coming to town . . ."
Then it languished and lengthened, and became a waltz. As they
listened and looked--out into the garden--the trees tossing and the
birds swirling seemed called out of their private lives, out of
their separate avocations, and made to take part.
The lamp of love burns high, over the dark cedar groves,
The lamp of love shines clear, clear as a star in the sky. . . .
Old Bartholomew tapped his fingers on his knee in time to the tune.
Leave your casement and come, lady, I love till I die,
He looked sardonically at Lucy, perched on her chair. How, he
wondered, had she ever borne children?
For all are dancing, retreating and advancing,
The moth and the dragon fly. . . .
She was thinking, he supposed, God is peace. God is love. For she
belonged to the unifiers; he to the separatists.
Then the tune with its feet always on the same spot, became
sugared, insipid; bored a hole with its perpetual invocation to
perpetual adoration. Had it--he was ignorant of musical terms--
gone into the minor key?
For this day and this dance and this merry, merry May
Will be over (he tapped his forefinger on his knee)
With the cutting of the clover this retreating and advancing--
the swifts seemed to have shot beyond their orbits--
Will be over, over, over,
And the ice will dart its splinter, and the winter,
O the winter, will fill the grate with ashes,
And there'll be no glow, no glow on the log.
He knocked the ash off his cheroot and rose.
"So we must," said Lucy; as if he had said aloud, "It's time to
The audience was assembling. The music was summoning them. Down
the paths, across the lawns they were streaming again. There was
Mrs. Manresa, with Giles at her side, heading the procession. In
taut plump curves her scarf blew round her shoulders. The breeze
was rising. She looked, as she crossed the lawn to the strains of
the gramophone, goddess-like, buoyant, abundant, her cornucopia
running over. Bartholomew, following, blessed the power of the
human body to make the earth fruitful. Giles would keep his orbit
so long as she weighted him to the earth. She stirred the stagnant
pool of his old heart even--where bones lay buried, but the dragon
flies shot and the grass trembled as Mrs. Manresa advanced across
the lawn to the strains of the gramophone.
Feet crunched the gravel. Voices chattered. The inner voice, the
other voice was saying: How can we deny that this brave music,
wafted from the bushes, is expressive of some inner harmony? "When
we wake" (some were thinking) "the day breaks us with its hard
mallet blows." "The office" (some were thinking) "compels
disparity. Scattered, shattered, hither thither summoned by the
bell. 'Ping-ping-ping' that's the phone. 'Forward!' 'Serving!'--
that's the shop." So we answer to the infernal, agelong and
eternal order issued from on high. And obey. "Working, serving,
pushing, striving, earning wages--to be spent--here? Oh dear no.
Now? No, by and by. When ears are deaf and the heart is dry."
Here Cobbet of Cobbs Corner who had stooped--there was a flower--
was pressed on by people pushing from behind.
For I hear music, they were saying. Music wakes us. Music makes
us see the hidden, join the broken. Look and listen. See the
flowers, how they ray their redness, whiteness, silverness and
blue. And the trees with their many-tongued much syllabling, their
green and yellow leaves hustle us and shuffle us, and bid us, like
the starlings, and the rooks, come together, crowd together, to
chatter and make merry while the red cow moves forward and the
black cow stands still.
The audience had reached their seats. Some sat down; others stood
a moment, turned, and looked at the view. The stage was empty; the
actors were still dressing up among the bushes. The audience
turned to one another and began to talk. Scraps and fragments
reached Miss La Trobe where she stood, script in hand, behind the
"They're not ready . . . I hear 'em laughing" (they were saying.)
". . . Dressing up. That's the great thing, dressing up. And it's
pleasant now, the sun's not so hot . . . That's one good the war
brought us--longer days . . . Where did we leave off? D'you
remember? The Elizabethans . . . Perhaps she'll reach the
present, if she skips. . . . D'you think people change? Their
clothes, of course. . . . But I meant ourselves . . . Clearing
out a cupboard, I found my father's old top hat. . . . But
ourselves--do we change?"
"No, I don't go by politicians. I've a friend who's been to
Russia. He says . . . And my daughter, just back from Rome, she
says the common people, in the cafй's, hate Dictators. . . . Well,
different people say different things. . . ."
"Did you see it in the papers--the case about the dog? D'you
believe dogs can't have puppies? . . . And Queen Mary and the Duke
of Windsor on the south coast? . . . D'you believe what's in the
papers? I ask the butcher or the grocer . . . That's Mr.
Streatfield, carrying a hurdle. . . . The good clergyman, I say,
does more work for less pay than all the lot . . . It's the wives
that make the trouble. . . ."
"And what about the Jews? The refugees . . . the Jews . . .
People like ourselves, beginning life again . . . But it's always
been the same. . . . My old mother, who's over eighty, can
remember . . . Yes, she still reads without glasses. . . . How
amazing! Well, don't they say, after eighty . . . Now they're
coming . . . No, that's nothing. . . . I'd make it penal,
leaving litter. But then, who's, my husband says, to collect the
fines? . . . Ah there she is, Miss La Trobe, over there, behind
that tree . . ."
Over there behind the tree Miss La Trobe gnashed her teeth. She
crushed her manuscript. The actors delayed. Every moment the
audience slipped the noose; split up into scraps and fragments.
"Music!" she signalled. "Music!"
"What's the origin," said a voice, "of the expression 'with a flea
in his ear'?"
Down came her hand peremptorily. "Music, music," she signalled.
And the gramophone began A.B.C., A.B.C.
The King is in his counting house
Counting out his money,
The Queen is in her parlour
Eating bread and honey. . . .
Miss La Trobe watched them sink down peacefully into the nursery
rhyme. She watched them fold their hands and compose their faces.
Then she beckoned. And at last, with a final touch to her head
dress, which had been giving trouble, Mabel Hopkins strode from the
bushes, and took her place on the raised ground facing the
Eyes fed on her as fish rise to a crumb of bread on the water. Who
was she? What did she represent? She was beautiful--very. Her
cheeks had been powdered; her colour glowed smooth and clear
underneath. Her grey satin robe (a bedspread), pinned in stone-
like folds, gave her the majesty of a statue. She carried a
sceptre and a little round orb. England was she? Queen Anne was
she? Who was she? She spoke too low at first; all they heard was
. . . reason holds sway.
Old Bartholomew applauded.
"Hear! Hear!" he cried." Bravo! Bravo!"
Thus encouraged Reason spoke out.
Time, leaning on his sickle, stands amazed. While commerce from
her Cornucopia pours the mingled tribute of her different ores. In
distant mines the savage sweats; and from the reluctant earth the
painted pot is shaped. At my behest, the armed warrior lays his
shield aside; the heathen leaves the Altar steaming with unholy
sacrifice. The violet and the eglantine over the riven earth their
flowers entwine. No longer fears the unwary wanderer the poisoned
snake. And in the helmet, yellow bees their honey make.
She paused. A long line of villagers in sacking were passing in
and out of the trees behind her.
Digging and delving, ploughing and sowing they were singing, but
the wind blew their words away.
Beneath the shelter of my flowing robe (she resumed, extending her
arms) the arts arise. Music for me unfolds her heavenly harmony.
At my behest the miser leaves his hoard untouched; at peace the
mother sees her children play. . . . Her children play . . . she
repeated, and, waving her sceptre, figures advanced from the
Let swains and nymphs lead on the play, while Zephyr sleeps, and
the unruly tribes of Heaven confess my sway.
A merry little old tune was played on the gramophone. Old
Bartholomew joined his finger tips; Mrs. Manresa smoothed her
skirts about her knees.
Young Damon said to Cynthia
Come out now with the dawn
And don your azure tippet
And cast your cares adown
For peace has come to England,
And reason now holds sway.
What pleasure lies in dreaming
When blue and green's the day?
Now cast your cares behind you.
Night passes: here is Day.
Digging and delving, the villagers sang passing in single file in
and out between the trees, for the earth is always the same, summer
and winter and spring; and spring and winter again; ploughing and
sowing, eating and growing; time passes. . . .
The wind blew the words away.
The dance stopped. The nymphs and swains withdrew. Reason held
the centre of the stage alone. Her arms extended, her robes
flowing, holding orb and sceptre, Mabel Hopkins stood sublimely
looking over the heads of the audience. The audience gazed at her.
She ignored the audience. Then while she gazed, helpers from the
bushes arranged round her what appeared to be the three sides of a
room. In the middle they stood a table. On the table they placed
a china tea service. Reason surveyed this domestic scene from her
lofty eminence unmoved. There was a pause.
"Another scene from another play, I suppose," said Mrs. Elmhurst,
referring to her programme. She read out for the benefit of her
husband, who was deaf: "Where there's a Will there's a Way.
That's the name of the play. And the characters. . . ." She read
out: "Lady Harpy Harraden, in love with Sir Spaniel Lilyliver.
Deb, her maid. Flavinda, her niece, in love with Valentine. Sir
Spaniel Lilyliver, in love with Flavinda. Sir Smirking Peace-be-
with-you-all, a clergyman. Lord and Lady Fribble. Valentine, in
love with Flavinda. What names for real people! But look--here
Out they came from the bushes--men in flowered waistcoats, white
waistcoats and buckled shoes; women wearing brocades tucked up,
hooped and draped; glass stars, blue ribands and imitation pearls
made them look the very image of Lords and Ladies.
"The first scene," Mrs. Elmhurst whispered into her husband's ear,
"is Lady Harraden's dressing-room. . . . That's her. . . ." She
pointed. "Mrs. Otter, I think, from the End House; but she's
wonderfully made up. And that's Deb her maid. Who she is, I don't
"Hush, hush, hush," someone protested.
Mrs. Elmhurst dropped her programme. The play had begun.
Lady Harpy Harraden entered her dressing-room, followed by Deb her
LADY H. H. . . . Give me the pounce-box. Then the patch. Hand me
the mirror, girl. So. Now my wig. . . . A pox on the girl--she's
DEB . . . I was thinking, my lady, what the gentleman said when he
saw you in the Park.
LADY H. H. (gazing in the glass) So, so--what was it? Some silly
trash! Cupid's dart--hah, hah! lighting his taper--tush--at my
eyes. . . . pooh! That was in milord's time, twenty years
since. . . . But now--what'll he say of me now? (She looks in the
mirror) Sir Spaniel Lilyliver, I mean . . . (a rap at the door)
Hark! That's his chaise at the door. Run child. Don't stand
DEB . . . (going to the door) Say? He'll rattle his tongue as a
gambler rattles dice in a box. He'll find no words to fit you.
He'll stand like a pig in a poke. . . . Your servant, Sir Spaniel.
Enter Sir Spaniel.
SIR S. L. . . . Hail, my fair Saint! What, out o' bed so early?
Methought, as I came along the Mall the air was something brighter
than usual. Here's the reason. . . . Venus, Aphrodite, upon my
word a very galaxy, a constellation! As I'm a sinner, a very
(He sweeps his hat off.)
LADY H. H. Oh flatterer, flatterer! I know your ways. But come.
Sit down. . . . A glass of Aqua Vitae. Take this seat, Sir
Spaniel. I've something very private and particular to say to
you. . . . You had my letter, Sir?
SIR S. L. . . . Pinned to my heart!
(He strikes his breast.)
LADY H. H. . . . I have a favour to ask of you, Sir.
SIR S. L. . . . (singing) What favour could fair Chloe ask that
Damon would not get her? . . . A done with rhymes. Rhymes are
still-a-bed. Let's speak prose. What can Asphodilla ask of her
plain servant Lilyliver? Speak out, Madam. An ape with a ring in
his nose, or a strong young jackanapes to tell tales of us when
we're no longer here to tell truth about ourselves?
LADY H. H. (flirting her fan) Fie, fie, Sir Spaniel. You make me
blush--you do indeed. But come closer. (She shifts her seat
nearer to him) We don't want the whole world to hear us.
SIR S. L. (aside) Come closer? A pox on my life! The old hag
stinks like a red herring that's been stood over head in a tar
barrel! (Aloud) Your meaning, Madam? You were saying?
LADY H. H. I have a niece, Sir Spaniel, Flavinda by name.
SIR S. L. (aside) Why that's the girl I love, to be sure! (Aloud)
You have a niece, madam? I seem to remember hearing so. An only
child, left by your brother, so I've heard, in your Ladyship's
charge--him that perished at sea.
LADY H. H. The very same Sir. She's of age now and marriageable.
I've kept her close as a weevil, Sir Spaniel, wrapped in the sere
cloths of her virginity. Only maids about her, never a man to my
knowledge, save Clout the serving man, who has a wart on his nose
and a face like a nutgrater. Yet some fool has caught her fancy.
Some gilded fly--some Harry, Dick; call him what you will.
SIR S. L. (aside) That's young Valentine, I warrant. I caught 'em
at the play together. (Aloud) Say you so, Madam?
LADY H. H. She's not so ill favoured, Sir Spaniel--there's beauty
in our line--but that a gentleman of taste and breeding like
yourself now might take pity on her.
SIR S. L. Saving your presence, Madam. Eyes that have seen the
sun are not so easily dazzled by the lesser lights--the
Cassiopeias, Aldebarans, Great Bears and so on--A fig for them when
the sun's up!
LADY H. H. (ogling him) You praise my hair-dresser, Sir, or my
ear-rings (she shakes her head).
SIR S. L. (aside) She jingles like a she-ass at a fair! She's
rigged like a barber's pole of a May Day. (Aloud) Your commands,
LADY H. H. Well Sir, t'was this way Sir. Brother Bob, for my
father was a plain country gentleman and would have none of the
fancy names the foreigners brought with 'em--Asphodilla I call
myself, but my Christian name's plain Sue--Brother Bob, as I was
telling you, ran away to sea; and, so they say, became Emperor of
the Indies; where the very stones are emeralds and the sheep-crop
rubies. Which, for a tenderer-hearted man never lived, he would
have brought back with him, Sir, to mend the family fortunes, Sir.
But the brig, frigate or what they call it, for I've no head for
sea terms, never crossed a ditch without saying the Lord's Prayer
backwards, struck a rock. The Whale had him. But the cradle was
by the bounty of Heaven washed ashore. With the girl in it;
Flavinda here. What's more to the point, with the Will in it; safe
and sound; wrapped in parchment. Brother Bob's Will. Deb there!
Deb I say! Deb!
(She hollas for Deb)
SIR S. L. (aside) Ah hah! I smell a rat! A will, quotha! Where
there's a Will there's a Way.
LADY H. H. (bawling) The Will, Deb! The Will! In the ebony box
by the right hand of the escritoire opposite the window. . . . A
pox on the girl! She's dreaming. It's these romances, Sir
Spaniel--these romances. Can't see a candle gutter but its her
heart that's melting, or snuff a wick without reciting all the
names in Cupid's Calendar . . .
(Enter Deb carrying a parchment)
LADY H. H. So . . . Give it here. The Will. Brother Bob's Will
(she mumbles over the Will).
LADY H. H. To cut the matter short, Sir, for these lawyers even at
the Antipodes are a long-winded race--
SIR S. L. To match their ears, Ma'am--
LADY H. H. Very true, very true. To cut the matter short, Sir, my
brother Bob left all he died possessed of to his only child
Flavinda; with this proviso, mark ye. That she marry to her Aunt's
liking. Her Aunt; that's me. Otherwise, mark ye, all--to wit ten
bushels of diamonds; item of rubies; item two hundred square miles
of fertile territory bounding the River Amazon to the Nor-Nor-East;
item his snuff box; item his flageolet--he was always one to love a
tune, sir, Brother Bob; item six Macaws and as many Concubines as
he had with him at the time of his decease--all this with other
trifles needless to specify he left, mark ye, should she fail to
marry to her Aunt's liking--that's me--to found a Chapel, Sir
Spaniel, where six poor Virgins should sing hymns in perpetuity for
the repose of his soul--which, to speak the truth, Sir Spaniel,
poor Brother Bob stands in need of, perambulating the Gulf Stream
as he is and consorting with Syrens. But take it; read the Will
SIR S. L. (reading) "Must marry to her Aunt's liking." That's
LADY H. H. Her Aunt, Sir. That's me. That's plain enough.
SIR S. L. (aside) She speaks the truth there! (Aloud) You would
have me understand, Madam. . . .?
LADY H. H. Hist! Come closer. Let me whisper in your ear . . .
You and I have long entertained a high opinion of one another, Sir
Spaniel. Played at ball together. Bound our wrists with daisy
chains together. If I mind aright, you called me little bride--
'tis fifty years since. We might have made a match of it, Sir
Spaniel, had fortune favoured. . . . You take my meaning, Sir?
SIR S. L. Had it been written in letters of gold, fifty feet high,
visible from Paul's Churchyard to the Goat and Compasses at
Peckham, it could have been no plainer. . . . Hist, I'll whisper
it. I, Sir Spaniel Lilyliver, do hereby bind myself to take thee--
what's the name of the green girl that was cast up in a lobster pot
covered with seaweed? Flavinda, eh? Flavinda, so--to be my wedded
wife . . . O for a lawyer to have it all in writing!
LADY H. H. On condition, Sir Spaniel.
SIR S. L. On condition, Asphodilla.
(Both speak together)
That the money is shared between us.
LADY H. H. We want no lawyer to certify that! Your hand on it,
SIR S. L. Your lips Madam!
SIR S. L. Pah! She stinks!
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed the indigenous old lady in her bathchair.
"Reason, begad! Reason!" exclaimed old Bartholomew, and looked at
his son as if exhorting him to give over these womanish vapours and
be a man, Sir.
Giles sat straight as a dart, his feet tucked under him.
Mrs. Manresa had out her mirror and lipstick and attended to her
lips and nose.
The gramophone, while the scene was removed, gently stated certain
facts which everybody knows to be perfectly true. The tune said,
more or less, how Eve, gathering her robes about her, stands
reluctant still to let her dewy mantle fall. The herded flocks,
the tune continued, in peace repose. The poor man to his cot
returns, and, to the eager ears of wife and child, the simple story
of his toil relates: what yield the furrow bears; and how the team
the plover on the nest has spared; while Wat her courses ran; and
speckled eggs in the warm hollow lay. Meanwhile the good wife on
the table spreads her simple fare; and to the shepherd's flute,
from toil released, the nymphs and swains join hands and foot it on
the green. Then Eve lets down her sombre tresses brown and spreads
her lucent veil o'er hamlet, spire, and mead, etc., etc. And the
tune repeated itself once more.
The view repeated in its own way what the tune was saying. The sun
was sinking; the colours were merging; and the view was saying how
after toil men rest from their labours; how coolness comes; reason
prevails; and having unharnessed the team from the plough,
neighbours dig in cottage gardens and lean over cottage gates.
The cows, making a step forward, then standing still, were saying
the same thing to perfection.
Folded in this triple melody, the audience sat gazing; and beheld
gently and approvingly without interrogation, for it seemed
inevitable, a box tree in a green tub take the place of the ladies'
dressing-room; while on what seemed to be a wall, was hung a great
clock face; the hands pointing to three minutes to the hour; which
Mrs. Elmhurst roused herself from her reverie; and looked at her
"Scene Two. The Mall," she read out. "Time; early morning. Enter
Flavinda. Here she comes!"
Here came Millie Loder (shop assistant at Messrs. Hunt and
Dicksons, drapery emporium), in sprigged satin, representing
FLAV. Seven he said, and there's the clock's word for it. But
Valentine--where's Valentine? La! How my heart beats! Yet it's
not the time o' day, for I'm often afoot before the sun's up in the
meadows . . . See--the fine folk passing! All a-tiptoeing like
peacocks with spread tails! And I in my petticoat that looked so
fine by my Aunt's cracked mirror. Why, here it's a dish clout . . .
And they heap their hair up like a birthday cake stuck about
with candles. . . . That's a diamond--that's a ruby . . . Where's
Valentine? The Orange Tree in the Mall, he said. The tree--there.
Valentine--nowhere. That's a courtier, I'll warrant, that old fox
with his tail between his legs. That's a serving wench out without
her master's knowledge. That's a man with a broom to sweep paths
for the fine ladies' flounces . . . La! the red in their cheeks!
They never got THAT in the fields, I warrant! O faithless, cruel,
hard-hearted Valentine. Valentine! Valentine!
(She wrings her hands, turning from side to side.)
Didn't I leave my bed a-tiptoe and steal like a mouse in the
wainscot for fear of waking Aunt? And lard my hair from her powder
box? And scrub my cheeks to make 'em shine? And lie awake
watching the stars climb the chimney pots? And give my gold guinea
that Godfather hid behind the mistletoe last Twelfth Night to Deb
so she shouldn't tell on me? And grease the key in the lock so
that Aunt shouldn't wake and shriek Flavvy! Flavvy! Val, I say
Val--That's him coming. . . . No, I could tell him a mile off the
way he strides the waves like what d'you call him in the picture
book. . . . That's not Val. . . . That's a cit; that's a fop;
raising his glass, prithee, to have his fill of me . . . I'll be
home then . . . No, I won't . . . That's to play the green girl
again and sew samplers . . . I'm of age, ain't I, come Michaelmas?
Only three turns of the moon and I inherit . . . Didn't I read it
in the Will the day the ball bounced on top of the old chest where
Aunt keeps her furbelows, and the lid opened? . . ." All I die
possessed of to my Daughter . . ." So far I'd read when the
old lady came tapping down the passage like a blind man in an
alley. . . . I'm no castaway, I'd have you know, Sir; no fishtailed
mermaid with a robe of sea weed, at your mercy. I'm a match for
any of 'em--the chits you dally with, and bid me meet you at the
Orange Tree when you're drowsing the night off spent in their
arms. . . . Fie upon you, Sir, making sport with a poor girl
so. . . . I'll not cry, I swear I won't. I'll not brew a drop of
the salt liquid for a man who's served me so. . . . Yet to think
on't--how we hid in the dairy the day the cat jumped. And read
romances under the holly tree. La! how I cried when the Duke left
poor Polly. . . . And my Aunt found me with eyes like red jellies.
"What stung, niece?" says she. And cried "Quick Deb, the blue bag."
I told ye . . . La, to think I read it all in a book and cried for
another! . . . Hist, what's there among the trees? It's come--it's
gone. The breeze is it? In the shade now--in the sun now. . . .
Valentine on my life! It's he! Quick, I'll hide. Let the tree
(Flavinda hides behind the tree.)
He's here . . . He turns . . . He casts about . . . He's lost
the scent . . . He gazes--this way, that way. . . . Let him feast
his eyes on the fine faces--taste 'em, sample 'em, say: "That's
the fine lady I danced with . . . that I lay with . . . that I
kissed under the mistletoe . . ." Ha! How he spews 'em out!
Brave Valentine! How he casts his eyes upon the ground! How his
frowns become him! "Where's Flavinda?" he sighs. "She I love like
the heart in my breast." See him pull his watch out! "O faithless
wretch!" he sighs. See how he stamps the earth! Now turns on his
heel. . . . He sees me--no, the sun's in his eyes. Tears fill
'em . . . Lord, how he fingers his sword! He'll run it through
his breast like the Duke in the story book! . . . Stop, Sir, stop!
(She reveals herself)
VALENTINE. . . . O Flavinda, O!
FLAVINDA. . . . O Valentine, O!
The clock strikes nine.
"All that fuss about nothing!" a voice exclaimed. People laughed.
The voice stopped. But the voice had seen; the voice had heard.
For a moment Miss La Trobe behind her tree glowed with glory. The
next, turning to the villagers who were passing in and out between
the trees, she barked:
For the stage was empty; the emotion must be continued; the only
thing to continue the emotion was the song; and the words were
"Louder! Louder!" She threatened them with her clenched fists.
Digging and delving (they sang), hedging and ditching, we pass. . . .
Summer and winter, autumn and spring return . . . All passes
but we, all changes . . . but we remain forever the same . . . (the
breeze blew gaps between their words.)
"Louder, louder!" Miss La Trobe vociferated.
Palaces tumble down (they resumed), Babylon, Nineveh, Troy . . .
And Caesar's great house . . . all fallen they lie . . . Where
the plover nests was the arch. . . . through which the Romans
trod . . . Digging and delving we break with the share of the
plough the clod . . . Where Clytemnestra watched for her Lord . . .
saw the beacons blaze on the hills . . . we see only the clod . . .
Digging and delving we pass. . . . and the Queen and the Watch
Tower fall . . . for Agamemnon has ridden away. . . . Clytemnestra
is nothing but. . . .
The words died away. Only a few great names--Babylon, Nineveh,
Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Troy--floated across the open space. Then
the wind rose, and in the rustle of the leaves even the great words
became inaudible; and the audience sat staring at the villagers,
whose mouths opened, but no sound came.
And the stage was empty. Miss La Trobe leant against the tree,
paralyzed. Her power had left her. Beads of perspiration broke on
her forehead. Illusion had failed. "This is death," she murmured,
Then suddenly, as the illusion petered out, the cows took up the
burden. One had lost her calf. In the very nick of time she
lifted her great moon-eyed head and bellowed. All the great moon-
eyed heads laid themselves back. From cow after cow came the same
yearning bellow. The whole world was filled with dumb yearning.
It was the primeval voice sounding loud in the ear of the present
moment. Then the whole herd caught the infection. Lashing their
tails, blobbed like pokers, they tossed their heads high, plunged
and bellowed, as if Eros had planted his dart in their flanks and
goaded them to fury. The cows annihilated the gap; bridged the
distance; filled the emptiness and continued the emotion.
Miss La Trobe waved her hand ecstatically at the cows.
"Thank Heaven!" she exclaimed.
Suddenly the cows stopped; lowered their heads, and began browsing.
Simultaneously the audience lowered their heads and read their
"The producer," Mrs. Elmhurst read out for her husband's benefit,
"craves the indulgence of the audience. Owing to lack of time a
scene has been omitted; and she begs the audience to imagine that
in the interval Sir Spaniel Lilyliver has contracted an engagement
with Flavinda; who had been about to plight her troth; when
Valentine, hidden inside the grandfather's clock, steps forward;
claims Flavinda as his bride; reveals the plot to rob her of her
inheritance; and, during the confusion that ensues, the lovers fly
together, leaving Lady Harpy and Sir Spaniel alone together."
"We're asked to imagine all that," she said, putting down her
"That's very wise of her," said Mrs. Manresa, addressing Mrs.
Swithin. "If she'd put it all in, we should have been here till
midnight. So we've got to imagine, Mrs. Swithin." She patted the
old lady on the knee.
"Imagine?" said Mrs. Swithin. "How right! Actors show us too
much. The Chinese, you know, put a dagger on the table and that's
a battle. And so Racine . . ."
"Yes, they bore one stiff," Mrs. Manresa interrupted, scenting
culture, resenting the snub to the jolly human heart. "T'other day
I took my nephew--such a jolly boy at Sandhurst--to Pop Goes the
Weasel. Seen it?" She turned to Giles.
"Up and down the City Road," he hummed by way of an answer.
"Did your Nanny sing that!" Mrs. Manresa exclaimed. "Mine did.
And when she said 'Pop' she made a noise like a cork being drawn
from a ginger-beer bottle. Pop!"
She made the noise.
"Hush, hush," someone whispered.
"Now I'm being naughty and shocking your aunt," she said. "We must
be good and attend. This is Scene Three. Lady Harpy Harraden's
Closet. The sound of horses' hooves is heard in the distance."
The sound of horses' hooves, energetically represented by Albert
the idiot with a wooden spoon on a tray, died away.
LADY H. H. Half-way to Gretna Green already! O my deceitful
niece! You that I rescued from the brine and stood on the
hearthstone dripping! O that the whale had swallowed you whole!
Perfidious porpoise, O! Didn't the Horn book teach you Honour thy
Great Aunt? How have you misread it and misspelt it, learnt
thieving and cheating and reading of wills in old boxes and hiding
of rascals in honest time-pieces that have never missed a second
since King Charles's day! O Flavinda! O porpoise, O!
SIR S. L. (trying to pull on his jack boots) Old--old--old. He
called me "old"--"To your bed, old fool, and drink hot posset!"
LADY H. H. And she, stopping at the door and pointing the finger
of scorn at me said "old" Sir--"woman" Sir--I that am in the prime
of life and a lady!
SIR S. L. (tugging at his boots) But I'll be even with him. I'll
have the law on' em! I'll run 'em to earth . . .
(He hobbles up and down, one boot on, one boot off)
LADY H. H. (laying her hand on his arm) Have mercy on your gout,
Sir Spaniel. Bethink you, Sir--let's not run mad, we that are on
the sunny side of fifty. What's this youth they prate on? Nothing
but a goose feather blown on a north wind. Sit you down, Sir
Spaniel. Rest your leg--so--
(She pushes a cushion under his leg)
SIR S. L. "Old" he called me . . . jumping from the clock like a
jack-in-the-box . . . And she, making mock of me, points to my leg
and cries "Cupid's darts, Sir Spaniel, Cupid's darts." O that I
could braise 'em in a mortar and serve 'em up smoking hot on the
altar of--O my gout, O my gout!
LADY H. H. This talk, Sir, ill befits a man of sense. Bethink
you, Sir, only t'other day you were invoking--ahem--the
Constellations. Cassiopeia, Aldebaran; the Aurora Borealis . . .
It's not to be denied that one of 'em has left her sphere, has
shot, has eloped, to put it plainly, with the entrails of a time-
piece, the mere pendulum of a grandfather's clock. But, Sir
Spaniel, there are some stars that--ahem--stay fixed; that shine,
to put it in a nutshell, never so bright as by a sea-coal fire on a
SIR S. L. O that I were five and twenty with a sharp sword at my
LADY H. H. (bridling) I take your meaning, Sir. Te hee--To be
sure, I regret it as you do. But youth's not all. To let you into
a secret, I've passed the meridian myself. Am on t'other side of
the Equator too. Sleep sound o' nights without turning. The dog
days are over. . . . But bethink you, Sir. Where there's a will
there's a way.
SIR S. L. God's truth Ma'am . . . ah my foot's like a burning,
burning horseshoe on the devil's anvil ah!--what's your meaning?
LADY H. H. My meaning, Sir? Must I disrupt my modesty and unquilt
that which has been laid in lavender since, my lord, peace be to
his name--'tis twenty years since--was lapped in lead? In plain
words, Sir, Flavinda's flown. The cage is empty. But we that have
bound our wrists with cowslips might join 'em with a stouter chain.
To have done with fallals and figures. Here am I, Asphodilla--
but my plain name Sue. No matter what my name is--Asphodilla or
Sue--here am I, hale and hearty, at your service. Now that the
plot's out, Brother Bob's bounty must go to the virgins. That's
plain. Here's Lawyer Quill's word for it. "Virgins . . . in
perpetuity . . . sing for his soul" And I warrant you, he has
need of it . . . But no matter. Though we have thrown that to
the fishes that might have wrapped us in lamb's-wool, I'm no
beggar. There's messuages; tenements; napery; cattle; my dowry;
an inventory. I'll show you; engrossed on parchment; enough I'll
warrant you to keep us handsomely, for what's to run of our time,
as husband and wife.
SIR S. L. Husband and wife! So that's the plain truth of it!
Why, Madam, I'd rather lash myself to a tar barrel, be bound to a
thorn tree in a winter's gale. Faugh!
LADY H. H. . . . A tar barrel, quotha! A thorn tree--quotha! You
that were harping on galaxies and milky ways! You that were
swearing I outshone 'em all! A pox on you--you faithless! You
shark, you! You serpent in jack boots, you! So you won't have me?
Reject my hand do you?
(She proffers her hand; he strikes it from him.)
SIR S. L. . . . Hide your chalk stones in a woollen mit! pah! I'll
none of 'em! Were they diamond, pure diamond, and half the
habitable globe and all its concubines strung in string round your
throat I'd none of it . . . none of it. Unhand me, scritch owl,
witch, vampire! Let me go!
LADY H. H. . . . So all your fine words were tinsel wrapped round
a Christmas cracker!
SIR S. L. . . . Bells hung on an ass's neck! Paper roses on a
barber's pole . . . O my foot, my foot . . . Cupid's darts, she
mocked me . . . Old, old, he called me old . . .
(He hobbles away)
LADY H. H. (left alone) All gone. Following the wind. He's gone;
she's gone; and the old clock that the rascal made himself into a
pendulum for is the only one of 'em all to stop. A pox on 'em--
turning an honest woman's house into a brothel. I that was Aurora
Borealis am shrunk to a tar barrel. I that was Cassiopeia am
turned to a she-ass. My head turns. There's no trusting man nor
woman; nor fine speeches; nor fine looks. Off comes the sheep's
skin; out creeps the serpent. Get ye to Gretna Green; couch on the
wet grass and breed vipers. My head spins . . . Tar barrels,
quotha. Cassiopeia . . . Chalk stones . . . Andromeda . . .
Thorn trees. . . . Deb, I say, Deb (She holloas) Unlace me. I'm
fit to burst . . . Bring me my green baize table and set the
cards. . . . And my fur lined slippers, Deb. And a dish of
chocolate. . . . I'll be even with 'em . . . I'll outlive 'em
all. . . Deb, I say! Deb! A pox on the girl! Can't she hear me?
Deb, I say, you gipsy's spawn that I snatched from the hedge and
taught to sew samplers! Deb! Deb!
(She throws open the door leading to the maid's closet)
Empty! She's gone too! . . . Hist, what's that on the dresser?
(She picks up a scrap of paper and reads)
"What care I for your goose-feather bed? I'm off with the raggle-
taggle gipsies, O! Signed: Deborah, one time your maid." So!
She that I fed on apple parings and crusts from my own table, she
that I taught to play cribbage and sew chemises . . . she's gone
too. O ingratitude, thy name is Deborah! Who's to wash the dishes
now; who's to bring me my posset now, suffer my temper and unlace
my stays? . . . All gone. I'm alone then. Sans niece, sans
lover; and sans maid.
And so to end the play, the moral is,
The God of love is full of tricks;
Into the foot his dart he sticks,
But the way of the will is plain to see;
Let holy virgins hymn perpetually:
"Where there's a will there's a way"
Good people all, farewell,
(dropping a curtsey, Lady H. H. withdrew)
The scene ended. Reason descended from her plinth. Gathering her
robes about her, serenely acknowledging the applause of the
audience, she passed across the stage; while Lords and Ladies in
stars and garters followed after; Sir Spaniel limping escorted Lady
Harraden smirking; and Valentine and Flavinda arm in arm bowed and
"God's truth!" cried Bartholomew catching the infection of the
language. "There's a moral for you!"
He threw himself back in his chair and laughed, like a horse
A moral. What? Giles supposed it was: Where there's a Will
there's a Way. The words rose and pointed a finger of scorn at
him. Off to Gretna Green with his girl; the deed done. Damn the
"Like to see the greenhouse?" he said abruptly, turning to Mrs.
"Love to!" she exclaimed, and rose.
Was there an interval? Yes, the programme said so. The machine in
the bushes went chuff, chuff, chuff. And the next scene?
"The Victorian age," Mrs. Elmhurst read out. Presumably there was
time then for a stroll round the gardens, even for a look over the
house. Yet somehow they felt--how could one put it--a little not
quite here or there. As if the play had jerked the ball out of the
cup; as if what I call myself was still floating unattached, and
didn't settle. Not quite themselves, they felt. Or was it simply
that they felt clothes conscious? Skimpy out-of-date voile
dresses; flannel trousers; panama hats; hats wreathed with
raspberry-coloured net in the style of the Royal Duchess's hat at
Ascot seemed flimsy somehow.
"How lovely the clothes were," said someone, casting a last look at
Flavinda disappearing. "Most becoming. I wish . . ."
Chuff, chuff, chuff went the machine in the bushes, accurately,
Clouds were passing across the sky. The weather looked a little
unsettled. Hogben's Folly was for a moment ashen white. Then the
sun struck the gilt vane of Bolney Minster.
"Looks a little unsettled," said someone.
"Up you get . . . Let's stretch our legs," said another voice.
Soon the lawns were floating with little moving islands of coloured
dresses. Yet some of the audience remained seated.
"Major and Mrs. Mayhew," Page the reporter noted, licking his
pencil. As for the play, he would collar Miss Whatshername and ask
for a synopsis. But Miss La Trobe had vanished.
Down among the bushes she worked like a nigger. Flavinda was in
her petticoats. Reason had thrown her mantle on a holly hedge.
Sir Spaniel was tugging at his jack boots. Miss La Trobe was
scattering and foraging.
"The Victorian mantle with the bead fringe . . . Where is the
damned thing? Chuck it here . . . Now the whiskers . . ."
Ducking up and down she cast her quick bird's eye over the bushes
at the audience. The audience was on the move. The audience was
strolling up and down. They kept their distance from the dressing-
room; they respected the conventions. But if they wandered too
far, if they began exploring the grounds, going over the house,
then. . . . Chuff, chuff, chuff went the machine. Time was
passing. How long would time hold them together? It was a gamble;
a risk. . . . And she laid about her energetically, flinging
clothes on the grass.
Over the tops of the bushes came stray voices, voices without
bodies, symbolical voices they seemed to her, half hearing, seeing
nothing, but still, over the bushes, feeling invisible threads
connecting the bodiless voices.
"It all looks very black."
"No one wants it--save those damned Germans."
There was a pause.
"I'd cut down those trees . . ."
"How they get their roses to grow!"
"They say there's been a garden here for five hundred years . . ."
"Why even old Gladstone, to do him justice . . ."
Then there was silence. The voices passed the bushes. The trees
rustled. Many eyes, Miss La Trobe knew, for every cell in her body
was absorbent, looked at the view. Out of the corner of her eye
she could see Hogben's Folly; then the vane flashed.
"The glass is falling," said a voice.
She could feel them slipping through her fingers, looking at the
"Where's that damned woman, Mrs. Rogers? Who's seen Mrs. Rogers?"
she cried, snatching up a Victorian mantle.
Then, ignoring the conventions, a head popped up between the
trembling sprays: Mrs. Swithin's.
"Oh Miss La Trobe!" she exclaimed; and stopped. Then she began
again; "Oh Miss La Trobe, I do congratulate you!"
She hesitated. "You've given me . . ." She skipped, then
alighted--"Ever since I was a child I've felt . . ." A film fell
over her eyes, shutting off the present. She tried to recall her
childhood; then gave it up; and, with a little wave of her hand, as
if asking Miss La Trobe to help her out, continued: "This daily
round; this going up and down stairs; this saying 'What am I going
for? My specs? I have 'em on my nose.' . . ."
She gazed at Miss La Trobe with a cloudless old-aged stare. Their
eyes met in a common effort to bring a common meaning to birth.
They failed; and Mrs. Swithin, laying hold desperately of a
fraction of her meaning, said: "What a small part I've had to
play! But you've made me feel I could have played . . .
She nodded between the trembling bushes and ambled off.
The villagers winked. "Batty" was the word for old Flimsy,
breaking through the bushes.
"I might have been--Cleopatra," Miss La Trobe repeated. "You've
stirred in me my unacted part," she meant.
"Now for the skirt, Mrs. Rogers," she said.
Mrs. Rogers stood grotesque in her black stockings. Miss La Trobe
pulled the voluminous flounces of the Victorian age over her head.
She tied the tapes. "You've twitched the invisible strings," was
what the old lady meant; and revealed--of all people--Cleopatra!
Glory possessed her. Ah, but she was not merely a twitcher of
individual strings; she was one who seethes wandering bodies and
floating voices in a cauldron, and makes rise up from its amorphous
mass a recreated world. Her moment was on her--her glory.
"There!" she said, tying the black ribbons under Mrs. Rogers' chin.
"That's done it! Now for the gentleman. Hammond!"
She beckoned Hammond. Sheepishly he came forward, and submitted to
the application of black side whiskers. With his eyes half shut,
his head leant back, he looked, Miss La Trobe thought, like King
Arthur--noble, knightly, thin.
"Where's the Major's old frock coat?" she asked, trusting to the
effect of that to transform him.
Tick, tick, tick, the machine continued. Time was passing. The
audience was wandering, dispersing. Only the tick tick of the
gramophone held them together. There, sauntering solitary far away
by the flower beds was Mrs. Giles escaping.
"The tune!" Miss La Trobe commanded. "Hurry up! The tune! The
next tune! Number Ten!"
"Now may I pluck," Isa murmured, picking a rose, "my single
flower. The white or the pink? And press it so, twixt thumb and
finger. . . ."
She looked among the passing faces for the face of the man in grey.
There he was for one second; but surrounded, inaccessible. And now
She dropped her flower. What single, separate leaf could she
press? None. Nor stray by the beds alone. She must go on; and
she turned in the direction of the stable.
"Where do I wander?" she mused. "Down what draughty tunnels?
Where the eyeless wind blows? And there grows nothing for the eye.
No rose. To issue where? In some harvestless dim field where no
evening lets fall her mantle; nor sun rises. All's equal there.
Unblowing, ungrowing are the roses there. Change is not; nor the
mutable and lovable; nor greetings nor partings; nor furtive
findings and feelings, where hand seeks hand and eye seeks shelter
from the eye."
She had come into the stable yard where the dogs were chained;
where the buckets stood; where the great pear tree spread its
ladder of branches against the wall. The tree whose roots went
beneath the flags, was weighted with hard green pears. Fingering
one of them she murmured: "How am I burdened with what they drew
from the earth; memories; possessions. This is the burden that the
past laid on me, last little donkey in the long caravanserai
crossing the desert. 'Kneel down,' said the past. 'Fill your
pannier from our tree. Rise up, donkey. Go your way till your
heels blister and your hoofs crack.'"
The pear was hard as stone. She looked down at the cracked flags
beneath which the roots spread. "That was the burden," she mused,
"laid on me in the cradle; murmured by waves; breathed by restless
elm trees; crooned by singing women; what we must remember; what we
She looked up. The gilt hands of the stable clock pointed
inflexibly at two minutes to the hour. The clock was about to
"Now comes the lightning," she muttered, "from the stone blue sky.
The thongs are burst that the dead tied. Loosed are our
Voices interrupted. People passed the stable yard, talking.
"It's a good day, some say, the day we are stripped naked. Others,
it's the end of the day. They see the Inn and the Inn's keeper.
But none speaks with a single voice. None with a voice free from
the old vibrations. Always I hear corrupt murmurs; the chink of
gold and metal. Mad music. . . ."
More voices sounded. The audience was streaming back to the
terrace. She roused herself. She encouraged herself. "On little
donkey, patiently stumble. Hear not the frantic cries of the
leaders who in that they seek to lead desert us. Nor the chatter
of china faces glazed and hard. Hear rather the shepherd, coughing
by the farmyard wall; the withered tree that sighs when the Rider
gallops; the brawl in the barrack room when they stripped her
naked; or the cry which in London when I thrust the window open
someone cries . . ." She had come out on to the path that led past
the greenhouse. The door was kicked open. Out came Mrs. Manresa
and Giles. Unseen, Isa followed them across the lawns to the front
row of seats.
The chuff, chuff, chuff of the machine in the bushes had stopped.
In obedience to Miss La Trobe's command, another tune had been put
on the gramophone. Number Ten. London street cries it was called.
"A Pot Pourri."
"Lavender, sweet lavender, who'll buy my sweet lavender" the tune
trilled and tinkled, ineffectively shepherding the audience. Some
ignored it. Some still wandered. Others stopped, but stood
upright. Some, like Colonel and Mrs. Mayhew, who had never left
their seats, brooded over the blurred carbon sheet which had been
issued for their information.
"The Nineteenth Century." Colonel Mayhew did not dispute the
producer's right to skip two hundred years in less than fifteen
minutes. But the choice of scenes baffled him.
"Why leave out the British Army? What's history without the Army,
eh?" he mused. Inclining her head, Mrs. Mayhew protested after all
one mustn't ask too much. Besides, very likely there would be a
Grand Ensemble, round the Union Jack, to end with. Meanwhile,
there was the view. They looked at the view.
"Sweet lavender . . . sweet lavender. . . ." Humming the tune old
Mrs. Lynn Jones (of the Mount) pushed a chair forward. "Here
Etty," she said, and plumped down, with Etty Springett, with whom,
since both were widows now, she shared a house.
"I remember . . ." she nodded in time to the tune, "You remember
too--how they used to cry it down the streets." They remembered--
the curtains blowing, and the men crying: "All a blowing, all a
growing," as they came with geraniums, sweet william, in pots, down
"A harp, I remember, and a hansom and a growler. So quiet the
street was then. Two for a hansom, was it? One for a growler?
And Ellen, in cap and apron, whistling in the street? D'you
remember? And the runners, my dear, who followed, all the way from
the station, if one had a box."
The tune changed. "Any old iron, any old iron to sell?" "D'you
remember? That was what the men shouted in the fog. Seven Dials
they came from. Men with red handkerchiefs. Garotters, did they
call them? You couldn't walk--O, dear me, no--home from the
play. Regent Street. Piccadilly. Hyde Park Corner. The loose
women . . . And everywhere loaves of bread in the gutter. The
Irish you know round Covent Garden . . . Coming back from a Ball,
past the clock at Hyde Park Corner, d'you remember the feel of white
gloves? . . . My father remembered the old Duke in the Park. Two
fingers like that--he'd touch his hat . . . I've got my mother's
album. A lake and two lovers. She'd copied out Byron, I suppose,
in what was called then the Italian hand. . . ."
"What's that? 'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road.' I remember
the bootboy whistled it. O, my dear, the servants . . . Old
Ellen . . . Sixteen pound a year wages . . . And the cans of hot
water! And the crinolines! And the stays! D'you remember the
Crystal Palace, and the fireworks, and how Mira's slipper got lost
in the mud?"
"That's young Mrs. Giles . . . I remember her mother. She died in
India . . . We wore, I suppose, a great many petticoats then.
Unhygienic? I dare say . . . Well, look at my daughter. To the
right, just behind you. Forty, but slim as a wand. Each flat has
its refrigerator . . . It took my mother half the morning to order
dinner. . . . We were eleven. Counting servants, eighteen in
family. . . . Now they simply ring up the Stores . . . That's
Giles coming, with Mrs. Manresa. She's a type I don't myself
fancy. I may be wrong . . . And Colonel Mayhew, as spruce as
ever . . . And Mr. Cobbet of Cobbs Corner, there, under the Monkey
Puzzle Tree. One don't see him often . . . That's what's so nice--
it brings people together. These days, when we're all so busy,
that's what one wants . . . The programme? Have you got it?
Let's see what comes next . . . The Nineteenth Century . . .
Look, there's the chorus, the villagers, coming on now, between the
trees. First, there's a prologue. . . ."
A great box, draped in red baize festooned with heavy gold tassels
had been moved into the middle of the stage. There was a swish of
dresses, a stir of chairs. The audience seated themselves,
hastily, guiltily. Miss La Trobe's eye was on them. She gave them
ten seconds to settle their faces. Then she flicked her hand. A
pompous march tune brayed. "Firm, elatant, bold and blatant,"
etc. . . . And once more a huge symbolical figure emerged from the
bushes. It was Budge the publican; but so disguised that even
cronies who drank with him nightly failed to recognize him; and a
little titter of enquiry as to his identity ran about among the
villagers. He wore a long black many-caped cloak; waterproof;
shiny; of the substance of a statue in Parliament Square; a helmet
which suggested a policeman; a row of medals crossed his breast;
and in his right hand he held extended a special constable's baton
(loaned by Mr. Willert of the Hall). It was his voice, husky and
rusty, issuing from a thick black cotton-wool beard that gave him
"Budge, Budge. That's Mr. Budge," the audience whispered.
Budge extended his truncheon and spoke:
It ain't an easy job, directing the traffic at 'Yde Park Corner.
Buses and 'ansom cabs. All a-clatter on the cobbles. Keep to the
right, can't you? Hi there, Stop!
(He waved his truncheon)
There she goes, the old party with the umbrella right under the
(The truncheon pointed markedly at Mrs. Swithin)
She raised her skinny hand as if in truth she had fluttered off the
pavement on the impulse of the moment to the just rage of
authority. Got her, Giles thought, taking sides with authority
against his aunt.
Fog or fine weather, I does my duty (Budge continued). At
Piccadilly Circus; at 'Yde Park Corner, directing the traffic of
'Er Majesty's Empire. The Shah of Persia; Sultan of Morocco; or it
may be 'Er Majesty in person; or Cook's tourists; black men; white
men; sailors, soldiers; crossing the ocean; to proclaim her Empire;
all of 'em Obey the Rule of my truncheon.
(He flourished it magnificently from right to left)
But my job don't end there. I take under my protection and
direction the purity and security of all Her Majesty's minions; in
all parts of her dominions; insist that they obey the laws of God
The laws of God and Man (he repeated and made as if to consult a
Statute; engrossed on a sheet of parchment which with great
deliberation he now produced from his trouser pocket)
Go to Church on Sunday; on Monday, nine sharp, catch the City Bus.
On Tuesday it may be, attend a meeting at the Mansion House for the
redemption of the sinner; at dinner on Wednesday attend another--
turtle soup. Some bother it may be in Ireland; Famine. Fenians.
What not. On Thursday it's the natives of Peru require protection
and correction; we give 'em what's due. But mark you, our rule
don't end there. It's a Christian country, our Empire; under the
White Queen Victoria. Over thought and religion; drink; dress;
manners; marriage too, I wield my truncheon. Prosperity and
respectability always go, as we know, 'and in 'and. The ruler of
an Empire must keep his eye on the cot; spy too in the kitchen;
drawing-room; library; wherever one or two, me and you, come
together. Purity our watchword; prosperity and respectability. If
not, why, let 'em fester in . . .
(He paused--no, he had not forgotten his words)
Cripplegate; St. Giles's; Whitechapel; the Minories. Let 'em sweat
at the mines; cough at the looms; rightly endure their lot. That's
the price of Empire; that's the white man's burden. And, I can
tell you, to direct the traffic orderly, at 'Yde Park Corner,
Piccadilly Circus, is a whole-time, white man's job.
He paused, eminent, dominant, glaring from his pedestal. A very
fine figure of a man he was, everyone agreed, his truncheon
extended; his waterproof pendant. It only wanted a shower of rain,
a flight of pigeons round his head, and the pealing bells of St.
Paul's and the Abbey to transform him into the very spit and image
of a Victorian constable; and to transport them to a foggy London
afternoon, with the muffin bells ringing and the church bells
pealing at the very height of Victorian prosperity.
There was a pause. The voices of the pilgrims singing, as they
wound in and out between the trees, could be heard; but the words
were inaudible. The audience sat waiting.
"Tut-tut-tut," Mrs. Lynn-Jones expostulated. "There were grand men
among them . . ." Why she did not know, yet somehow she felt that
a sneer had been aimed at her father; therefore at herself.
Etty Springett tutted too. Yet, children did draw trucks in mines;
there was the basement; yet Papa read Walter Scott aloud after
dinner; and divorced ladies were not received at Court. How
difficult to come to any conclusion! She wished they would hurry
on with the next scene. She liked to leave a theatre knowing
exactly what was meant. Of course this was only a village
play. . . . They were setting another scene, round the red baize
box. She read out from her programme:
"The Picnic Party. About 1860. Scene: A Lake. Characters--"
She stopped. A sheet had been spread on the Terrace. It was a
lake apparently. Roughly painted ripples represented water. Those
green stakes were bulrushes. Rather prettily, real swallows darted
across the sheet.
"Look, Minnie!" she exclaimed. "Those are real swallows!"
"Hush, hush," she was admonished. For the scene had begun. A
young man in peg-top trousers and side whiskers carrying a spiked
stick appeared by the lake.
EDGAR T. . . . Let me help you, Miss Hardcastle! There!
(he helps Miss Eleanor Hardcastle, a young lady in crinoline and
mushroom hat to the top. They stand for a moment panting slightly,
looking at the view.)
ELEANOR. How small the Church looks down among the trees!
EDGAR. . . . So this is Wanderer's Well, the trysting-place.
ELEANOR. . . . Please Mr. Thorold, finish what you were saying
before the others come. You were saying, "Our aim in life . . ."
EDGAR. . . . Should be to help our fellow men.
ELEANOR (sighing deeply) How true--how profoundly true!
EDGAR. . . . Why sigh, Miss Hardcastle?--You have nothing to
reproach yourself with--you whose whole life is spent in the
service of others. It was of myself that I was thinking. I am no
longer young. At twenty-four the best days of life are over. My
life has passed (he throws a pebble on to the lake) like a ripple
ELEANOR. Oh Mr, Thorold, you do not know me. I am not what I
seem. I too--
EDGAR. . . . Do not tell me, Miss Hardcastle--no, I cannot believe
it--You have doubted?
ELEANOR. Thank Heaven not that, not that . . . But safe and
sheltered as I am, always at home, protected as you see me, as you
think me. O what am I saying? But yes, I will speak the truth,
before Mama comes. I too have longed to convert the heathen!
EDGAR. . . . Miss Hardcastle . . . Eleanor . . . You tempt me!
Dare I ask you? No--so young, so fair, so innocent. Think, I
implore you, before you answer.
ELEANOR. . . . I have thought--on my knees!
EDGAR (taking a ring from his pocket) Then. . . . My mother with
her last breath charged me to give this ring only to one to whom a
lifetime in the African desert among the heathens would be--
ELEANOR (taking the ring) Perfect happiness! But hist! (She
slips the ring into her pocket) Here's Mama! (They start asunder)
(Enter Mrs. Hardcastle, a stout lady in black bombazine, upon a
donkey, escorted by an elderly gentleman in a deer-stalker's cap)
MRS. H. . . . So you stole a march upon us, young people. There
was a time, Sir John, when you and I were always first on top.
Now . . .
(He helps her to alight. Children, young men, young women, some
carrying hampers, others butterfly nets, others spy-glasses, others
tin botanical cases arrive. A rug is thrown by the lake and Mrs.
H. and Sir John seat themselves on camp stools.)
MRS. H. . . . Now who'll fill the kettles? Who'll gather the
sticks? Alfred (to a small boy), don't run about chasing
butterflies or you'll make yourself sick . . . Sir John and I will
unpack the hampers, here where the grass is burnt, where we had the
picnic last year.
(The young people scatter off in different directions. Mrs. H. and
Sir John begin to unpack the hamper)
MRS. H. . . . Last year poor dear Mr. Beach was with us. It was a
blessed release. (She takes out a black-bordered handkerchief and
wipes her eyes). Every year one of us is missing. That's the
ham . . . That's the grouse . . . There in that packet are the
game pasties . . . (She spreads the eatables on the grass) As I
was saying poor dear Mr. Beach . . . I do hope the cream hasn't
curdled. Mr. Hardcastle is bringing the claret. I always leave
that to him. Only when Mr. Hardcastle gets talking with Mr. Pigott
about the Romans . . . last year they quite came to words. . . .
But it's nice for gentlemen to have a hobby, though they do gather
the dust--those skulls and things. . . . But I was saying--poor
dear Mr. Beach. . . . I wanted to ask you (she drops her voice) as
a friend of the family, about the new clergyman--they can't hear
us, can they? No, they're picking up sticks. . . . Last year,
such a disappointment. Just got the things out . . . down came the
rain. But I wanted to ask you, about the new clergyman, the one
who's come in place of dear Mr. Beach. I'm told the name's
Sibthorp. To be sure, I hope I'm right, for I had a cousin who
married a girl of that name, and as a friend of the family, we
don't stand on ceremony . . . And when one has daughters--I'm sure
I quite envy you, with only one daughter, Sir John, and I have
four! So I was asking you to tell me in confidence, about this
young--if that's-his-name--Sibthorp, for I must tell you the day
before yesterday our Mrs. Potts happened to say, as she passed the
Rectory, bringing our laundry, they were unpacking the furniture;
and what did she see on top of the wardrobe? A tea cosy! But of
course she might be mistaken . . . But it occurred to me to ask
you, as a friend of the family, in confidence, has Mr. Sibthorp a
Here a chorus composed of villagers in Victorian mantles, side
whiskers and top hats sang in concert:
O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? That is the
hornet, the bee in the bonnet, the screw in the cork and the drill;
that whirling and twirling are for ever unfurling the folds of the
motherly heart; for a mother must ask, if daughters she has, begot
in the feathery billowy fourposter family bed, O did he unpack,
with his prayer book and bands; his gown and his cane; his rod and
his line; and the family album and gun; did he also display the
connubial respectable tea-table token, a cosy with honeysuckle
embossed. Has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife?
While the chorus was sung, the picnickers assembled. Corks popped.
Grouse, ham, chickens were sliced. Lips munched. Glasses were
drained. Nothing was heard but the chump of jaws and the chink of
"They did eat," Mrs. Lynn Jones whispered to Mrs. Springett.
"That's true. More than was good for them, I dare say."
MR. HARDCASTLE . . . (brushing flakes of meat from his whiskers)
Now . . .
"Now what?" whispered Mrs. Springett, anticipating further
Now that we have gratified the inner man, let us gratify the desire
of the spirit. I call upon one of the young ladies for a song.
CHORUS OF YOUNG LADIES . . . O not me . . . not me . . . I
really couldn't . . . No, you cruel thing, you know I've lost
my voice . . . I can't sing without the instrument . . . etc., etc.
CHORUS OF YOUNG MEN. O bosh! Let's have "The Last Rose of
Summer." Let's have "I never loved a Dear Gazelle."
MRS. H. (authoritatively) Eleanor and Mildred will now sing "I'd
be a Butterfly."
(Eleanor and Mildred rise obediently and sing a duet: "I'd be a
MRS. H. Thank you very much, my dears. And now gentlemen, Our
(Arthur and Edgar sing "Rule Britannia.")
MRS. H. . . . Thank you very much. Mr. Hardcastle--
MR. HARDCASTLE (rising to his feet, clasping his fossil) Let us
(the whole company rise to their feet)
"This is too much, too much," Mrs. Springett protested.
MR. H. . . . Almighty God, giver of all good things, we thank
Thee; for our food and drink; for the beauties of Nature; for the
understanding with which Thou hast enlightened us (he fumbled with
his fossil) And for thy great gift of Peace. Grant us to be thy
servants on earth; grant us to spread the light of thy . . .
Here the hindquarters of the donkey, represented by Albert the
idiot, became active. Intentional was it, or accidental? "Look at
the donkey! Look at the donkey!" A titter drowned Mr.
Hardcastle's prayer; and then he was heard saying:
. . . a happy homecoming with bodies refreshed by thy bounty, and
minds inspired by thy wisdom. Amen.
Holding his fossil in front of him, Mr. Hardcastle marched off.
The donkey was captured; hampers were loaded; and forming into a
procession, the picnickers began to disappear over the hill.
EDGAR (winding up the procession with Eleanor) To convert the
ELEANOR. To help our fellow men!
(The actors disappeared into the bushes.)
BUDGE. . . . It's time, gentlemen, time ladies, time to pack up
and be gone. From where I stand, truncheon in hand, guarding
respectability, and prosperity, and the purity of Victoria's land,
I see before me--(he pointed: there was Pointz Hall; the rooks
cawing; the smoke rising)
'Ome, Sweet 'Ome.
The gramophone took up the strain: Through pleasures and palaces,
etc. There's no place like Home.
BUDGE. . . . Home, gentlemen; home, ladies, it's time to pack up
and go home. Don't I see the fire (he pointed: one window blazed
red) blazing ever higher? In kitchen; and nursery; drawing-room
and library? That's the fire of 'Ome. And see! Our Jane has
brought the tea. Now children where's the toys? Mama, your
knitting, quick. For here (he swept his truncheon at Cobbet of
Cobbs Corner) comes the bread-winner, home from the city, home from
the counter, home from the shop. "Mama, a cup o' tea." "Children,
gather round my knee. I will read aloud. Which shall it be?
Sindbad the sailor? Or some simple tale from the Scriptures? And
show you the pictures? What none of 'em? Then out with the
bricks. Let's build: A conservatory. A laboratory? A mechanics'
institute? Or shall it be a tower; with our flag on top; where our
widowed Queen, after tea, calls the Royal orphans round her knee?
For it's 'Ome, ladies, 'Ome, gentlemen. Be it never so humble,
there's no place like 'Ome."
The gramophone warbled Home, Sweet Home, and Budge, swaying
slightly, descended from his box and followed the procession off
There was an interval.
"Oh but it was beautiful," Mrs. Lynn Jones protested. Home she
meant; the lamplit room; the ruby curtains; and Papa reading aloud.
They were rolling up the lake and uprooting the bulrushes. Real
swallows were skimming over real grass. But she still saw the
"It was . . ." she repeated, referring to the home.
"Cheap and nasty, I call it," snapped Etty Springett, referring to
the play, and shot a vicious glance at Dodge's green trousers,
yellow spotted tie, and unbuttoned waistcoat.
But Mrs. Lynn Jones still saw the home. Was there, she mused, as
Budge's red baize pediment was rolled off, something--not impure,
that wasn't the word--but perhaps "unhygienic" about the home?
Like a bit of meat gone sour, with whiskers, as the servants called
it? Or why had it perished? Time went on and on like the hands of
the kitchen clock. (The machine chuffed in the bushes.) If they
had met with no resistance, she mused, nothing wrong, they'd still
be going round and round and round. The Home would have remained;
and Papa's beard, she thought, would have grown and grown; and
Mama's knitting--what did she do with all her knitting?--Change had
to come, she said to herself, or there'd have been yards and yards
of Papa's beard, of Mama's knitting. Nowadays her son-in-law was
clean shaven. Her daughter had a refrigerator. . . . Dear, how my
mind wanders, she checked herself. What she meant was, change had
to come, unless things were perfect; in which case she supposed
they resisted Time. Heaven was changeless.
"Were they like that?" Isa asked abruptly. She looked at Mrs.
Swithin as if she had been a dinosaur or a very diminutive mammoth.
Extinct she must be, since she had lived in the reign of Queen
Tick, tick, tick, went the machine in the bushes.
"The Victorians," Mrs. Swithin mused. "I don't believe" she said
with her odd little smile, "that there ever were such people. Only
you and me and William dressed differently."
"You don't believe in history," said William.
The stage remained empty. The cows moved in the field. The
shadows were deeper under the trees.
Mrs. Swithin caressed her cross. She gazed vaguely at the view.
She was off, they guessed, on a circular tour of the imagination--
one-making. Sheep, cows, grass, trees, ourselves--all are one. If
discordant, producing harmony--if not to us, to a gigantic ear
attached to a gigantic head. And thus--she was smiling benignly--
the agony of the particular sheep, cow, or human being is
necessary; and so--she was beaming seraphically at the gilt vane in
the distance--we reach the conclusion that ALL is harmony, could we
hear it. And we shall. Her eyes now rested on the white summit of
a cloud. Well, if the thought gave her comfort, William and Isa
smiled across her, let her think it.
Tick tick tick the machine reiterated.
"D'you get her meaning?" said Mrs. Swithin alighting suddenly.
"Miss La Trobe's?"
Isa, whose eyes had been wandering, shook her head.
"But you might say the same of Shakespeare," said Mrs. Swithin.
"Shakespeare and the musical glasses!" Mrs. Manresa intervened.
"Dear, what a barbarian you all make me feel!"
She turned to Giles. She invoked his help against this attack upon
the jolly human heart.
"Tosh," Giles muttered.
Nothing whatever appeared on the stage.
Darts of red and green light flashed from the rings on Mrs.
Manresa's fingers. He looked from them at Aunt Lucy. From her to
William Dodge. From him to Isa. She refused to meet his eyes.
And he looked down at his blood-stained tennis shoes.
He said (without words) "I'm damnably unhappy."
"So am I," Dodge echoed.
"And I too," Isa thought.
They were all caught and caged; prisoners; watching a spectacle.
Nothing happened. The tick of the machine was maddening.
"On, little donkey" Isa murmured, "crossing the desert . . .
bearing your burden . . ."
She felt Dodge's eye upon her as her lips moved. Always some cold
eye crawled over the surface like a winter blue-bottle! She
flicked him off.
"What a time they take!" she exclaimed irritably.
"Another interval," Dodge read out, looking at the programme.
"And after that, what?" asked Lucy.
"Present time. Ourselves," he read.
"Let's hope to God that's the end," said Giles gruffly.
"Now you're being naughty," Mrs. Manresa reproved her little boy,
her surly hero.
No one moved. There they sat, facing the empty stage, the cows,
the meadows and the view, while the machine ticked in the bushes.
"What's the object," said Bartholomew, suddenly rousing himself,
"of this entertainment?"
"The profits," Isa read out from her blurred carbon copy, "are to
go to a fund for installing electric light in the Church."
"All our village festivals," Mr. Oliver snorted turning to Mrs.
Manresa, "end with a demand for money."
"Of course, of course," she murmured, deprecating his severity, and
the coins in her bead bag jingled.
"Nothing's done for nothing in England," the old man continued.
Mrs. Manresa protested. It might be true, perhaps, of the
Victorians; but surely not of ourselves? Did she really believe
that we were disinterested? Mr. Oliver demanded.
"Oh you don't know my husband!" the wild child exclaimed, striking
Admirable woman! You could trust her to crow when the hour struck
like an alarm clock; to stop like an old bus horse when the bell
rang. Oliver said nothing. Mrs. Manresa had out her mirror and
attended to her face.
All their nerves were on edge. They sat exposed. The machine
ticked. There was no music. The horns of cars on the high road
were heard. And the swish of trees. They were neither one thing
nor the other; neither Victorians nor themselves. They were
suspended, without being, in limbo. Tick, tick, tick went the
Isa fidgeted; glancing to right and to left over her shoulder.
"Four and twenty blackbirds, strung upon a string," she muttered.
"Down came an Ostrich, an eagle, an executioner,
'Which of you is ripe,' he said, 'to bake in my pie?
Which of you is ripe, which of you is ready,
Come my pretty gentleman,
Come my pretty lady.' . . ."
How long was she going to keep them waiting? "The present time.
Ourselves." They read it on the programme. Then they read what
came next: "The profits are to go to a fund for installing
electric light in the Church." Where was the Church? Over there.
You could see the spire among the trees.
"Ourselves. . . ." They returned to the programme. But what could
she know about ourselves? The Elizabethans yes; the Victorians,
perhaps; but ourselves; sitting here on a June day in 1939--it
was ridiculous. "Myself"--it was impossible. Other people,
perhaps . . . Cobbet of Cobbs Corner; the Major; old Bartholomew;
Mrs. Swithin--them, perhaps. But she won't get me--no, not me.
The audience fidgeted. Sounds of laughter came from the bushes.
But nothing whatsoever appeared on the stage.
"What's she keeping us waiting for?" Colonel Mayhew asked
irritably. "They don't need to dress up if it's present time."
Mrs. Mayhew agreed. Unless of course she was going to end with a
Grand Ensemble. Army; Navy; Union Jack; and behind them perhaps--
Mrs. Mayhew sketched what she would have done had it been her
pageant--the Church. In cardboard. One window, looking east,
brilliantly illuminated to symbolize--she could work that out when
the time came.
"There she is, behind the tree," she whispered, pointing at Miss La
Miss La Trobe stood there with her eye on her script. "After Vic."
she had written, "try ten mins. of present time. Swallows, cows
etc." She wanted to expose them, as it were, to douche them, with
present-time reality. But something was going wrong with the
experiment. "Reality too strong," she muttered. "Curse 'em!" She
felt everything they felt. Audiences were the devil. O to write a
play without an audience--THE play. But here she was fronting her
audience. Every second they were slipping the noose. Her little
game had gone wrong. If only she'd a back-cloth to hang between
the trees--to shut out cows, swallows, present time! But she had
nothing. She had forbidden music. Grating her fingers in the
bark, she damned the audience. Panic seized her. Blood seemed to
pour from her shoes. This is death, death, death, she noted in the
margin of her mind; when illusion fails. Unable to lift her hand,
she stood facing the audience.
And then the shower fell, sudden, profuse.
No one had seen the cloud coming. There it was, black, swollen, on
top of them. Down it poured like all the people in the world
weeping. Tears, Tears. Tears.
"O that our human pain could here have ending!" Isa murmured.
Looking up she received two great blots of rain full in her face.
They trickled down her cheeks as if they were her own tears. But
they were all people's tears, weeping for all people. Hands were
raised. Here and there a parasol opened. The rain was sudden and
universal. Then it stopped. From the grass rose a fresh earthy
"That's done it," sighed Miss La Trobe, wiping away the drops on
her cheeks. Nature once more had taken her part. The risk she had
run acting in the open air was justified. She brandished her
script. Music began--A.B.C.--A.B.C. The tune was as simple as
could be. But now that the shower had fallen, it was the other
voice speaking, the voice that was no one's voice. And the voice
that wept for human pain unending said:
The King is in his counting house,
Counting out his money,
The Queen is in her parlour . . .
"O that my life could here have ending," Isa murmured (taking care
not to move her lips). Readily would she endow this voice with all
her treasure if so be tears could be ended. The little twist of
sound could have the whole of her. On the altar of the rain-soaked
earth she laid down her sacrifice. . . .
"O look!" she cried aloud.
That was a ladder. And that (a cloth roughly painted) was a wall.
And that a man with a hod on his back. Mr. Page the reporter,
licking his pencil, noted: "With the very limited means at her
disposal, Miss La Trobe conveyed to the audience Civilization (the
wall) in ruins; rebuilt (witness man with hod) by human effort;
witness also woman handing bricks. Any fool could grasp that. Now
issued black man in fuzzy wig; coffee-coloured ditto in silver
turban; they signify presumably the League of . . ."
A burst of applause greeted this flattering tribute to ourselves.
Crude of course. But then she had to keep expenses down. A
painted cloth must convey--what the Times and Telegraph both said
in their leaders that very morning.
The tune hummed:
The King is in his counting house,
Counting out his money,
The Queen is in her parlour
Eating . . .
Suddenly the tune stopped. The tune changed. A waltz, was it?
Something half known, half not. The swallows danced it. Round and
round, in and out they skimmed. Real swallows. Retreating and
advancing. And the trees, O the trees, how gravely and sedately
like senators in council, or the spaced pillars of some cathedral
church. . . . Yes, they barred the music, and massed and hoarded;
and prevented what was fluid from overflowing. The swallows--or
martins were they?--The temple-haunting martins who come, have
always come . . . Yes, perched on the wall, they seemed to
foretell what after all the Times was saying yesterday. Homes will
be built. Each flat with its refrigerator, in the crannied wall.
Each of us a free man; plates washed by machinery; not an aeroplane
to vex us; all liberated; made whole. . . .
The tune changed; snapped; broke; jagged. Fox-trot was it? Jazz?
Anyhow the rhythm kicked, reared, snapped short. What a jangle and
a jingle! Well, with the means at her disposal, you can't ask too
much. What a cackle, a cacophony! Nothing ended. So abrupt. And
corrupt. Such an outrage; such an insult. And not plain. Very up
to date, all the same. What is her game? To disrupt? Jog and
trot? Jerk and smirk? Put the finger to the nose? Squint and
pry? Peak and spy? O the irreverence of the generation which is
only momentarily--thanks be--"the young." The young, who can't
make, but only break; shiver into splinters the old vision; smash
to atoms what was whole. What a cackle, what a rattle, what a
yaffle--as they call the woodpecker, the laughing bird that flits
from tree to tree.
Look! Out they come, from the bushes--the riff-raff. Children?
Imps--elves--demons. Holding what? Tin cans? Bedroom
candlesticks? Old jars? My dear, that's the cheval glass from the
Rectory! And the mirror--that I lent her. My mother's. Cracked.
What's the notion? Anything that's bright enough to reflect,
Out they leapt, jerked, skipped. Flashing, dazzling, dancing,
jumping. Now old Bart . . . he was caught. Now Manresa. Here a
nose . . . There a skirt . . . Then trousers only . . . Now
perhaps a face. . . . Ourselves? But that's cruel. To snap us as
we are, before we've had time to assume . . . And only, too, in
parts. . . . That's what's so distorting and upsetting and utterly
Mopping, mowing, whisking, frisking, the looking glasses darted,
flashed, exposed. People in the back rows stood up to see the fun.
Down they sat, caught themselves . . . What an awful show-up!
Even for the old who, one might suppose, hadn't any longer any care
about their faces. . . . And Lord! the jangle and the din! The
very cows joined in. Walloping, tail lashing, the reticence of
nature was undone, and the barriers which should divide Man the
Master from the Brute were dissolved. Then the dogs joined in.
Excited by the uproar, scurrying and worrying, here they came!
Look at them! And the hound, the Afghan hound . . . look at him!
Then once more, in the uproar which by this time has passed quite
beyond control, behold Miss Whatshername behind the tree summoned
from the bushes--or was it THEY who broke away--Queen Bess; Queen
Anne; and the girl in the Mall; and the Age of Reason; and Budge
the policeman. Here they came. And the Pilgrims. And the lovers.
And the grandfather's clock. And the old man with a beard. They
all appeared. What's more, each declaimed some phrase or fragment
from their parts . . . I am not (said one) in my perfect mind . . .
Another, Reason am I . . . And I? I'm the old top hat. . . .
Home is the hunter, home from the hill . . . Home? Where the
miner sweats, and the maiden faith is rudely strumpeted. . . .
Sweet and low; sweet and low, wind of the western sea . . . Is
that a dagger that I see before me? . . . The owl hoots and the
ivy mocks tap-tap-tapping on the pane. . . . Lady I love till I
die, leave thy chamber and come . . . Where the worm weaves its
winding sheet . . . I'd be a butterfly. I'd be a butterfly. . . .
In thy will is our peace. . . . Here, Papa, take your book and
read aloud. . . . Hark, hark, the dogs do bark and the beggars . . .
It was the cheval glass that proved too heavy. Young Bonthorp for
all his muscle couldn't lug the damned thing about any longer. He
stopped. So did they all--hand glasses, tin cans, scraps of
scullery glass, harness room glass, and heavily embossed silver
mirrors--all stopped. And the audience saw themselves, not whole
by any means, but at any rate sitting still.
The hands of the clock had stopped at the present moment. It was
So that was her little game! To show us up, as we are, here and
how. All shifted, preened, minced; hands were raised, legs
shifted. Even Bart, even Lucy, turned away. All evaded or shaded
themselves--save Mrs. Manresa who, facing herself in the glass,
used it as a glass; had out her mirror; powdered her nose; and
moved one curl, disturbed by the breeze, to its place.
"Magnificent!" cried old Bartholomew. Alone she preserved
unashamed her identity, and faced without blinking herself. Calmly
she reddened her lips.
The mirror bearers squatted; malicious; observant; expectant;
"That's them," the back rows were tittering. "Must we submit
passively to this malignant indignity?" the front row demanded.
Each turned ostensibly to say--O whatever came handy--to his
neighbour. Each tried to shift an inch or two beyond the
inquisitive insulting eye. Some made as if to go.
"The play's over, I take it," muttered Colonel Mayhew, retrieving
his hat. "It's time . . ."
But before they had come to any common conclusion, a voice asserted
itself. Whose voice it was no one knew. It came from the bushes--
a megaphontic, anonymous, loud-speaking affirmation. The voice
Before we part, ladies and gentlemen, before we go . . . (Those who
had risen sat down) . . . let's talk in words of one syllable,
without larding, stuffing or cant. Let's break the rhythm and
forget the rhyme. And calmly consider ourselves. Ourselves. Some
bony. Some fat. (The glasses confirmed this.) Liars most of us.
Thieves too. (The glasses made no comment on that.) The poor are
as bad as the rich are. Perhaps worse. Don't hide among rags. Or
let our cloth protect us. Or for the matter of that book learning;
or skilful practice on pianos; or laying on of paint. Or presume
there's innocency in childhood. Consider the sheep. Or faith in
love. Consider the dogs. Or virtue in those that have grown white
hairs. Consider the gun slayers, bomb droppers here or there.
They do openly what we do slyly. Take for example (here the
megaphone adopted a colloquial, conversational tone) Mr. M's
bungalow. A view spoilt for ever. That's murder . . . Or Mrs.
E's lipstick and blood-red nails. . . . A tyrant, remember, is
half a slave. Item the vanity of Mr. H. the writer, scraping in
the dunghill for sixpenny fame . . . Then there's the amiable
condescension of the lady of the manor--the upper class manner.
And buying shares in the market to sell 'em. . . . O we're all the
same. Take myself now. Do I escape my own reprobation, simulating
indignation, in the bush, among the leaves? There's a rhyme, to
suggest, in spite of protestation and the desire for immolation, I
too have had some, what's called, education . . . Look at
ourselves, ladies and gentlemen! Then at the wall; and ask how's
this wall, the great wall, which we call, perhaps miscall,
civilization, to be built by (here the mirrors flicked and flashed)
orts, scraps and fragments like ourselves?
All the same here I change (by way of the rhyme mark ye) to a
loftier strain--there's something to be said: for our kindness to
the cat; note too in to-day's paper "Dearly loved by his wife"; and
the impulse which leads us--mark you, when no one's looking--to the
window at midnight to smell the bean. Or the resolute refusal of
some pimpled dirty little scrub in sandals to sell his soul. There
is such a thing--you can't deny it. What? You can't descry it?
All you can see of yourselves is scraps, orts and fragments? Well
then listen to the gramophone affirming. . . .
A hitch occurred here. The records had been mixed. Fox trot,
Sweet lavender, Home Sweet Home, Rule Britannia--sweating
profusely, Jimmy, who had charge of the music, threw them aside and
fitted the right one--was it Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart or
nobody famous, but merely a traditional tune? Anyhow, thank
heaven, it was somebody speaking after the anonymous bray of the
Like quicksilver sliding, filings magnetized, the distracted
united. The tune began; the first note meant a second; the second
a third. Then down beneath a force was born in opposition; then
another. On different levels they diverged. On different levels
ourselves went forward; flower gathering some on the surface;
others descending to wrestle with the meaning; but all comprehending;
all enlisted. The whole population of the mind's immeasurable
profundity came flocking; from the unprotected, the unskinned; and
dawn rose; and azure; from chaos and cacophony measure; but not the
melody of surface sound alone controlled it; but also the warring
battle-plumed warriors straining asunder: To part? No. Compelled
from the ends of the horizon; recalled from the edge of appalling
crevasses; they crashed; solved; united. And some relaxed their
fingers; and others uncrossed their legs.
Was that voice ourselves? Scraps, orts and fragments, are we,
also, that? The voice died away.
As waves withdrawing uncover; as mist uplifting reveals; so,
raising their eyes (Mrs. Manresa's were wet; for an instant tears
ravaged her powder) they saw, as waters withdrawing leave visible a
tramp's old boot, a man in a clergyman's collar surreptitiously
mounting a soap-box.
"The Rev. G. W. Streatfield," the reporter licked his pencil and
noted "then spoke . . ."
All gazed. What an intolerable constriction, contraction, and
reduction to simplified absurdity he was to be sure! Of all
incongruous sights a clergyman in the livery of his servitude to
the summing up was the most grotesque and entire. He opened his
mouth. O Lord, protect and preserve us from words the defilers,
from words the impure! What need have we of words to remind us?
Must I be Thomas, you Jane?
As if a rook had hopped unseen to a prominent bald branch, he
touched his collar and hemmed his preliminary croak. One fact
mitigated the horror; his forefinger, raised in the customary
manner, was stained with tobacco juice. He wasn't such a bad
fellow; the Rev. G. W. Streatfield; a piece of traditional church
furniture; a corner cupboard; or the top beam of a gate, fashioned
by generations of village carpenters after some lost-in-the-mists-
He looked at the audience; then up at the sky. The whole lot of
them, gentles and simples, felt embarrassed, for him, for
themselves. There he stood their representative spokesman; their
symbol; themselves; a butt, a clod, laughed at by looking-glasses;
ignored by the cows, condemned by the clouds which continued their
majestic rearrangement of the celestial landscape; an irrelevant
forked stake in the flow and majesty of the summer silent world.
His first words (the breeze had risen; the leaves were rustling)
were lost. Then he was heard saying: "What." To that word he
added another "Message"; and at last a whole sentence emerged; not
comprehensible; say rather audible. "What message," it seemed he
was asking, "was our pageant meant to convey?"
They folded their hands in the traditional manner as if they were
seated in church.
"I have been asking myself"--the words were repeated--"what
meaning, or message, this pageant was meant to convey?"
If he didn't know, calling himself Reverend, also M.A., who after
"As one of the audience," he continued (words now put on meaning)
"I will offer, very humbly, for I am not a critic"--and he touched
the white gate that enclosed his neck with a yellow forefinger--
"my interpretation. No, that is too bold a word. The gifted
lady . . ." He looked round. La Trobe was invisible. He continued:
"Speaking merely as one of the audience, I confess I was puzzled.
For what reason, I asked, were we shown these scenes? Briefly, it
is true. The means at our disposal this afternoon were limited.
Still we were shown different groups. We were shown, unless I
mistake, the effort renewed. A few were chosen; the many passed in
the background. That surely we were shown. But again, were we not
given to understand--am I too presumptuous? Am I treading, like
angels, where as a fool I should absent myself? To me at least it
was indicated that we are members one of another. Each is part of
the whole. Yes, that occurred to me, sitting among you in the
audience. Did I not perceive Mr. Hardcastle here" (he pointed) "at
one time a Viking? And in Lady Harridan--excuse me, if I get the
names wrong--a Canterbury pilgrim? We act different parts; but are
the same. That I leave to you. Then again, as the play or pageant
proceeded, my attention was distracted. Perhaps that too was part
of the producer's intention? I thought I perceived that nature
takes her part. Dare we, I asked myself, limit life to ourselves?
May we not hold that there is a spirit that inspires, pervades . . ."
(the swallows were sweeping round him. They seemed cognizant of
his meaning. Then they swept out of sight.) "I leave that to you.
I am not here to explain. That role has not been assigned me. I
speak only as one of the audience, one of ourselves. I caught
myself too reflected, as it happened in my own mirror . . ."
(Laughter) "Scraps, orts and fragments! Surely, we should unite?"
"But" ("but" marked a new paragraph) "I speak also in another
capacity. As Treasurer of the Fund. In which capacity" (he
consulted a sheet of paper) "I am glad to be able to tell you that
a sum of thirty-six pounds ten shillings and eightpence has been
raised by this afternoon's entertainment towards our object: the
illumination of our dear old church."
"Applause," the reporter reported.
Mr. Streatfield paused. He listened. Did he hear some distant
He continued: "But there is still a deficit" (he consulted his
paper) "of one hundred and seventy-five pounds odd. So that each
of us who has enjoyed this pageant has still an opp . . ." The
word was cut in two. A zoom severed it. Twelve aeroplanes in
perfect formation like a flight of wild duck came overhead. THAT
was the music. The audience gaped; the audience gazed. Then zoom
became drone. The planes had passed.
". . . portunity," Mr. Streatfield continued, "to make a
contribution." He signalled. Instantly collecting boxes were in
operation. Hidden behind glasses they emerged. Coppers rattled.
Silver jingled. But O what a pity--how creepy it made one feel!
Here came Albert, the idiot, jingling his collecting box--an
aluminium saucepan without a lid. You couldn't very well deny him,
poor fellow. Shillings were dropped. He rattled and sniggered;
chattered and jibbered. As Mrs. Parker made her contribution--half
a crown as it happened--she appealed to Mr. Streatfield to exorcize
this evil, to extend the protection of his cloth.
The good man contemplated the idiot benignly. His faith had room,
he indicated, for him too. He too, Mr. Streatfield appeared to be
saying, is part of ourselves. But not a part we like to recognize,
Mrs. Springett added silently, dropping her sixpence.
Contemplating the idiot, Mr. Streatfield had lost the thread of his
discourse. His command over words seemed gone. He twiddled the
cross on his watchchain. Then his hand sought his trouser pocket.
Surreptitiously he extracted a small silver box. It was plain to
all that the natural desire of the natural man was overcoming him.
He had no further use for words.
"And now," he resumed, cuddling the pipe lighter in the palm of
his hand, "for the pleasantest part of my duty. To propose a
vote of thanks to the gifted lady . . ." He looked round for an
object corresponding to this description. None such was visible.
". . . who wishes it seems to remain anonymous." He paused. "And
so . . ." He paused again.
It was an awkward moment. How to make an end? Whom to thank?
Every sound in nature was painfully audible; the swish of the
trees; the gulp of a cow; even the skim of the swallows over the
grass could be heard. But no one spoke. Whom could they make
responsible? Whom could they thank for their entertainment? Was
there no one?
Then there was a scuffle behind the bush; a preliminary premonitory
scratching. A needle scraped a disc; chuff, chuff chuff; then
having found the rut, there was a roll and a flutter which
portended God . . . (they all rose to their feet) Save the King.
Standing the audience faced the actors; who also stood with their
collecting boxes quiescent, their looking-glasses hidden, and the
robes of their various parts hanging stiff.
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us
God save the King
The notes died away.
Was that the end? The actors were reluctant to go. They lingered;
they mingled. There was Budge the policeman talking to old Queen
Bess. And the Age of Reason hobnobbed with the foreparts of the
donkey. And Mrs. Hardcastle patted out the folds of her crinoline.
And little England, still a child, sucked a peppermint drop out of
a bag. Each still acted the unacted part conferred on them by
their clothes. Beauty was on them. Beauty revealed them. Was it
the light that did it?--the tender, the fading, the uninquisitive
but searching light of evening that reveals depths in water and
makes even the red brick bungalow radiant?
"Look," the audience whispered, "O look, look, look.--" And once
more they applauded; and the actors joined hands and bowed.
Old Mrs. Lynn Jones, fumbling for her bag, sighed, "What a pity--
must they change?"
But it was time to pack up and be off.
"Home, gentlemen; home ladies; it's time to pack up and be off,"
the reporter whistled, snapping the band round his notebook. And
Mrs. Parker was stooping.
"I'm afraid I've dropped my glove. I'm so sorry to trouble you.
Down there, between the seats. . . ."
The gramophone was affirming in tones there was no denying,
triumphant yet valedictory: Dispersed are we; who have come
together. But, the gramophone asserted, let us retain whatever
made that harmony.
O let us, the audience echoed (stooping, peering, fumbling), keep
together. For there is joy, sweet joy, in company.
Dispersed are we, the gramophone repeated.
And the audience turning saw the flaming windows, each daubed with
golden sun; and murmured: "Home, gentlemen; sweet. . ." yet
delayed a moment, seeing through the golden glory perhaps a crack
in the boiler; perhaps a hole in the carpet; and hearing, perhaps,
the daily drop of the daily bill.
Dispersed are we, the gramophone informed them. And dismissed
them. So, straightening themselves for the last time, each
grasping, it might be a hat, or a stick or a pair of suede gloves,
for the last time they applauded Budge and Queen Bess; the trees;
the white road; Bolney Minster; and the Folly. One hailed another,
and they dispersed, across lawns, down paths, past the house to the
gravel-strewn crescent, where cars, push bikes and cycles were
Friends hailed each other in passing.
"I do think," someone was saying, "Miss Whatshername should have
come forward and not left it to the rector . . . After all, she
wrote it. . . . I thought it brilliantly clever . . . O my dear,
I thought it utter bosh. Did YOU understand the meaning? Well, he
said she meant we all act all parts. . . . He said, too, if I
caught his meaning, Nature takes part. . . . Then there was the
idiot. . . . Also, why leave out the Army, as my husband was
saying, if it's history? And if one spirit animates the whole,
what about the aeroplanes? . . . Ah, but you're being too
exacting. After all, remember, it was only a village play. . . .
For my part, I think they should have passed a vote of thanks to
the owners. When we had our pageant, the grass didn't recover till
autumn . . . Then we had tents. . . . That's the man, Cobbet of
Cobbs Corner, who wins all the prizes at all the shows. I don't
myself admire prize flowers, nor yet prize dogs . . ."
Dispersed are we, the gramophone triumphed, yet lamented, Dispersed
are we. . . .
"But you must remember," the old cronies chatted, "they had to do
it on the cheap. You can't get people, at this time o' year, to
rehearse. There's the hay, let alone the movies. . . . What we
need is a centre. Something to bring us all together . . .
The Brookes have gone to Italy, in spite of everything. Rather
rash? . . . If the worst should come--let's hope it won't--they'd
hire an aeroplane, so they said. . . . What amused me was old
Streatfield, feeling for his pouch. I like a man to be natural,
not always on a perch . . . Then those voices from the bushes. . . .
Oracles? You're referring to the Greeks? Were the oracles, if
I'm not being irreverent, a foretaste of our own religion? Which
is what? . . . Crepe soles? That's so sensible . . . They last
much longer and protect the feet. . . . But I was saying: can the
Christian faith adapt itself? In times like these . . . At
Larting no one goes to church . . . There's the dogs, there's
the pictures. . . . It's odd that science, so they tell me, is
making things (so to speak) more spiritual . . . The very latest
notion, so I'm told is, nothing's solid . . . There, you can get
a glimpse of the church through the trees. . . .
"Mr. Umphelby! How nice to see you! Do come and dine . . . No,
alas, we're going back to town. The House is sitting . . . I was
telling them, the Brookes have gone to Italy. They've seen the
volcano. Most impressive, so they say--they were lucky--in
eruption. I agree--things look worse than ever on the continent.
And what's the channel, come to think of it, if they mean to invade
us? The aeroplanes, I didn't like to say it, made one think. . . .
No, I thought it much too scrappy. Take the idiot. Did she mean,
so to speak, something hidden, the unconscious as they call it?
But why always drag in sex. . . . It's true, there's a sense
in which we all, I admit, are savages still. Those women with
red nails. And dressing up--what's that? The old savage, I
suppose. . . . That's the bell. Ding dong. Ding . . . Rather
a cracked old bell . . . And the mirrors! Reflecting us . . .
I called that cruel. One feels such a fool, caught unprotected . . .
There's Mr. Streatfield, going, I suppose to take the evening
service. He'll have to hurry, or he won't have time to change. . . .
He said she meant we all act. Yes, but whose play? Ah, that's the
question! And if we're left asking questions, isn't it a failure,
as a play? I must say I like to feel sure if I go to the theatre,
that I've grasped the meaning . . . Or was that, perhaps, what she
meant? . . . Ding dong. Ding . . . that if we don't jump to
conclusions, if you think, and I think, perhaps one day, thinking
differently, we shall think the same?
"There's dear old Mr. Carfax . . . Can't we give you a lift, if
you don't mind playing bodkin? We were asking questions, Mr.
Carfax, about the play. The looking-glasses now--did they mean the
reflection is the dream; and the tune--was it Bach, Handel, or no
one in particular--is the truth? Or was it t'other way about?
"Bless my soul, what a dither! Nobody seems to know one car from
another. That's why I have a mascot, a monkey . . . But I can't
see it . . . While we're waiting, tell me, did you feel when the
shower fell, someone wept for us all? There's a poem, Tears tears
tears, it begins. And goes on O then the unloosened ocean . . .
but I can't remember the rest.
"Then when Mr. Streatfield said: One spirit animates the whole--
the aeroplanes interrupted. That's the worst of playing out of
doors. . . . Unless of course she meant that very thing . . .
Dear me, the parking arrangements are not what you might call
adequate . . . I shouldn't have expected either so many Hispano-
Suizas . . . That's a Rolls . . . That's a Bentley . . . That's
the new type of Ford. . . . To return to the meaning--Are machines
the devil, or do they introduce a discord . . . Ding dong,
ding . . . by means of which we reach the final . . . Ding
dong. . . . Here's the car with the monkey . . . Hop in . . .
And good-bye, Mrs. Parker . . . Ring us up. Next time we're down
don't forget . . . Next time . . . Next time . . ."
The wheels scrurred on the gravel. The cars drove off.
The gramophone gurgled Unity--Dispersity. It gurgled Un . . .
dis . . . And ceased.
The little company who had come together at luncheon were left
standing on the terrace. The pilgrims had bruised a lane on the
grass. Also, the lawn would need a deal of clearing up. Tomorrow
the telephone would ring: "Did I leave my handbag? . . . A pair
of spectacles in a red leather case? . . . A little old brooch of
no value to anyone but me?" Tomorrow the telephone would ring.
Now Mr. Oliver said: "Dear lady," and, taking Mrs. Manresa's
gloved hand in his, pressed it, as if to say: "You have given me
what you now take from me." He would have liked to hold on for a
moment longer to the emeralds and rubies dug up, so people said, by
thin Ralph Manresa in his ragamuffin days. But alas, sunset light
was unsympathetic to her make-up; plated it looked, not deeply
interfused. And he dropped her hand; and she gave him an arch
roguish twinkle, as if to say--but the end of that sentence was cut
short. For she turned, and Giles stepped forward; and the light
breeze which the meteorologist had foretold fluttered her skirts;
and she went, like a goddess, buoyant, abundant, with flower-
chained captives following in her wake.
All were retreating, withdrawing and dispersing; and he was left
with the ash grown cold and no glow, no glow on the log. What word
expressed the sag at his heart, the effusion in his veins, as the
retreating Manresa, with Giles attendant, admirable woman, all
sensation, ripped the rag doll and let the sawdust stream from his
The old man made a guttural sound, and turned to the right. On
with the hobble, on with the limp, since the dance was over. He
strolled alone past the trees. It was here, early that very
morning, that he had destroyed the little boy's world. He had
popped out with his newspaper; the child had cried.
Down in the dell, past the lily pool, the actors were undressing.
He could see them among the brambles. In vests and trousers;
unhooking; buttoning up: on all fours; stuffing clothes into cheap
attachй cases; with silver swords, beards and emeralds on the
grass. Miss La Trobe in coat and skirt--too short, for her legs
were stout--battled with the billows of a crinoline. He must
respect the conventions. So he stopped, by the pool. The water
was opaque over the mud.
Then, coming up behind him, "Oughtn't we to thank her?" Lucy asked
him. She gave him a light pat on the arm.
How imperceptive her religion made her! The fumes of that incense
obscured the human heart. Skimming the surface, she ignored the
battle in the mud. After La Trobe had been excruciated by the
Rector's interpretation, by the maulings and the manglings of the
actors . . . "She don't want our thanks, Lucy," he said gruffly.
What she wanted, like that carp (something moved in the water) was
darkness in the mud; a whisky and soda at the pub; and coarse words
descending like maggots through the waters.
"Thank the actors, not the author," he said. "Or ourselves, the
He looked over his shoulder. The old lady, the indigenous, the
prehistoric, was being wheeled away by a footman. He rolled her
through the arch. Now the lawn was empty. The line of the roof,
the upright chimneys, rose hard and red against the blue of the
evening. The house emerged; the house that had been obliterated.
He was damned glad it was over--the scurry and the scuffle, the
rouge and the rings. He stooped and raised a peony that had shed
its petals. Solitude had come again. And reason and the lamplit
paper. . . . But where was his dog? Chained in a kennel? The
little veins swelled with rage on his temples. He whistled. And
here, released by Candish, racing across the lawn with a fleck of
foam on the nostril, came his dog.
Lucy still gazed at the lily pool. "All gone," she murmured,
"under the leaves." Scared by shadows passing, the fish had
withdrawn. She gazed at the water. Perfunctorily she caressed her
cross. But her eyes went water searching, looking for fish. The
lilies were shutting; the red lily, the white lily, each on its
plate of leaf. Above, the air rushed; beneath was water. She
stood between two fluidities, caressing her cross. Faith required
hours of kneeling in the early morning. Often the delight of the
roaming eye seduced her--a sunbeam, a shadow. Now the jagged leaf
at the corner suggested, by its contours, Europe. There were other
leaves. She fluttered her eye over the surface, naming leaves
India, Africa, America. Islands of security, glossy and thick.
"Bart . . ." She spoke to him. She had meant to ask him about the
dragon-fly--couldn't the blue thread settle, if we destroyed it
here, then there? But he had gone into the house.
Then something moved in the water; her favourite fantail. The
golden orfe followed. Then she had a glimpse of silver--the great
carp himself, who came to the surface so very seldom. They slid
on, in and out between the stalks, silver; pink; gold; splashed;
"Ourselves," she murmured. And retrieving some glint of faith from
the grey waters, hopefully, without much help from reason, she
followed the fish; the speckled, streaked, and blotched; seeing in
that vision beauty, power, and glory in ourselves.
Fish had faith, she reasoned. They trust us because we've never
caught 'em. But her brother would reply: "That's greed." "Their
beauty!" she protested. "Sex," he would say. "Who makes sex
susceptible to beauty?" she would argue. He shrugged who? Why?
Silenced, she returned to her private vision; of beauty which is
goodness; the sea on which we float. Mostly impervious, but surely
every boat sometimes leaks?
He would carry the torch of reason till it went out in the darkness
of the cave. For herself, every morning, kneeling, she protected
her vision. Every night she opened the window and looked at leaves
against the sky. Then slept. Then the random ribbons of birds'
voices woke her.
The fish had come to the surface. She had nothing to give them--
not a crumb of bread. "Wait, my darlings," she addressed them.
She would trot into the house and ask Mrs. Sands for a biscuit.
Then a shadow fell. Off they flashed. How vexatious! Who was it?
Dear me, the young man whose name she had forgotten; not Jones; nor
Hodge . . .
Dodge had left Mrs. Manresa abruptly. All over the garden he had
been searching for Mrs. Swithin. Now he found her; and she had
forgotten his name.
"I'm William," he said. At that she revived, like a girl in a
garden in white, among roses, who came running to meet him--an
"I was going to get a biscuit--no, to thank the actors," she
stumbled, virginal, blushing. Then she remembered her brother.
"My brother," she added "says one mustn't thank the author, Miss La
It was always "my brother . . . my brother" who rose from the
depths of her lily pool.
As for the actors, Hammond had detached his whiskers and was now
buttoning up his coat. When the chain was inserted between the
buttons he was off.
Only Miss La Trobe remained, bending over something in the grass.
"The play's over," he said. "The actors have departed."
"And we mustn't, my brother says, thank the author," Mrs. Swithin
repeated, looking in the direction of Miss La Trobe.
"So I thank you," he said. He took her hand and pressed it.
Putting one thing with another, it was unlikely that they would
ever meet again.
The church bells always stopped, leaving you to ask: Won't there
be another note? Isa, half-way across the lawn, listened. . . .
Ding, dong, ding . . . There was not going to be another note.
The congregation was assembled, on their knees, in the church. The
service was beginning. The play was over; swallows skimmed the
grass that had been the stage.
There was Dodge, the lip reader, her semblable, her conspirator, a
seeker like her after hidden faces. He was hurrying to rejoin Mrs.
Manresa who had gone in front with Giles--"the father of my
children," she muttered. The flesh poured over her, the hot, nerve
wired, now lit up, now dark as the grave physical body. By way of
healing the rusty fester of the poisoned dart she sought the face
that all day long she had been seeking. Preening and peering,
between backs, over shoulders, she had sought the man in grey. He
had given her a cup of tea at a tennis party; handed her, once, a
racquet. That was all. But, she was crying, had we met before the
salmon leapt like a bar of silver . . . had we met, she was crying.
And when her little boy came battling through the bodies in the
Barn "Had he been his son," she had muttered . . . In passing she
stripped the bitter leaf that grew, as it happened, outside the
nursery window. Old Man's Beard. Shrivelling the shreds in lieu
of words, for no words grow there, nor roses either, she swept past
her conspirator, her semblable, the seeker after vanished faces
"like Venus" he thought, making a rough translation, "to her
prey . . ." and followed after.
Turning the corner, there was Giles attached to Mrs. Manresa. She
was standing at the door of her car. Giles had his foot on the
edge of the running board. Did they perceive the arrows about to
"Jump in, Bill," Mrs. Manresa chaffed him.
And the wheels scurred on the gravel, and the car drove off.
At last, Miss La Trobe could raise herself from her stooping
position. It had been prolonged to avoid attention. The bells had
stopped; the audience had gone; also the actors. She could
straighten her back. She could open her arms. She could say to
the world, You have taken my gift! Glory possessed her--for one
moment. But what had she given? A cloud that melted into the
other clouds on the horizon. It was in the giving that the triumph
was. And the triumph faded. Her gift meant nothing. If they had
understood her meaning; if they had known their parts; if the
pearls had been real and the funds illimitable--it would have been
a better gift. Now it had gone to join the others.
"A failure," she groaned, and stooped to put away the records.
Then suddenly the starlings attacked the tree behind which she had
hidden. In one flock they pelted it like so many winged stones.
The whole tree hummed with the whizz they made, as if each bird
plucked a wire. A whizz, a buzz rose from the bird-buzzing, bird-
vibrant, bird-blackened tree. The tree became a rhapsody, a
quivering cacophony, a whizz and vibrant rapture, branches, leaves,
birds syllabling discordantly life, life, life, without measure,
without stop devouring the tree. Then up! Then off!
What interrupted? It was old Mrs. Chalmers, creeping through the
grass with a bunch of flowers--pinks apparently--to fill the vase
that stood on her husband's grave. In winter it was holly, or ivy.
In summer, a flower. It was she who had scared the starlings. Now
Miss La Trobe nicked the lock and hoisted the heavy case of
gramophone records to her shoulder. She crossed the terrace and
stopped by the tree where the starlings had gathered. It was here
that she had suffered triumph, humiliation, ecstasy, despair--for
nothing. Her heels had ground a hole in the grass.
It was growing dark. Since there were no clouds to trouble the
sky, the blue was bluer, the green greener. There was no longer a
view--no Folly, no spire of Bolney Minster. It was land merely, no
land in particular. She put down her case and stood looking at the
land. Then something rose to the surface.
"I should group them," she murmured, "here." It would be midnight;
there would be two figures, half concealed by a rock. The curtain
would rise. What would the first words be? The words escaped her.
Again she lifted the heavy suit case to her shoulder. She strode
off across the lawn. The house was dormant; one thread of smoke
thickened against the trees. It was strange that the earth, with
all those flowers incandescent--the lilies, the roses, and clumps
of white flowers and bushes of burning green--should still be hard.
From the earth green waters seemed to rise over her. She took her
voyage away from the shore, and, raising her hand, fumbled for the
latch of the iron entrance gate.
She would drop her suit case in at the kitchen window, and then go
on up to the Inn. Since the row with the actress who had shared
her bed and her purse the need of drink had grown on her. And the
horror and the terror of being alone. One of these days she would
break--which of the village laws? Sobriety? Chastity? Or take
something that did not properly belong to her?
At the corner she ran into old Mrs. Chalmers returning from the
grave. The old woman looked down at the dead flowers she was
carrying and cut her. The women in the cottages with the red
geraniums always did that. She was an outcast. Nature had somehow
set her apart from her kind. Yet she had scribbled in the margin
of her manuscript: "I am the slave of my audience."
She thrust her suit case in at the scullery window and walked on,
till at the corner she saw the red curtain at the bar window.
There would be shelter; voices; oblivion. She turned the handle of
the public house door. The acrid smell of stale beer saluted her;
and voices talking. They stopped. They had been talking about
Bossy as they called her--it didn't matter. She took her chair and
looked through the smoke at a crude glass painting of a cow in a
stable; also at a cock and a hen. She raised her glass to her
lips. And drank. And listened. Words of one syllable sank down
into the mud. She drowsed; she nodded. The mud became fertile.
Words rose above the intolerably laden dumb oxen plodding through
the mud. Words without meaning--wonderful words.
The cheap clock ticked; smoke obscured the pictures. Smoke became
tart on the roof of her mouth. Smoke obscured the earth-coloured
jackets. She no longer saw them, yet they upheld her, sitting arms
akimbo with her glass before her. There was the high ground at
midnight; there the rock; and two scarcely perceptible figures.
Suddenly the tree was pelted with starlings. She set down her
glass. She heard the first words.
Down in the hollow, at Pointz Hall, beneath the trees, the table
was cleared in the dining room. Candish, with his curved brush had
swept the crumbs; had spared the petals and finally left the family
to dessert. The play was over, the strangers gone, and they were
Still the play hung in the sky of the mind--moving, diminishing,
but still there. Dipping her raspberry in sugar, Mrs. Swithin
looked at the play. She said, popping the berry into her mouth,
"What did it mean?" and added: "The peasants; the kings; the fool
and" (she swallowed) "ourselves?"
They all looked at the play; Isa, Giles and Mr. Oliver. Each of
course saw something different. In another moment it would be
beneath the horizon, gone to join the other plays. Mr. Oliver,
holding out his cheroot said: "Too ambitious." And, lighting his
cheroot he added: "Considering her means."
It was drifting away to join the other clouds: becoming invisible.
Through the smoke Isa saw not the play but the audience dispersing.
Some drove; others cycled. A gate swung open. A car swept up the
drive to the red villa in the cornfields. Low hanging boughs of
acacia brushed the roof. Acacia petalled the car arrived.
"The looking-glasses and the voices in the bushes," she murmured.
"What did she mean?"
"When Mr. Streatfield asked her to explain, she wouldn't," said
Here, with its sheaf sliced in four, exposing a white cone, Giles
offered his wife a banana. She refused it. He stubbed his match
on the plate. Out it went with a little fizz in the raspberry
"We should be thankful," said Mrs. Swithin, folding her napkin,
"for the weather, which was perfect, save for one shower."
Here she rose, Isa followed her across the hall to the big room.
They never pulled the curtains till it was too dark to see, nor
shut the windows till it was too cold. Why shut out the day before
it was over? The flowers were still bright; the birds chirped.
You could see more in the evening often when nothing interrupted,
when there was no fish to order, no telephone to answer. Mrs.
Swithin stopped by the great picture of Venice--school of
Canaletto. Possibly in the hood of the gondola there was a little
figure--a woman, veiled; or a man?
Isa, sweeping her sewing from the table, sank, her knee doubled,
into the chair by the window. Within the shell of the room she
overlooked the summer night. Lucy returned from her voyage into
the picture and stood silent. The sun made each pane of her
glasses shine red. Silver sparkled on her black shawl. For a
moment she looked like a tragic figure from another play.
Then she spoke in her usual voice. "We made more this year than
last, he said. But then last year it rained."
"This year, last year, next year, never . . ." Isa murmured. Her
hand burnt in the sun on the window sill. Mrs. Swithin took her
knitting from the table.
"Did you feel," she asked "what he said: we act different parts but
are the same?"
"Yes," Isa answered. "No," she added. It was Yes, No. Yes, yes,
yes, the tide rushed out embracing. No, no no, it contracted. The
old boot appeared on the shingle.
"Orts, scraps and fragments," she quoted what she remembered of the
Lucy had just opened her lips to reply, and had laid her hand on
her cross caressingly, when the gentlemen came in. She made her
little chirruping sound of welcome. She shuffled her feet to clear
a space. But in fact there was more space than was needed, and
great hooded chairs.
They sat down, ennobled both of them by the setting sun. Both had
changed. Giles now wore the black coat and white tie of the
professional classes, which needed--Isa looked down at his feet--
patent leather pumps. "Our representative, our spokesman," she
sneered. Yet he was extraordinarily handsome. "The father of my
children, whom I love and hate." Love and hate--how they tore her
asunder! Surely it was time someone invented a new plot, or that
the author came out from the bushes . . .
Here Candish came in. He brought the second post on a silver
salver. There were letters; bills; and the morning paper--the
paper that obliterated the day before. Like a fish rising to a
crumb of biscuit, Bartholomew snapped at the paper. Giles slit the
flap of an apparently business document. Lucy read a criss-cross
from an old friend at Scarborough. Isa had only bills.
The usual sounds reverberated through the shell; Sands making up
the fire; Candish stoking the boiler. Isa had done with her bills.
Sitting in the shell of the room she watched the pageant fade. The
flowers flashed before they faded. She watched them flash.
The paper crackled. The second hand jerked on. M. Daladier had
pegged down the franc. The girl had gone skylarking with the
troopers. She had screamed. She had hit him. . . . What then?
When Isa looked at the flowers again, the flowers had faded.
Bartholomew flicked on the reading lamp. The circle of the
readers, attached to white papers, was lit up. There in that
hollow of the sun-baked field were congregated the grasshopper, the
ant, and the beetle, rolling pebbles of sun-baked earth through the
glistening stubble. In that rosy corner of the sun-baked field
Bartholomew, Giles and Lucy polished and nibbled and broke off
crumbs. Isa watched them.
Then the newspaper dropped.
"Finished?" said Giles, taking it from his father.
The old man relinquished his paper. He basked. One hand caressing
the dog rippled folds of skin towards the collar.
The clock ticked. The house gave little cracks as if it were very
brittle, very dry. Isa's hand on the window felt suddenly cold.
Shadow had obliterated the garden. Roses had withdrawn for the
Mrs. Swithin folding her letter murmured to Isa: "I looked in and
saw the babies, sound asleep, under the paper roses."
"Left over from the coronation," Bartholomew muttered, half asleep.
"But we needn't have been to all that trouble with the
decorations," Lucy added, "for it didn't rain this year."
"This year, last year, next year, never," Isa murmured.
"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor," Bartholomew echoed. He was
talking in his sleep.
Lucy slipped her letter into its envelope. It was time to read
now, her Outline of History. But she had lost her place. She
turned the pages looking at pictures--mammoths, mastodons,
prehistoric birds. Then she found the page where she had stopped.
The darkness increased. The breeze swept round the room. With a
little shiver Mrs. Swithin drew her sequin shawl about her
shoulders. She was too deep in the story to ask for the window to
be shut. "England," she was reading, "was then a swamp. Thick
forests covered the land. On the top of their matted branches
birds sang . . ."
The great square of the open window showed only sky now. It was
drained of light, severe, stone cold. Shadows fell. Shadows crept
over Bartholomew's high forehead; over his great nose. He looked
leafless, spectral, and his chair monumental. As a dog shudders
its skin, his skin shuddered. He rose, shook himself, glared at
nothing, and stalked from the room. They heard the dog's paws
padding on the carpet behind him.
Lucy turned the page, quickly, guiltily, like a child who will be
told to go to bed before the end of the chapter.
"Prehistoric man," she read, "half-human, half-ape, roused himself
from his semi-crouching position and raised great stones."
She slipped the letter from Scarborough between the pages to mark
the end of the chapter, rose, smiled, and tiptoed silently out of
The old people had gone up to bed. Giles crumpled the newspaper
and turned out the light. Left alone together for the first time
that day, they were silent. Alone, enmity was bared; also love.
Before they slept, they must fight; after they had fought, they
would embrace. From that embrace another life might be born. But
first they must fight, as the dog fox fights with the vixen, in the
heart of darkness, in the fields of night.
Isa let her sewing drop. The great hooded chairs had become
enormous. And Giles too. And Isa too against the window. The
window was all sky without colour. The house had lost its shelter.
It was night before roads were made, or houses. It was the night
that dwellers in caves had watched from some high place among
Then the curtain rose. They spoke.
- Virginia Woolf