Dealing with That Woman’s Letters – March 1901

It is an unlucky truth that, in a light moment I wrote down that I would tell my readers what I thought of the book, “The English Woman’s Love letters.” There are quite a number of reasons why I have not done so. First, there have been so many more important subjects to write about. Secondly, would not sober heads of families who do us the honour to listen to our household chat be displeased with such sentimentality. Thirdly, I do not know what I think of the letters and here comes an Englishman publicly and a Scotch woman privately, politely insisting that I shall keep my promise.

This is rather hard since I have none of the qualifications essential to a critic. A critic is a man who lives and browses among books of all ages and in many languages. With a sober, clear intelligence and unbiased judgment he weighs and compares and tells you the exact value of a certain book. Like a judge of cheese or horses at a show he may sometimes err a little but it is his business to guide the public to a right taste. I need hardly say, I am not a book woman, trained to literary criticism. Unlike “An Englishman” I have read few of the criticisms on this much talked of book.

For those who have not read it, I will briefly outline the story. The letters are supposed to be written by a girl of 22 to a young man six months younger to whom she is engaged. Both belonged to the leisured classes. He has apparently nothing to do but write and shoot, she no employment but that of writing to him. His mother strongly objects the match and will not give her consent. The reason why, the girl is not told but there is apparently some mystery about her parentage which is at the root of the trouble.

Quite suddenly she receives a letter from the young man, breaking off the engagement. She entreats him to come to tell her what this means but he gives no reason, simply replying that they must say Goodbye. Left broken-hearted, she continues to write to him, although the letters are not sent. She falls into ill health and dies within a year without ever knowing the reason why she was abandoned.

These letters are given as if genuine and there has been much controversy as to whether they are fact or fiction. I cannot believe that such a series of letters was ever written by a young girl.

Two notable features about the letters are their literary phraseology and the utter abandonment of the love passages.

Most of the language is artificial and smells of the study lamp. The “Englishwoman” is quite ingenious in inventing new beginnings for her letters, some of which are as follows: Dearest, Most Beloved, Dearest and Dearer, Dearest and Rightly Beloved. Just how completely the Englishwoman is without reticence and even modesty I dare not put down. Is it a man or a woman who has the boldness to invent such things for a modest girl to write to her lover?

No woman can approve of one of her sex literally casting herself at the feet of a man as this Englishwoman does.

After reading these letters I could not help thinking how much more charming would be, “A Scotchwoman’s love letters, ” with sweet reserve in place of passionate confession, douce advice instead of art criticism, graceful gaiety in exchange for literary phrasing and a thousand silent ways of breathing earnest affection without once naming the “great Word.” Even she might be cast off to break her heart in solitude, for it is a crooked world.

There are three things which the critique has prevented me from doing, all of which I should have enjoyed much more — an arm full of stockings to darn, the duel between a War Secretary and a Commander in Chief to read of, and brilliant sunshine calling me to go outside and see the birds beginning their love-making.

This entry was posted in Feminism, Letters, Love and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dealing with That Woman’s Letters – March 1901

  1. What a fascinating description of a ‘critic’! Some may resent it but I think there’s a lot to learn from it. Thank you for sharing these. 🙂

  2. ceciliag says:

    This is so good and in fact should be read by all of those who pertain to be book or literary critics! now I am off to darn my arm full of stockings!! c

  3. Really breathtaking. I marvel at Gretchen’s phrase “….without once naming the “great Word”. There is a sanity running through this writing that is missing from today, and a joy in simple pleasures.

  4. I agree with Gretchen that I question a young girl writing these however young literate girls who gave expression back then did have a tendency to drama!

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