Israel Zangwill. Without Prejudice
William Fishburne, Charles Aldarondo, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
PART I. GOSSIPS AND FANTASIES
I. A VISION OF THE BURDEN OF MAN
And it came to pass that my soul was vexed with the problems of life, so that I could not sleep. So I opened a book by a lady novelist, and fell to reading therein. And of a sudden I looked up, and lo! a great host of women filled the chamber, which had become as the Albert Hall for magnitude-women of all complexions, countries, times, ages, and sexes. Some were bewitching and beautiful, some wan and flat-breasted, some elegant and stately, some ugly and squat, some plain and whitewashed, and some painted and decorated; women in silk gowns, and women in divided skirts, and women in widows' weeds, and women in knickerbockers, and women in ulsters, and women in furs, and women in crinolines, and women in tights, and women in rags; but every woman of them all in tears. The great chamber was full of a mighty babel; shouts and ululations, groans and moans, weeping and wailing and gnashing of false and genuine teeth, and tearing of hair both artificial and natural; and therewith the flutter of a myriad fans, and the rustle of a million powder-puffs. And the air reeked with a thousand indescribable scents- patchouli and attar of roses and cherry blossom, and the heavy odours of hair-oil and dyes and cosmetics and patent medicines innumerable.
Now when the women perceived me on my reading-chair in their midst, the shrill babel swelled to a savage thunder of menace, so that I deemed they were wroth with me for intruding upon them in mine own house; but as mine ear grew accustomed to the babel of tongues, I became aware of the true import of their ejaculations.
'0 son of man!' they cried, in various voices: 'thy cruel reign is over, thy long tyranny is done; thou hast glutted thyself with victims, thou hast got drunken on our hearts' blood, we have made sport for thee in our blindness. But the Light is come at last, the slow night has budded into the rose of dawn, the masculine monster is in his death- throes, the kingdom of justice is at hand, the Doll's House has been condemned by the sanitary inspector.'
I strove to deprecate their wrath, but my voice was as the twitter of a sparrow in a hurricane. At length I ruffled my long hair to a leonine mane, and seated myself at the piano. And lo! straightway there fell a deep silence-you could have heard a hairpin drop.
'What would you have me do, O daughters of Eve?' I cried. 'What is my sin? what my iniquity?' Then the clamour recommenced with tenfold violence, disappointment at the loss of a free performance augmenting their anger.
'Give me a husband,' shrieked one.
'Give me a profession,' shrieked another.
'Give me a divorce,' shrieked a third.
'Give me free union,' shrieked a fourth.
'Give me an income,' shrieked a fifth.
'Give me my deceased sister's husband,' shrieked a sixth.
'Give me my divorced husband's children,' shrieked a seventh.
'Give me the right to paint from the nude in the Academy schools,' shrieked an eighth.
'Give me an Oxford degree,' shrieked a ninth.
'Give me a cigar,' shrieked a tenth.
'Give me a vote,' shrieked an eleventh.
'Give me a pair of trousers,' shrieked a twelfth.
'Give me a seat in the House,' shrieked a thirteenth.
'Daughters of the horse-leech,' I made answer, taking advantage of a momentary lull, 'I am not in a position to give away any of these things. You had better ask at the Stores.' But the tempest out-thundered me.
'I want to ride bareback in the Row in tights and spangles at 1 p. m. on Sundays,' shrieked a soberly clad suburban lady, who sported a wedding-ring. 'I want to move the world with my pen or the point of my toe; I want to write, dance, sing, act, paint, sculpt, fence, row, ride, swim, hunt, shoot, fish, love all men from young rustic farmers to old town
'But, madam,' I remarked-for in her excitement she approached within earshot of me-'I understand thee quite well, and I really am not responsible for thy emotions.' Her literary style beguiled me into the responsive archaicism of the second person singular.
'Coward!' she snapped. 'Coward and satyr! For centuries thou hast trampled upon my sisters, and desecrated womanhood.'
'I beg thy pardon,' I rejoined mildly.
'Thou dost not deserve it,' she interrupted.
'Thou art substituting hysteria for history,' I went on. 'I was not born yesterday, but I have only scored a few years more than a quarter of one century, and seeing that my own mother was a woman, I must refuse to be held accountable for the position of the sex.'
'Sophist!' she shrieked. 'It is thy apathy and selfishness that perpetuate the evil.'
Then I bethought me of my long vigils of work and thought, the slow, bitter years in which I 'ate my bread with tears, and sat weeping on my bed,' and I remembered that some of those tears were for the sorrows of that very sex which was now accusing me of organised injustice. But I replied gently: 'I am no tyrant; I am a simple, peaceful citizen, and it is as much as I can do to earn my bread and the bread of some of thy sex. Life is hard enough for both sexes, without setting one against the other. We are both the outcome of the same great forces, and both of us have our special selfishnesses, advantages, and drawbacks. If there is any cruelty, it is Nature's handiwork, not man's. So far from trampling on womanhood, we have let a woman reign over us for more than half a century. We worship womanhood, we have celebrated woman in song, picture, and poem, and half civilisation has adored the Madonna. Let us have woman's point of view and the truth about her psychology, by all means. But beware lest she provoke us too far. The
As I spoke the figure before me appeared to be undergoing a transformation, and, ere I had finished, I perceived I was talking to an angry, seedy man in a red muffler.
'Thee keeps down the proletariat,' he interrupted venomously. 'Thee lives on the sweat of his brow, while thee fattens at ease. Thee plants thy foot on his neck.'
'Do I?' I exclaimed, lifting up my foot involuntarily.
Mistaking the motion, he disappeared, and in his stead I saw a withered old pauper with the Victoria Cross on his breast. 'I went to the mouth of hell for thee,' he said, with large reproachful eyes; 'and thou leavest me to rot in the workhouse.'
'I am awfully sorry!' I said. 'I never heard of thee. It is the nation-'
'The nation!' he cried scornfully. '
'Thou art the man,' echoed a thousand voices: 'Society is only an abstraction.' And, looking round, I saw, to my horror, that the women had quite disappeared, and their places were filled by men of all complexions, countries,