In the days of our grandmothers — those thrifty, industrious women — reading was a crime, unless out of The Book. Secular reading was idleness and worse. Women of our class were not sufficiently educated to be able to understand classical literature, and there was little, if any , of a popular nature. Moreover, even newspapers and magazines were expensive and there was little ready money in those days.
Above all, carding and spinning and embroidering left few idle half- hours on the hands of the women. So they lived their worthy and virtuous lives, in which written words, except for the purposes of devotion had no place.
Things have altered greatly, but there are still great numbers of women whose duties leave them no time for reading. In the country too, the type exists of those who consider reading a waste of time… Nevertheless, for the busiest housewife, there is some virtue in reading, if it be of the right kind, if it should be merely as a refresher of the mind.
A woman should read just what men read. It doubles the interest if you can talk of what you read to those of your own household. A case is possible where a woman might read for the benefit of her husband, not to raise herself so much as to raise him. I know one such.
The wife thinks that her husband engrosses himself too much in business and she induces him to read for relaxation. To that end, she chooses books that she thinks will interest him, reads them herself and talks about them to him as she proceeds.
Perhaps unconsciously, her reading is, in consequence, not of the usual feminine character. I was struck with this when she recommended to my notice Lord Roberts’ Forty-one Years in India.”
To tell the truth, I did not find it the most interesting thing in the world to read about wars and military manoeuvres, but struggled on bravely to the end, partly encouraged by the thought of that other woman’s wifely devotion; and now that Lord Roberts’ name and fame are once more of household, living interest, who so proud as I to be able to assure the family circle that here was the modest man to conquer mountains and men.
Another girl of my acquaintance used to talk often of the superior and god-like qualities of her lover. He was more clever than anybody she had ever met, and he talked to her of Carlyle; and the loving girl made the brave attempt to read one book of Carlyle’s; but the thing about it that struck her most was that “Alec” could understand it.
I have not seen her since her marriage, but sometimes wondered how she squared her wifely duty with those awful books she was determined to conquer — with his assistance. The conclusion of the whole matter —- well what is it? We, who have to live busy domestic lives, shall we read at all, and what shall it be?
The only possible answer seems to be to read what pleases us; but there is a better way than that. Read, if you can, something that will please and interest somebody else. Fathers, brothers, lovers, husbands, sons — we live for those chiefly, and we must read for them. They will not ask us to do it, and we must not make it obtrusive that we do so; but if the thought is in our minds, we cannot err.