Thursday, 11 December 2014

The King and His Reign IV: Women's Rights

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 15th March 1935
1,420 words
(First read 11/12/2014)

Mrs Pankhurst addresses a crowd
This one falls very much under the 'His Reign' category: as EFB makes barely any mention at all of George V, we can only assume he had nothing to do with women's rights¹.  What we get instead is a preamble in which we're reminded of Queen Victoria's opinions on uppity females (she was rabidly agin the idea), of Edward VII's opinions ditto (also agin, but less so), followed by a potted history of the pre-War emancipation movement, of the role women played during the War itself, and of their new-found freedom after it.
Benson was clearly no feminist; indeed he's often accused of outright misogyny ~ generally by people who've only read the Mapp and Lucia novels.  In fact his fictional women fall into two very pronounced types: (1) the cats, shrews, vixens, cows, harpies, bitches, witches (etc.) we all know and love from his satirical novels; and (2) the sweet, noble, impossibly virtuous, nauseating and frankly improbable saints so prominent in his (melo)dramas.  There was practically no middle ground. [Sorry ~ wandering off the point a bit.]  In this article he carefully aligns himself with those who claim post facto that their sole objection to the Suffragist movement was the activities of its more militant wing.  EFB might not ever have been violently anti-women's suffrage but, before the Great War, he rarely missed an opportunity to poke fun at it².

¹ I daresay he didn't approve, though.  Queen Mary wouldnt've let him.
² For his most sustained mock see the novel Mrs Ames (1912).  It has to be said that the eponymous heroine's feeble'n'futile pro-suffrage protest is the highlight of that book.

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