A FRENCH VIEW OF WOMENS RIGHTS
[Probably from the Allahabad Pioneer.]
WITH a little book entitled
Les Femmes qui Tuent et les Femmes qui Votent, Alexandre Dumas, fils,
has just entered the arena of social and political reform. The novelist,
who began by picking up his Beatrices and Lauras in the social gutter, the
author of La Dame aux Camélias and La Dame aux Perles,
is regarded in France as the finest known analyst of the female heart.
He now comes out in a new light; as a defender of Womans Rights in
general, and of those women especially whom English people generally talk
about as little as possible. If this gifted son of a still more gifted father
never sank before to the miry depths of that modern French realistic school
now in such vogue, the school headed by the author of LAssommoir
and Nana, and so fitly nicknamed LEcole Ordurialiste,
it is because he is a born poet, and follows the paths traced out for
him by the Marquis de Sade, rather than those of Zola. He is too refined
to be the rival of writers like those who call themselves auteurs-naturalistes
and romanciers-expérimentalistes, who use their pen as
the student in surgery his scalpel, plunging it into the depths of all the
social cancers they can find.
Until now he idealized and beautified vice. In the work under review,
he defends not only its right to exist under certain conditions, but claims
for it a recognized place in the broad sunlight of social and political
His brochure of 216 pages, which has lately been published
in the shape of a letter to J. Clarétie, is now having an immense
success. By the end of September, hardly a week after its appearance, it
had already reached its sixth edition. It treats of two great social difficultiesthe
question of divorce, and the right of women to participate in elections.
Dumas begins by assuming the defence of the several women who have recently
played an important part in murder cases, in which their victims were their
husbands and lovers.
All these women, he says, are the embodiment of the idea which for some
time past has been fermenting in the world. It is that of the entire disenthralment
of the woman from her old condition of slavery, created for her by the Bible,
and enforced by tyrannical society. All these murders and this public
vice, as we as the increasing mental labour of women, M. Dumas takes to
be so many signs of one and the same aspirationthat of mastering man,
getting the best of him, and competing with him in everything. What men
will not give them willingly, women of a certain class endeavour to obtain
by cunning. As a result of such a policy, he says, we see "those young
ladies" acquiring an enormous influence over men in all social affairs
and even in politics. Having amassed large fortunes, when older they appear
as lady-patronesses of girls schools and of charitable institutions,
and take a part in provincial administration. Their past is lost sight of;
they succeed in establishing, so to say, an imperium in imperio, where
they enforce their own laws, and manage to have them respected. This state
of things is attributed by Dumas directly to the restriction of Womans
Rights, to the state of legal slavery women have been subjected to for centuries,
and especially to the marriage and anti-divorce laws. Answering the favourite
objection of those who oppose divorce on the ground that its establishment
would promote too much freedom in love, the author of Le Demi-Monde
bravely pushes forward his last batteries and throws off the mask.
Why not promote such freedom? What appears a danger to some, a dishonour
and shame to others,
Will become an independent and recognized profession in lifeune
carrière à parta fact, a world of
its own, with which all the other corporations and classes
of society will have to reckon. It will not be long before everyone will
have ceased to protest against its right to an independent and legal existence.
Very shortly it will form itself into an integral, compact body; and the
time will come when, between this world and the others, relations will
be established as friendly as between two equally powerful and recognized
With every year women free themselves more and more from empty formalism,
and M. Dumas hopes there will never again be a reäction. If a woman
is unable to give up the idea of love altogether, let her prefer unions
binding neither party to anything, and let her be guided in this only by
her own free will and honesty. Of course it is rather to review
an important current of feeling in an important community than to discuss
au fond the delicate questions with which M. Dumas deals, that we
are taking notice of his book. We may thus leave the reader to his own reflections
on this proposed reform, as also in reference to most of the points raised.
A certain Hubertine Auclaire, in France, has lately refused to pay her
taxes on the plea that political rights belonging to man are denied to her
as a woman; and Dumas, with this incident as a text, devotes the last part
of this brochure to a defence of Womans Rights, as eloquent,
impressive and original as other portions which will less bear discussion
. He writes:
In 1847 political reformers thought it necessary to lower the electoral
franchise and distribute the right of vote according to capacity.
That is, to limit it to intelligent men. The government refused, and
this led to the Revolution of 1848. Scared, it gave the people the right
of universal suffrage, extending the right to all, whether capable or incapable,
provided the voters were only men. At present this right holds good, and
nothing can abolish it. But women come, in their turn, and ask: "How
about us? We claim the same privileges."
What [asks Dumas] can be more natural, reasonable and just? There is
no reason why woman should not have equal rights with man. What difference
do you find between the two which warrants your refusing her such a privilege?
None at all. Sex? Her sex has no more to do with it than the sex of man.
As to all other dissimilarities between us, they go far more to her credit
than to ours. If one argues that woman is by nature a weaker creature than
man, and that it is his duty to take care of and defend her, we will answer
that hitherto we have, it seems, so badly defended her that she had to
pick up a revolver and take that defence into her own hands; and to remain
consequent with ourselves we have to enter the verdict of "Not guilty"
whenever she is caught in that act of self-defence.
To the plea that woman is intellectually weaker than man, and is shown
to be so by sacred writings, the author sets off against the biblical Adam
and Eve, Jacolliots translation of the Hindû legend in his Bible
dans lInde, and contends that it was man, not woman, who became
the first sinner and was turned out of Paradise. If man is endowed with
stronger muscles, womans nerves surpass his in capacity for endurance.
The biggest brain ever foundin weight and sizeis now proved
to have belonged to a woman. It weighed 2,200 grammes400 more than
that of Cuvier. But brain has nothing to do with the electoral question.
To drop a ballot into the urn no one is required to have invented powder,
or to be able to lift 500 kilogrammes.
Dumas has an answer for every objection. Are illustrious women exceptions?
He cites a brilliant array of great female names, and contends that the
sex in which such exceptions are to be met has acquired a legal right to
take part in the nomination of the village maires and municipal officers.
The sex which claims a Blanche de Castille, an Elizabeth of England, another
of Hungary, a Catherine II and a Maria Theresa, has won every right.
If so many women were found good enough to reign and govern nations,
they surely must have been fit to vote. To the remark that women can neither
go to war nor defend their country, the reader is reminded of such names
as Joan of Arc, and the three other Joans, of Flanders, of Blois, and Joan
Hachette. It was in memory of the brilliant defence and salvation of her
native town, Beauvais, by the latter Joan, at the head of all the women
of that city, besieged by Charles le Téméraire, that Louis
XI decreed that henceforth and for ever the place of honour in all the national
and public processions should belong to women. Had woman no other rights
in France, the fact alone that she was called upon to sacrifice 1,800,000
of her sons to Napoleon the Great, ought to ensure to her every right. The
example of Hubertine Auclaire will be soon followed by every woman in France.
Law was ever unjust to woman; and instead of protecting her, it seeks but
to strengthen her chains. In case of crimes committed, does law ever think
of bringing forward as an extenuating circumstance, her weakness? On the
contrary, it always takes advantage of it. The illegitimate child is given
by it the right to find out who its mother was, but not its father. The
husband can go anywhere, do whatever he pleases, abandon his family, change
his citizenship, and even emigrate, without the consent or even knowledge
of his wife.
She can do nothing of the kind. In case of a suspicion of her faith,
he can deprive her of her marriage portion; and in case of guilt may even
kill her. It is his right. Debarred from the benefits of a divorce,
she has to suffer all, and finds no redress. She is fined, judged, sentenced,
imprisoned, put to death, and suffers all the penalties of law just as much
and under the same circumstances as he does, but no magistrate has ever
thought of saying yet:
"Poor weak little creature! . . . Let us forgive her, for she is
irresponsible, and so much lower than man!"
The whole eloquent, if sometimes rhapsodical plea in favour of womens
suffrage is concluded with the following suggestions:
First, the situation will appear absurd; but gradually people will become
accustomed to the idea, and soon every protest will die out. No doubt at
first the idea of woman in this new rôle will have to become
the subject of bitter criticism and satire. Ladies will be accused of ordering
their hats à lurne, their bodices au suffrage
universel, and their skirts au scrutin secret. But what
then? After having served for a time as an object of amazement, then become
a fashion and habit, the new system will be finally looked upon as a duty.
At all events it has now become a claimed right. A few grandes
dames in cities, some wealthy female landowners in provincial districts,
and leaseholders in villages, will set the example, and it will be soon
followed by the rest of the female population.
The book winds up with this question and answer:
I may, perhaps, be asked by some pious and disciplined lady, some fervent
believer in the idea that humanity can only be rescued from perdition by
codes and gospels, by the Roman law and Roman Church: "Pray, tell
me, sir, where are we driving to with all these ideas?" "Hé,
madame! . . . we go where we were going
to from the first, to that which must be, that is, the inevitable. We move
slowly onward, because we can spare time, having some millions of years
yet before us, and because we have to leave some work to do for those who
are following us. For the present we are occupied in enfranchising women;
when this is done we will try to enfranchise God. And as soon as full harmony
will have been established between these three eternal principlesGod,
man and womanour way will appear to us less dark before us, and we
will journey on the quicker."
Certainly the advocates of Womans Rights in England have never
yet approached their subject from this point of view. Is the new method
of attack likely to prove more effective than the familiar declamation of
the British platform, or the earnest prosing of our own great womans
champion, John Stuart Mill? This remains to be seen; but certainly for the
most part the English ladies who fight this battle will be puzzled how to
accept an ally whose sympathy is due to principles so frightfully indecorous
as those of our present author.
H. P. BLAVATSKY.
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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