» N.S. Books
March 29th, 1998.
"Here's to women. Would that we could fall into their arms without falling into their hands." (A favourite toast of Ambrose Bierce.)
As a general proposition, -- remembering that personality usually develops with age -- older women are better: they are like castles and sunsets, as Mencken said, they "never reach their maximum of beauty until they are touched by decay."
So, it is thus, especially among the young, that it is difficult to find a charming and interesting woman. As W. Somerset Maugham in his book, Great Novelists, pointed out, even the young woman in literature are often uninteresting: colorless as Amelia, Vanity Fair; priggish as Fanny, Mansfield Park; too clever by half as Constantia Durham in The Egoist, or as little geese, flirting beyond belief, like Dora in David Copperfield. It was, however, Maugham's opinion that it is in Tolstoy's War and Peace that one is to find the most delightful girl in fiction. The character is Count Rostov's younger daughter, Natasha: "She is sweet, sensitive and sympathetic, willful, childish, womanly already, idealistic, quick-tempered, warm-hearted, headstrong, capricious and in everything enchanting." Well, if I were to create a delightful girl in fiction, I would leave out the willful, childish, quicktempered, headstrong and capricious parts; and add in intelligence and a recognition of the biological fact, that as a woman, she has a different part to play in this world than a man, a part with which she is content, if not happy.
"I don't want a woman to weigh me in a balance; there are men enough for that sort of work. The judicial character isn't captivating in females, sir. A woman fascinates a man quite as often by what she overlooks as by what she sees. Love prefers twilight to daylight; ....
The brain-woman never interest us like the heart-woman; white roses please less than red.
Intellect is to a woman's nature what her watch-spring skirt is to her dress; it ought to underlie her silks and embroideries, but not to show itself too startlingly on the outside.
Why, I ask again (of my reader), should a person who never did anybody any wrong, but, on the contrary, is an estimable and intelligent, nay, a particular enlightened and exemplary member of society, fail to inspire interest, love, and devotion? Because of the reversed current in the flow of thought and emotion. The red heart sends all its instincts up to the white brain to be analyzed, chilled, blanched, and so become pure reason, which is just exactly what we do not want of woman as woman. The current should run the other way. The nice, calm, cold thought, which in women shapes itself so rapidly that they hardly know it as thought, should always travel to the lips via the heart. It does so in those women whom all love and admire." (Oliver Wendell Holmes.)
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March, 1998 (2019)