The Soulful Sex

[SOUL, n. A spiritual entity concerning which there hath been brave disputation. Plato held that those souls which in a previous state of existence (antedating Athens) had obtained the clearest glimpses of eternal truth entered into the bodies of persons who became philosophers. Plato was himself a philosopher. The souls that had least contemplated divine truth animated the bodies of usurpers and despots. Dionysius I, who had threa tened to decapitate the broad-browed philosopher, was a usurper and despot. Plato, doubtless, was not the first to construct a system of philosophy that could be quoted against his enemies; certainly he was not the last. — The Devil’s Dictionary.]


‘I EXPECT that woman will be the last thing civilized by man,’ wrote Sir Austin Feverel, in the most brilliant of the imaginary books in our language. It is an utterance with which there are sundry ways of agreeing, from the complacent egoistic way of the sex represented by Sir Austin, to the amusedly scornful way of the newest New Woman, who turns her critic’s weapon upon himself as, with supercilious brows, she murmurs, ‘Indeed, I should hope and suppose so!' By which she means that to submit to man’s administration of the civilizing process wore a reversion toward barbarism.

Meanwhile, it is certain that any tolerably wide reader will have seen the remark attributed, from a dozen to fifty times, to Meredith, the author of Sir Austin, instead of to its actual originator, Sir Austin, the author of The Pilgrim’s Scrip. It occurs on the first page of the first chapter of Meredith’s first considerable book. This is a disheartening, yet not grossly unrepresentative, example of how readers read.

For the epigram is, of course, a starkly anti-Meredithian utterance. Sir Austin, a cynic and misogynist self-confessed, exists to represent cynicism and misogyny. He embodies the reactions of the disillusioned, embittered male of the species — of the lover and father who has given hostages to life, has been made to suffer through having done so, and thereafter has withdrawn behind the rampart of pessimism which he has thrown up as a safeguard against ever being hurt again in the same way. Now, that is an essentially immature pessimism, declarative at best of the burnt child’s timidity. It is sustained and nourished by such lean fodder as Sir Austin’s aloofness from life and his assumption — a dry husk, even as logic — that as one woman was, so all women probably are. Meredith created the point of view, and the famous system which Sir Austin evolved from it, expressly that both might in the upshot be broken upon the great rock of some facts of human nature — including, as the most momentous part of the exhibit, the fact of one woman’s nobility. Meredith’s answer to Sir Austin is, in short, that man is going to be the last thing civilized by woman, and that his ultimate woli-being rests on his consenting so to be civilized.

What is the matter with woman? is of course the burning question of the ages, at least so far as men are concerned; and will continue to be, so long as the difference of the sexes persists. For each sex unconsciously standardizes its own limitations, and bedevils the other for not having the will or the wit to measure down to them. And since this myopic egotism works in individual human nature as truly as in the group, it may fairly be supposed capable of surviving any conceivable breakdown of such differentiations as nationality, class, and sex itself. The differentiation of sex, at least, would seem to be fairly permanent; yet — so great is what we may call the dynamic inertia of human nature — if some unforeseen biological tendency of the future should entirely reverse the functions of the sexes, leaving each precisely as the other now is, we should hear that part of the population which considered itself masculine still chanting the immemorial question, What is the matter with woman?

As a fact, it is my present wish to suggest in all seriousness that almost exactly this reversal of traditionary functions has already taken place, or is now taking place, in the moral and intellectual attributes of the sexes and in the social forms and movements whereby those attributes express themselves. As women were, men are; as men were, so women are in process of becoming. The New Eve — she is a fulfilled fact or a future certainty, according as you regard her advent with self-congratulation or dread — is to an amazing extent simply the Old Adam (this in a purely social and historical sense, not the old theological one).

Man does not, to be sure, recognize her as the reincarnation, with modern improvements, of his former self. He does not recognize her, because he has evolved away from his former self too far to remember it very clearly. He has evolved into the woman of yesterday, and remains the world’s most distressing case of arrested development. Against the portent of the New Woman he rebels as old-fashioned woman herself does, and for the same reasons. He is old-fashioned woman.

The question, What is the matter with woman? is now most intelligibly studied and answered, then, as a question about what woman everywhere in the world is rapidly ceasing to be, which is the same thing that man has lately become — whether curably or no, it is not within the province of this essay to unriddle.

If these be dark sayings, it is not difficult to shed a gentle lucency upon them from some angles of social history; as indeed it is hereinafter attempted to do.


Trace, from its genesis through most of its stages, the world’s adverse criticism of woman, and you find that, from a prehistoric era straight down to the Early Victorian time of Sir Austin Feverel, such criticism has always related itself to woman’s lack, or supposed lack, of anything approximating a soul. The great historic religions have pretty thoroughly integrated themselves with the notion that a woman is not a person at all, and that she can become one only by merging her destiny in that of some masculine being through whom she wins a reflected, incidental salvation. It is an idea of which every great cultus has probably contained, at one period or another, more than a suspicion. There exists a vestigial remnant of it in the present attitude of Christian society, and in the very recent attitude of Christian common law, toward the unwedded mother and the illegitimate by birth.

It would be slightly more accurate to say that the assumption of woman’s soulleasness has taken two historic forms, a positive and a negative. It has taken them, not only in different periods and differently constituted societies, but sometimes even in the same society at the same period. The negative view, that woman perfectly lacks the vital spark and, lacking it, is on a parity with the beasts that perish, impels straight toward polygamy and concubinage. The positive view endows woman with the opposite of a vital spark, — a lethal and phosphorescent flame kindled in hell, — in short, an anti-soul. This version puts woman on a parity with the evil angels. It is the theory of woman as a witch or a vampire. It survives in the usage which refers to a coquette as ‘soulless’ (the truth being, as ever, remote from the catchword for it: a coquette is a woman who has too much soul, or too many), and also in many a trite joke about the innate diabolism of the sex. Just as the negative view leads to the institution of plural marriage in one form or another, so the positive view leads to asceticism. Or, if not that, then — by perversion in some pagan and mediæval societies — to the esoteric cults of devil-worship and phallic ceremonial. It can also lead, of course, in an individual case here and there, even during the most scientific age of steam or electricity, to the supreme beauties and despairs of eroticism in the arts. But all such by-products are in some sort logical enough inversions of asceticism.

A study of the periods in which woman passed for a creature without a soul, whether by the negative interpretation or the positive, is slightly disconcerting to one’s reverence for the fathers, the prophets, and the sages, and tends to drive one into a cynical determinism in one’s reading of religious and social history. For one finds a truly noteworthy coincidence between two sets of facts: on the one side, contempt for woman as woman and universal esteem of her as wife or concubine and mother; on the other side, the economic and military need for rapid expansion by small and threatened nationalities or sects. The instinct of self-preservation by defense, or the similar instinct of self-development by conquest, leads races and religions to exploit woman as a breeder.

With extraordinary uniformity, it should be added, she seems to have been held lightly wherever she outnumbered man, and reverently wherever she was herself outnumbered. Whether woman were construed as a soulless animal or as a bodiless angel would seem, almost literally, to have depended on the numbers in which she happened to be extant. This is a truth which lends itself readily enough to the flippant conclusion that — if woman is idealized only when she is rare and hence little known — the reality of her nature must be somewhat discouraging to idealism. It also lends itself fully as well to the conclusion that man’s idealizing apparatus is woefully infirm and at the disposal of mere accidents of supply and demand. Whatever the conclusion proper to be drawn, there remains the bare fact, as an interesting footnote to the general law by which the exigencies of self-preservation dictate the attitude of either sex toward the other and toward itself. Woman has been conceded the possession of a soul in her own right only when her having one was not seriously prejudicial to any masculine self-interest.

The self-preserving instincts of ascetic and artist are more subtle in their behavior, but they remain none the less self-preserving instincts. He who mortifies the flesh has identified himself with a spiritual good which, for its own continuity, dares admit no compromise with a material and fleshly evil. His own soul must not enter into contact with woman’s anti-soul; the union which is creative of life through the body would be the death of his sainthood.

In a way recognizably akin to this of asceticism, the strange obscene cults of the East hinged on the will to self-preservation. The evil nature of woman was assumed as a matter of course, but at the same time it was perceived that her loveliness and seductiveness were irresistible. This perception led naturally to an inverted theology in which the powers of evil, being stronger than those of good, — for was not woman there to prove it? — became the logical object of propitiation.

And the artist, of course, has always known that his self-preservation — as an artist — depends on his consenting to let himself be ravaged, perhaps destroyed in the end, by the fatal gift of beauty to which he humbly dedicates himself. His fate is one more secular fulfillment of the ancient paradox which decrees that whosoever will lose his life for the sake of some extra-personal reality, the same shall find his life and live it more abundantly.


Thus some few vagaries of man’s age-old insistenceon woman’s chief lack. No more is needed to signify that the point of departure in man’s past reasoning about woman has been his assumption that she was constitutionally deprived of an important organ which man himself possessed — to wit, a soul. Sir Austin quite earnestly meant that women do not have souls, that it will be a long time before they acquire them, and that their lack of souls is chiefly what is the matter with them.

But Sir Austin was less numerously agreed with in his own generation than in any preceding it. For during the short century after ‘sensibility’ came, first as an experience and then as a cult, denial of the feminine soul began to have a rather reactionary sound.

Women were exposing their souls with a vengeance; even everybody’s everyday parlance was aware of it. It took courage to deny the feminine soul when the years of Victoria’s reign were few!

And now — it is universally conceded at last that woman has a soul, that she is a person. Whatever is the matter with her, it is not her non-possession of a soul. To the old question various answers are propounded; for it is still widely credited that, of all organisms, woman is the most obdurate against the civilizing process. But most of the answers are a generation wide of the mark now. The true answer is of so astounding a simplicity that hardly anyone sees it at all, or, seeing it, will say so.

The matter with woman — only she is at long last getting over it — is not that she lacks a soul: it is merely that she has one. She has had it for a long time, far longer than man has; she is its originator and first possessor.

The fable of the garden, the woman, the serpent, the tree, and the man has been persistently misread throughout these several millennia past. The fable is really, of course, not history, but prophecy, as we can readily enough see now that the prophecy is by way of being fulfilled. It is a fable of the origin of souls. The serpent, whose name is Sentimentalism, accosts the woman — because she is the more curious, the more daring, and vastly the stronger underneath her disarming show of weakness — and seduces her with the promise of a strange new power: the power to have, to do, and to be whatever she wills, by the simple expedient of perfectly believing in her heart that she already has it or does it or is it. In other words, he offers her a soul. Being after all but human, even though woman, she cannot resist such a lure. She partakes of the fruit of the tree, enjoys it in secret, and wields to her heart’s content the extraordinary power which it gives her. Perfect belief in herself has made her omnipotent. Astutely, she never allows her omnipotence to become manifest: she simply uses it.

But — here the curtain falls on a lapse of ages — there comes at length the whisper of another voice in her ear; a voice more subtle than that of Sentimentalism itself. ‘Don‗t you think, says Irony, ‘that all this omnipotence is getting to be a trifle wearisome? Really, now, don’t you confess to being the least bit bored with this constant monotony of power? Don’t you, sometimes, begin to feel envious of man and wish you could be in his place, instead of having your own way all the time? Consider, now, what a novel and thrilling experience it might be, for a change, to feel yourself weak and helpless, as man is!’

Again she listens, is tempted, and yields. The outcome is of the simplest possible inevitability. She rids herself of her superior power, her ability to make anything whatever true just by believing it — her soul, in fine. She rids herself of it by wishing it upon man. Henceforth it is he who complacently suffers the affliction of a soul, while she becomes as innocent and soulless as when she had just come from the hands of her Maker.

Her first notable attempt to make man a present of the soul of which she had grown weary came about the age of chivalry. It was only a half-hearted attempt: even the timid masculine resistance which followed, in the age of gallantry, sufficed to postpone her success.1 Her next expedient was more subtly dangerous than the first. It took the form of ‘sensibility,’ which was at bottom simply an attempt, by parading her soul, exhibiting it in excess, to make man enviously wish to get it away from her. The rise of science spoiled her game this time, as the reaction of gallantry had done before. But there will be no withstanding her third and final attempt — the process of whose triumph the world is now witnessing. For there is nothing subtle about this latest attempt. It has the merit of absolute frankness — as its enemies say, of brazen frankness. Woman has served notice that she is done with souls and illicit powers, and that she purposes henceforth to make a brave and hearty adventure of life, as only the weak can do. She flatly renounces her old omnipotence. If man chooses to take up with souls, that is man’s affair; but she will have nothing more to do with them.

Well — our revised version has the merit of reaffirming some notorious facts, besides that of challenging some notorious delusions. Sentimentalism, it justly appears, is the father of all devils. Souls are original and ultimate sin. The time-honored instinct which identifies woman, not man, with the deepest depths of depravity has thus a historic sanction, — woman really was the original sentimentalist, only the notion has persisted in survival of the facts which justified it. The ancient superstition that woman lacked a soul, whereas man possessed one, appears as the hollow make-believe it really was. Modern woman, as is now generally conceded, is developing the trenchant gift of irony. These considerations are all implicit in the fable.

Finally, our revised version disposes of the shallow guess that modern woman’s revolt is a revolt for power. It is a revolt from power, and to weakness. The New Eve does not want to rule the world: that is what she has just become tired of doing. She wants, not to succeed, but to strive; to be the power behind her own actions instead of the power behind the throne. She is simply going to be as man lately was: that is, an ineffectual weak being, playing against enormous odds a game of some seeming importance — and playing it, not with loaded dice or stacked cards, but with a candid recognition of all the hazards incident to it.

Souls are, then, not good things, but evil; in their net effect on modern civilization, the most evil of all possible things. Whatever fosters and encourages them merits destruction. Whatever tends to check their ravages or curtail their power ought to be applauded, hymned in art, subsidized by the state.

Certain of us, even otherwise moderately sane persons, have gone into a panic about Bolshevism. Is there any Bolshevism? Much of the red radicalism, we know, is nothing but yellow journalism. Nearly all of the Bolshevist terrors in America, and a great proportion of those in Europe, exist only in the columns of daily journals, and their sole sustenance is printers’ ink and popular timidity. Perhaps — it is a sobering thought — there is no such thing as Bolshevism! The fact is, we squander our time and nervous energy ranting against Bolsheviki when we ought to be ranting against souls.

For no one has any doubt of their existence. They are assuredly no figment of newspaperdom. They and their works we have always with us. They swarm about us unchecked and unrebuked, with all their scarlet sins upon them. There is no deliverance save downright annihilation of them — and that can be only through a long, slow growth. Before any such consummation of well-being can have occurred, they may have wrought even greater disasters than their masterpiece of the years just gone. For souls, whatever their incidental usefulness may have been in times past, are now the great menace. If we as a race want to be saved, the first thing for us to do — this I would not say irreverently — is to pray destruction upon our own souls.


Before we proceed, it is as well to attempt some definition of this primitive organ evolved by womankind, discarded by her at length in the prosecution of her greatest experiment, and now adopted, fatuously, by man.

Its central principle will have been suggested pretty explicitly in the foregoing. A soul is the power to substitute one’s own hopes and wishes for objective fact; to live among them and work with them and make them produce substantial consequences just as if they were objective fact. It has a kinship with the hypocrisy which deceives, not others, but one’s self; it has likewise a kinship with mere emotionalism, as contrasted with honest emotion and sentiment. But it is more than these, as the whole is more than any of its parts. Soul is the offspring of sentimentalism by egoism; its moral cousins are smugness and sham and platitude and cant, the officious zeal of the uplifter and the self-righteousness of the Pharisee; its legitimate children — and these are what most crushingly condemn it — are such things as parental tyranny and political muddle and the persecution of minorities, the denial of reality and the denial of liberty. For the only reality which the soul knows is that of its own desires, which it propounds as immutable laws; and the only liberty which it knows is the liberty of all and sundry to conform to its dictates or suffer the consequences of not conforming. It speaks with the voices of tradition and convention, using these as a censorship, and never comprehending the true utility of either. It is the deadly antithesis of humor, as of irony — which is only humor in fighting accoutrements and with its back to the wall. And the last word of the soul’s wisdom is the hatefulness and immorality of change.

Must we not confess that it is this very spirit which seems, latterly, to rule the affairs of man and of man’s world? The masculine part of the race has indeed come into its soulage. Listen where you will, among the discussed affairs of significant individuals, parties, sects, societies, nations, alliances, ententes: in every single representative voice, the deepest note heard, the fundamental at the very base of whatever complexity of overtones, is this unctuous note of soulfulness. Morally speaking, the comings and goings of all officialdom carry, for herald and valediction, a silken rustle of petticoats.

It seems an ungracious attitude, this imputation that our lives, our destinies, our makings of war and peace, our daily bread, and our eternal wellbeing, are in the hands and at the mercy of creatures who, esteeming themselves men, show nevertheless in their actual behavior a consummation of all the qualities lately attributed to maiden aunts. That emperors, kings, regents, presidents, governors, cabinet ministers, mayors, judges, legislators, educators, deans, and superintendents are at bottom simply a powerful ruling class composed of elderly women, not to say old maids — it is a dismaying thought, not to be faced by the boldest without a shudder. Besides, one has the feeling that in a world which still pretends to esteem virility, all these trousered effeminates may not just exactly like to be so thought of.

And yet, to see the truth about the mighty ones, recognizing their exact resemblances to our poor selves, is a most salutary and necessary move in the war against souls. For, mark you, it is nothing other than the soul in ourselves which bids us be awed by dignities and dignitaries. If we allow ourselves to be imposed upon by the soulful great, we simply spread the corrosion. The soul in us would eagerly shield us from the dire perception that these great ones of earth are made of the very stuff of our own acknowledged littleness. We must see that pretentious notables belong to the soulful sex, on pain of demonstrating by our blindness that we belong to it ourselves.

When we look about among present realities for illustration, the difficulty is merely what to choose from the throng. But suppose we begin, quite arbitrarily, with Germany.

Professor L. P. Jacks has made an analytic study of the German disposition and decided that its central impulse is cruelty. With all deference to this high authority, whose judgments elsewhere it is nearly always possible to hear with enthusiasm, a more searching analysis, while verifying the cruelty, denies that it is central. What is really so, and has been ever since the youthful Schiller thought he was writing ‘philosophical’ poems, is the German sentimentalism, sentimental egoism, egoistic emotionalism — in a word, soul. The staggering horrors committed in Belgium are an awful indictment of the German, but not a basic indictment. The basic indictment of the German, and the ultimate explanation of his cruelty, is that he weeps over nothing in partciular when he is drunk. And, of course, what he expresses then, he feels at other times. He is susceptible to emotions, and in love with his own susceptibility. Behind all his pretended application of science and merciless logic, he commits certain acts simply that certain emotions may follow. He is a betrayer in love, that he may wallow in remorse and admire himself for feeling it. He is a tyrant in marriage and paternity, that he may intensify the worship of his own power or magnanimity.

It is high time to point out that his abominations in Flanders must have resulted from a skein of motives, the very least thread of which was the primitive savagery of, say, the Cossacks in East Prussia. There was pure selfhatred in it, for one thing. Many a man has kicked a dog — but it was always himself, not the dog, that he hated. He did it to make himself more hateful, that he might hate himself the more. The Germans murdered babies and old men to prove to themselves that in their capacity for fiendishness they were superhuman. And of course, having such a motive for frightfulness, they could succeed only in proving themselves pitifully and shockingly human. They committed horrors because they drew the sustenance of self-flattery from their consequent selfhatred and remorse and — actually — pity for the victim. All these perverted emotions are by-products of inordinate self-worship. The moral effect of ruthlessness on the enemy was a nominal excuse. The genuine reason, however unconsciously, could have been nothing other than the moral effect on the Germans themselves. There are a thousand captured documents to prove all this. Moreover, the modern history of Germany, the whole cultus of Prussianism and Junkerdom, is a product, not of cruelty, not even of unscrupulous greed, — these are merely the betraying symptoms, — but of sentimental bathos. Germany is a nation of souls.

If anyone imagines that this is a less damning charge than cruelty, his is to a nicety the Prussian point of view of the matter, and he needs to beware of his own soul.


But it is not too helpful to dwell long on the shortcomings of our late enemies. To specialize in denunciation of others and spare ourselves the scourge is, in fact, one of the chief temptations to which the possession of souls exposes us. There is, after all, nothing dutiable about the Prussian faults, and no candid person really supposes that the Prussian soul and its fruits are delimited by a territorial frontier.

He who is sincerely willing to document the soul and its ardors may well pause to study the still unfinished machinations of the Peace Conference. He will patiently contrast the promises of the Armistice with the performance of the Treaty. He will trace the vicissitudes of the Fourteen Points, — ‘four more than the Lord Himself was able to think of,’ as M. Clemenceau is rumored, no doubt apocryphally, to have remarked, — and observe how those famous dicta ‘vanished in the final League of Nations,’ as Mr. William Dean Howells has lately put it. He will also admire the dexterity of our choice among the Fourteen whenever the limpid moral principle tried to crowd into the same channel with the muddy material interest. Especially will he note the exquisite deftness of our juggling with the two principles of self-determination and reparation. He will review the exalted idealism of our professions the while we girded ourselves for the struggle, and match it against the outcome, including the indeterminate but considerable number of wars now raging, the multiplicity of territorial squabbles, the absence of real peace anywhere, the perceptible diminishment of that democracy whose safety was guaranteed by the shedding of blood, the capitalization by narrow and self-seeking parties of some great social and political issues arising out of the war, the hopeless bafflement of our dealings with Russia and the quibblings and evasions resorted to for disguise of that bafflement — all these and many another perturbing aspect of the Great War and its outcome.

And, picking his way through the mist of discrepancies, ideals paltered with, high hopes thwarted or relinquished, heartening dreams proved illusory, he will come in the end to a square reckoning with just two realities, the cardinal realities of the present situation. The first is the aura of idealism and noble moralistic fervor which has been thrown round every one of these transactions, from least to greatest; the tapestry of splendid and godlike speech which has been woven to cover even the most barren square rod of soil ignobly bartered. The second is the absolute honesty with which all this idealism has been promulgated, by strictly representative men who had a burning and high-hearted faith in every word they said or signed, and who never once suspected that they were using faith and charity and justice and all the nobler aspirations of mankind as mere levers for helping themselves and their constituents to exactly what was wanted.

It would require no very cynical spectator to define political idealism as a handy weapon for diplomacy when no better serves, and political justice as an effective trick of propaganda. But there was no such cynicism in the minds of these men. They were enabled to accomplish what they would, because they believed in their own justice as unequivocally as they believed in their own astuteness, or the wickedness of their enemies.

That, you see, is what souls do. They enable you, through perfect belief in yourself, to erect the figments of your own desire into achievements just as tangible as though built on solid reality. They work, they are the most feasible and frictionless way to get what you have made up your mind to have, regardless. And if they exist in sufficient numbers, there is nobody left — or, at any rate, nobody very well worth hearing — to plead the cause of reality at all.

But there is little room here to continue the chronicle of souls and their sinister operations. The nimble-witted reader will go on piecing it out in his own mind, almost literally to infinity, joining on bits from the most portentous public affairs and the most insignificant private ones, until he has reduced himself to the dismal conclusion that soul is the final arbiter of wellnigh everything that goes on. His quest will lead him behind a variety of hedges and into some odd by-paths. He will discover, for instance, that a whole volume could be written on how the souls of perfectly upright editorial staffs falsify the news in perfectly reputable daily journals — not on the editorial pages, but in the very news columns. Why, a whole essay could be written on how the news is every day partisanly edited by the skilled use of quotation marks that jeer and sting and insult and damn. The research cannot be prolonged without leading to a quaint disclosure about our courts of law, including some of the most eminent: namely, the innocent candor with which they apply their own prejudices to the adjudication of cases heard on appeal. If the previous finding be deemed subversive of some dearly regarded prejudice, it is promptly reversed on a broad foundation of principle. If, on the other hand, it appear as a reassertion of those prejudices, it is as promptly sustained on the ground that the process of reaching it was technically legal, no fundamental principle having been allowed to come within the jurisdiction of the higher court. It will be further discovered that all political elections to office are won on terms which leave the losing two fifths or nine twentieths of the voting population in the position of anarchists, Bolsheviki, traitors, assassins of liberty, mortal enemies of law, order, and common decency — and that nobody is in the slightest degree perturbed, once the election is over, by this ostensible devotion to crime of something approaching one half the population.

Not the least interesting of these disclosures will be that those who, in ordinary business or statecraft, are always readiest to plead the virtue of the ‘practical’ compromise between principle and existing fact, those who are always promptest with a sneer for ‘impractical’ idealism — that these very persons are the first to take their unflinching stand on some bedrock of eternal principle as soon as there is any question of raising their taxes, or increasing their public responsibilities, or decreasing their private profits, or otherwise exposing them to material detriment. Nearly all of us are practical men when we stand to gain or win something, and men of unbending principle when we have to defend ourselves against the danger of loss. In fine, the soul will always contrive to eat its cake and have it too; it will always play the game on the timehonored feminine system of ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.’

We live in the heyday of the trousered female. In all the attitudes hereinbefore described, a subtle listener will detect the very vibration of certain familiar and time-worn feminine utterances, long become the property of joke-smiths and no longer heard, perhaps, on feminine lips. ‘This is so sudden!’ How should she know that her real thought is, ‘I have been expecting this momently for weeks: why are you so unaccountably tardy with your declaration?’ ‘It hurts me, my son, more than it does you,’ — or, in other words, ‘I cannot help enjoying the exercise of my authority over you, and of my superior strength, and you shall find out that it does not pay to resist me.’ ‘I told you so!’ — that is to say, ‘No one foresaw this, and it is as surprising to me as to anyone, but we might easily enough have foreseen it if we had not all been fools.’

The wife who proverbially censors her husband’s mail and selects his stenographers is reincarnate in the spirit of diplomacy and in the national attitudes behind ententes and alliances. The hysteria of the feminine soul, its various nondescript abnormalities and ‘delusions of persecution,’ as the alienists call them, are exemplified again and again in the successive states of the public consciousness, and in the voices, newspapers, books, organizations which form and direct those states. Before these words are in print, the perfervidly patriotic souls of some few Americans — I add, absolutely without sarcasm, that their financial interests lie mostly south of the Rio Grande — may have got us embroiled in an idealistic war with Mexico. What an exhibit for the psychopathologist!

And invariably the theory that the female of the species is more deadly than the male finds its best illustration in the lately feminized male sex. For, it is worth while to reassert, representative man is becoming every bit as feminine as woman used to be, and much more conspicuously noxious in the employment of his feminine qualities, because the management of conspicuous affairs is still traditionally in his hands.


Meanwhile, what of women?

It may as well be confessed at once that no great change has so far taken place in the massed millions, the rank and file, of the sex. We continue to see them as one collective and rather inchoate lump. But the properties concededly latent in a very small amount of leaven are not to be overlooked. The leaven is actually at work, and in the only place where its functioning can avail: within the lump itself. As many women as ever may cling to their safe and soulful omnipotence, behind the walls of that peculiar domesticity in which nothing can over happen to them except what happens in their imaginations; but there are more and always more women who find this ridiculous, insist on the opposite thing for themselves, and, within or without marriage, take life as a hazardous experiment, claiming no immunity from its hazards. Women writers may coo and gurgle as sentimentally as ever in the columns of those magazines which they edit, — magazines dedicated to marriage and motherhood, trousseaus and teething, — and which, one suspects, are subscribed to and read by the ever-increasing army of soulful males; but these women and their works are a butt of impish laughter to an impressive number of their unsouled sisters, and women become increasingly articulate in a new and non-sentimental vein made up of wit and energy and keenness — the masculine virtues of mind and style, applied in a feminine way.

It is, of course, among the possibilities that the great mass of women will lapse into hitherto undreamed-of abysms of soulfulness. If this occurs, it will be because the new tendencies at work among the sex will be counteracted by the disastrous spread of souls among men, for whom the old-fashioned woman admittedly exists and in whose approbation she basks. Men would prefer woman to remain a ‘good soul,’ as we say, with tacit recognition that there is a sort of derogatory force in the word ‘soul.’ But it is far likelier — all signs, indeed, pointing the same way — that the tendencies now at work will culminate in a strikingly different type of woman. She will possess the masculine qualities of mind and temper, but she will apply them, as I have just put it, in a purely feminine way. A rational creature, she will reason more quickly than man; not less accurately, but more nervously; not in the syllogisms of formal logic, but with the intuitive grasp of things which enables the artist, for example, to reach, across gaps and elisions of process, exactly the right conclusion. She is to be, this New Woman, the most perfect blend of sensibility and sense yet produced, and, as such, the goal and paragon of an evolutionary process which has already turned out a race of no mean spiritual and intellectual capacity.

Not strangely, it is in the craft of literature, and especially in fiction, that this creature — or, if you prefer, her shadowy prototype — has become most manifest. Not that she is confined to literature: one may instance, hurriedly and in passing, so able a scientific sociologist as Dr. Elsie Clews Parsons. And, astonishingly, the British House of Commons is lately invaded by a woman not unlikely, if report be truthful, to ask such inconvenient and realistic questions as threaten embarrassment and self-consciousness to the soul of British officialdom. However that may be, it is certain that the art of the novel has had accretions from the hands of a group of Englishwomen — some of them preposterously young in years, and all of them in spirit — who possess exactly our postulated blend of sensibility with discrimination. It suffices to mention the bare names of Rebecca West, E. M. Delafield, Sheila KayeSmith, Dorothy Richardson, Elinor Mordaunt, Clemence Dane. Each of these has the air of being in conscious rebellion against a world of men and women which one can only describe as fetid with femaleness. It is not necessary here to estimate the appearance of this group in letters. But it seems quite certain that its appearance in society is a portent of magnitude.

The interesting question for the future is whether such women, once they have become as impressive in numbers as in dynamic qualities, are going to rule the world; in other words, whether the New Eve without a soul is to prove herself stronger than the Old Adam with his newly acquired soul. A soul is no negligible advantage in the struggle for supremacy. It is already shown to have given women whatever mastery they willed, in defiance of all reason and reality, and it is now doing the same for man, with disastrous consequences to the world at large. But are the sexes equal, barring this matter of the soul? Have not women always had, latently, a superior capacity for realism? In occasional startling flashes of illumination, between their long nights of sentimentality, have not women made shrewder appraisals of fathers, husbands, brothers, lovers, sons, than any mortal man has ever made of mothers, wives, sisters, sweethearts, daughters? It is a question to ask, not answer: the answer is the future’s.

But it is a very momentous question. For on it hinges the whole problem whether, for the first time in the history of created things, reality is to prove itself stronger than illusion, and plain acceptance of the facts of life a more workable philosophy than the repeating of charms and catchwords and halfcomprehended echoes. Perhaps, after all, romantic self-deception is the eternal law, and the only basis on which anything can ever substantially succeed. We do not know, for the reason that nothing else has ever been tried in competition with it. Perhaps the New Woman is only a sort of artist, existing for a moment’s travail over a new beauty which can never be brought forth, or which, if it were brought forth, we should at once cast negligently aside, keeping all things just as they were before. Or perhaps she is not so much an artist as an object of art — an isolated and perverse masterpiece composed by the Author of Souls in order to mock the soulful (after the ironic fashion of gods) with tantalizing glimpses of that perfection which is not to be. Toward these matters, mere man must for the present make a virtue of neutral spectatorship. But it is his privilege to hope that the schedule of the universe involves the creation of a finer type of human being than has yet existed, somewhat according to the stages set forth in Meredith’s poem of Earth and Man; and that the present changes which seem to be crystallizing in womankind are a groping progress toward this achievement.

Anyway, it is clear that Sir Austin Feverel was right, in a sense as remote as possible from his intention. The New Eve will be the last thing civilized by man. If you have any doubt of that, all you need do is ask her.

  1. The argument here confesses that it owes something to Mr. James Branch Cabell, whose various books — notably Chivalry, Gallantry, The Line of Love, The Certain Hour, and Beyond Life — would still be worth consulting as social philosophy, even if they had much less to do with literature. — THE AUTHOR.