Monday, September 08, 2008

Women and The Woman

I have made a special selection for today, September 8, which is the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God. It is a bit complex, and not so obvious as one might wish for in such a selection, but I think it worth studying.

For one, it shows GKC's careful, friendly argumentation, even when he is in serious disagreement with an opponent. Few swordsmen of any age can wield the pen like this!

Second, because of the arguments (really I ought to say quarrels) presently being voiced about woman and her place in the world, not to say the home. Again this selection shows some unexpected traits - GKC, painted by some as an extreme anti-feminist, is revealed in his true chivalry as a powerful defender of Woman - that is, defending her from feminists!

Finally, because of the humble, almost casual and hard-to-notice appearance of Mary in this selection. So appropriate, as Mary, the Woman whose birthday we celebrate today, was always most humble. She did not make herself visible (remember her last words: "Do whatever He tells you." [Jn 2:5]) In fact, sometimes her Son had to phrase things very carefully so as to remind others of her importance: "Blessed is the womb that bore You!" someone shouts. But no, that's not quite right, so very carefully He explains why His mother is important: "Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep/do it." [Lk 11:27-28]

Only such a Word-smith as her Son could exalt in multiple dimension. (GKC explained it grandly: "the idea of simultaneous happenings on different levels of life" [TEM CW2:305] "use of the comparative in several degrees" [TEM CW2:333]) Yes, multiple, for even we who live long afterwards can hope to follow that Woman if we hear and keep the word that still echoes from a hillside in Galilee...

Remember, it was she who taught the Word to speak... How she must have rejoiced (Lk 1:47) to hear Him say "Abba" - Father.

--Dr. Thursday

Judge Parry is one of the men who have done mountains of good merely by being alive; while so many judges act as if they were already dead, not to say ... but Judge Parry might misunderstand a misuse of theological imagery. He is somewhat anti-clerical; which seems a waste of talent in a country where there is no clericalism. In his last book, Law and the Woman, I find much with which I do not agree, yet nothing which is not agreeable. Not only does he say everything with disarming humour and candour; but even in error he never loses sight of the large factor that sex relations do not depend on the exceptional action of law, but on the normal action of creed and custom. Alone among such lawyers he understands that the poor live on laughter as on a fairy-tale; and can be more scientifically studied in the fictions of Jacobs than the facts of Webb. I might pursue the view further than he on some points; as when he would infer the mere enslavement of women from some stories about the selling of wives. He is doubtless correct in detail; but the rhyme he gives to prove his point may almost be said to disprove it. He quotes a jolly ballad about a man who tried to sell his wife with a halter round her neck and, failing to do so, tried to hang himself in the halter rather than go on living with her. Obviously this is simply the fable of the grey mare; and does not mean that the man ruled his wife, but rather that she ruled him. I do not agree about divorce; but I am not going to argue about it here, or about any such problem of the sexes. This is partly because I should have to begin about the nature of a vow, and it feels like talking to a judge about the nature of an oath, and might almost be contempt of court. But it is more, I hope, for the manlier reason that I do want to argue about something else.

I think this delightful book might really mislead by a view of progress which over-simplifies history: the view that "the thoughts of men are widened by the process of the suns" - a monotonous process which cannot even widen itself. He begins his story of the subjection of women from the Bible story of Adam and Eve. He then proceeds at once to quote, not the Bible, but John Milton, and says it is almost exactly in the form "in which mediaeval man was wont to explain to medieval woman the kind of thing she really was." Now whatever Milton was, he was not mediaeval. He was, in his own opinion and in real though relative truth, highly modern and rationalistic. And he would have regarded his somewhat contemptuous view of woman as part of his emancipation from mediaevalism. Probably the very same attitude made him approve of divorce; and makes the difference between woman's place in his epic and her place in Dante's. On either side of that Gothic gateway of the Middle Ages out of which he had emerged (as he would have said) into the daylight, there had stood two symbolic statues of women, at least of equal importance in the scheme. One represented the weak woman by whom Satan had entered the world; the other the strong woman by whom God had entered the world. Milton and his Puritans deliberately battered and obliterated the image of the good woman and carefully preserved the bad woman, to be a standing reproach to womanhood. But they unquestionably thought their anti-feminist iconoclasm was a great step in progress; and the fact illustrates what an uncommonly crooked and even backward path the path called progress has really been. Nor is it difficult to discover, even in the writer's own account, whence this anti-feminist iconoclasm drew its force; which was certainly not merely from the Book of Genesis. Judge Parry says, perhaps disputably, that the rude Saxons had more legal regard for women than the Romans. But assuming for the sake of argument that the heathen Romans did give a low status to woman, they clearly cannot have got it either from the Hebrew Scriptures or the mediaeval Church. If he will ask where they did get it, he will probably also find where Milton got it. The truth is that there was an element of intellectual brutality in the Renaissance and revival of the pagan world. The very worship of power and reason embodied itself in a preference for the sex that was supposed superior in them. New tyrannies as well as new liberties were encouraged by the New Learning; and Cervantes was laughing at the unreal adventurer who fancied he was unchaining captives, at the very time when Hawkins, the real adventurer, was first leading negroes in chains.

[The above is from GKC's "The Lawlessness of Lawyers" in The Uses of Diversity.]

A few notes about some names:

Judge Parry: Edward Abbott Parry (1863-1943)
I enjoy it [the just-published book called The Overbury Mystery: A Chronicle of Facts and Drama of the Law] because the new study of it is written by Judge Parry, every word of whose works I always enjoy; for, whether they are the most light-headed nonsense or the most hard-headed sense, they are always (as they used to say in the eighteenth century) an honour to his head and heart...
[GKC ILN Jan 16, 1926 CW34:25]

Jacobs: William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943) author of stories, mostly humorous, and the macabre "The Monkey's Paw". According to GKC, he might be the origin of the blogg-term "ROTFL" ... behold:
Now there are at least four points in which Mr. Jacobs represents the return to the great comic classics; and this is the first of them - the fact that he re-establishes humour as something violent and involuntary and outside ourselves. His best humour is outside criticism, in the sense that physical pain is outside criticism. With him as with Dickens, an absurdity is an absurdity as a blow in the face is a blow in the face. You cannot pause to call the joke a bad joke. You cannot pause to call the joke a good joke. It is simply a fact of natural history that you, having read a certain remark two minutes before, are now rolling about on the carpet and waving your legs in the air.
[GKC "W. W. Jacobs" from The Tribune 1906, reprinted in A Handful of Authors]

Webb: Sidney Webb (1859-1947) one of the founders of the "Fabian Society" (dedicated to establishing socialism in England).
What I have always liked about [H. G.] Wells is his vigorous and unaffected readiness for a lark. He was one of the best men in the world with whom to start a standing joke; though perhaps he did not like it to stand too long after it was started. I remember we worked a toy-theatre together with a pantomime about Sidney Webb.
[GKC Autobiography CW16:211]

Mediaevalism provokes a study, not merely artistic, like Morris and Ruskin, but as economic as that of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb. Let it be understood that I am not here discussing whether these views are accurate; I am only pointing out that, whatever they are, they are not merely antiquated.
[GKC Where All Roads Lead CW3:32]

John Milton (1608-1674) poet and author, wrote Paradize Lost a blank-verse epic on the fall of man.
Milton prefaced "Paradise Lost" with a ponderous condemnation of rhyme. And perhaps the finest and even the most familiar line in the whole of "Paradise Lost" is really a glorification of rhyme. "Seasons return, but not to me return," is not only an echo that has all the ring of rhyme in its form, but it happens to contain nearly all the philosophy of rhyme in its spirit. The wonderful word "return" has, not only in its sound but in its sense, a hint of the whole secret of song. ... No lover of poetry needs to be told that all poems are full of that noise of returning wheels and none more than the poems of Milton himself. The whole troth is obvious, not merely in the poem, but even in the two words of the title. All poems might be bound in one book under the title of "Paradise Lost." And the only object of writing "Paradise Lost" is to turn it, if only by a magic and momentary illusion, into "Paradise Regained."
[GKC "The Romance of Rhyme" in Fancies Versus Fads]

Cervantes: Miguel de Cervantes(1547-1616) Spanish novelist, author of Don Quixote, he fought in the battle of Lepanto.
They [Latins] are realistic in theory, but they are romantic in practice; and, moreover (for this is the point), highly practical in achieving the romance. When they talk and write they are often incredulous; but the things they do are incredible. They are so vigorous that they can do even what they doubt. The strangest and most striking example, I think, is Cervantes. He wrote a whole novel to show that it was nonsense to expect any adventures in this life, when his own life had been simply crammed with adventures. He seemed to smile Spain's chivalry away, when he had actually been risking his life for that chivalry and driving its Paynim enemies away. At Lepanto he was the first to leap, sword in hand, on to the galley of the Sultan - a thing obviously out of a boy's novelette. The first satirist of crusading romances was one of the last crusaders.
[GKC ILN Dec 6 1919 CW31:574]

Hawkins: Sir John Hawkins (or Hawkyns) (1532-1595) English naval commander who (among other things) engaged in Negro slave trade.
The blackest imp out of the abyss, settling on the congenial shoulder of Sir John Hawkins, suggested to him that he might solve the Labour Problem by stealing the black men and making them work for the white men. So, in a typical age of art, science, and scepticism, the black man and the white man were "brought together." So they opened the golden gates of the Renaissance, and instantly slavery rushed in again - an ancient and heathen river.
In the case of America, few will deny that, but for the unlucky enlightenment of the pirate Hawkins, two races might have coexisted on this planet without an incessant exasperation. America would not have needed either to scourge a helotry or to shoot down an aristocracy; she might have saved both the tears of Uncle Tom and the blood of Stonewall Jackson.
[GKC ILN Aug 19 1911 CW29:140]

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