Margot Asquith: An Autobiography
New York: George H. Doran Co. 1920. Two vols., 8vo, 276 and 282 pp. Illustrated. $7.50.
‘ I SHRANK then, as I do now, from exposing the secrets and sensations of life.’ This is one of the most amusing sentences in the book that has excited hot discussion in England. Is Margot Asquith a self-deceiver, or does she deliberately delight in contradictions? Like Shimei, the son of Gera, she casts stones at the servants of the King, and all the people and all the mighty men. Her own family is not spared. From her account her father’s irritability amounted to genius. He did not care for priests, poets, or philosophers. His temper was like a fuse. At least two of her sisters had ‘social courage’; that is. they were singularly rude. Her mother did not understand her, but Margot, knowing she had been a great flirt, entertaining the belief that the unpardonable sin in desperate love-affairs is to be found out. easily pardoned her. T was a turbulent family. Margot was a tom-boy ; she is a tom-boy in relating her adventures with men arid women.
It is not easy to see why there is so shrill an outcry in England. Perhaps the London versions differ from the one of New York, which does not contain a peculiarly disagreeable reflection on Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife — one that has been refuted by Sir Sidney Colvin. (There are four versions in all.) One would think from the London reviews that Margot, in scandalous revelations, has out-Wraxalled Wraxall; has outGrevilled Greville; or that her memoirs are to be put on a shelf with the confessions and boastings of Casanova; but the New York version is free from snickering hints and coarse accusations. She has been likened unto Marie Bashkirtseff. The two were proud of their hair; there the resemblance ceases. Marie was sensitive; she had aspirations, illusions. Are the English annoyed because Margot doubts if there is any woman now so beautiful or so temperamental as to ‘provoke a fight in Rotten Row between gentlemen in high society ’? or because she found Jowett’s belief in ‘ the fine manners, high tone, wide education and lofty example of the British aristocracy ’ pathetic?
She describes her love-affairs at length; she puts her lovers under the microscope. She was courted on horseback, in the street, at the opera, in the ballroom. She has neither modesty nor reticence; she counts her scalps exultantly. She analyzes the manners of her husband’s family. She describes her first confinement in a manner that would have delighted the Goncourt brothers. She is greatly pleased with herself. She has gone through the world smashing everything in her way. Yet this impetuous, bustling woman, to whom candor and rudeness are synonymous terms, enjoyed the close frinedship of Jowett, Gladstone, Symonds, and Morley. No ordinary woman could have thus been honored. No woman, because she was merely extraordinary, could have held their friendship and invited confidence. In her desire to entertain in print, she may have shown her weaker side when she thought to show her strength. P. H.