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 life.
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 difficulties the 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 aspiration that 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,
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:
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."
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 found in weight and size is now proved to have belonged to a woman. It weighed 2,200 grammes 400 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:
The book winds up with this question and answer:
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.
[Probably from the Allahabad Pioneer.]
H. P. Blavatsky