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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner: Havelock Ellis 2006.29/24
ArchiveNational English Literary Museum, Grahamstown
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date31 January 1886
Address FromRoyal Spa Hotel, Shanklin, Isle of Wight
Address To
Who ToE. Ray Lankester
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National English Literary Museum (NELM) for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections. This letter exists only in the form of a handwritten copy, minus its beginning, made by Havelock Ellis.
1 To Prof Ray Lanchester from OS
2 Royal Spa Hotel
3 Shanklin
4 31 Jan Feb/86
6 ...You say: "It appears to me quite a truth proposition that marriage
7is not the natural tendency of man, or rather not a necessary
8characteristic of the race". That depends entirely on the definition
9one gives to the word marriage, which has half a dozen possible
10meanings. If one uses it in the conventional sense as a legal or
11religious contract wh. once entered upon cannot be broken at the will
12of the parties & wh. public opinion enforces, I consider it as much
13doomed as a ship with a hard hole knocked in itsthe bottom of it; it
14certainly is not characteristic of the race. But some species of
15relationship, other than that of existing forms of prostitution, must
16always exist between men & women if the race is to continue & whether
17monogamy, polgamy & polysandry it seems equally right to call it
18marriage & a necessity of the race. My own view & one wh. I have
19arrived at without any bias in its favour is that monogamy not only is
20that wh. most ideally satisfies one, but that it is the point towards
21wh. we are slowly surely though slowly tending. It seems, from a study
22of the wants of human nature, mental & physical, that it is the mode
23of relation capable of yielding the largest amount of satisfaction
24with the smallest amount of pain to both man & woman & offspring. At
25present of course it hardly ever exists, we have ?evil relationships
26on the part of the man & thewoman, & where it does exist I thinkit is
27certainly vitiated, I think, by the fact that it is not made an end in
28itself but subservient to material & other ulterior motives, that its
29benificence cannot be judged of. You seem to regard the relation of
30one with one as a purely artificial condition, possible only if the
31nature of woman has not free play, & if through material necessity she
32is driven to depend on man. I believe that the want for this
33relationship lies it the very foundation of woman's nature (& I think
34also in man's?), that if tomorrow she was free to develop her own
35powers in whatever direction nature impelled her & even monetarily
36independent of men, then I believe permanent & perfect marriage would
37come into existence generally such as you rightly describe as
38sometimes existing now "in wh. that man should obtain the very
39sweetest kind of service & attention viz. that wh. is bound up with
40genuine sexual love. It may not be very intelligent help or it may be
41itself of a very high intelligence - that does not much matter - the
42great point being that it is happily & gladly rendered & that there is
43a feeling that what is given by the woman in her care to the man is
44returned by him in his larger but not less genuine care of the woman."
45I have quoted the whole of this passage because it expresses so
46accurately the ideal of marriage wh. seems to me so seldom attainable
47now because women are not free, because that sweet & happily given
48service with the pleasure element being delight in bearing pain for
49him cannot be there if the man is not the one a woman chooses, but
50simply the one who offers her the best means of livelihood. It is
51"woman's ?irony?" that she has to sell herself, whether into the
52bitter loveless childless deformed untender state of prostitution or
53into loveless marriage. It is her right that she should be able to
54give herself freely to the man she loves, service for whom &
55dependence upon whom in her times of weakness would be sweet &
56precious to her instead of bitter. There are some factors you seem
57entirely to lose sight of in this man & woman question. There is in
58man human nature a desire to give & service service & to become one in
59interest with others existing apart from any pecuniary advantages;
60this fact has to be recognised & counted with by the student of human
61nature exactly as the condition of something or any other material
62phenomena & is to be taken ^into^ account by the study of the external
63world, or the conclusions become false. You seem to lose sight of this
64fact also. There is in woman a peculiar feeling (accounted for in its
65origin by physiological conditions I think) given not to men in
66general but to the particular man she loves, a feeling that she
67desires to look up to & lean on him & that she almost desires to
68suffer for him; & that suffering endured for him or through him is not
69the same as any other suffering. It is a fact wh. appears to run flat
70in the face of many of the received "women's rights" doctrines, but
71they will simply have to make room for it. To me it appears a
72singularly beneficent instinct considering the amount of suffering
73woman has to go through if the race is to continue. I think one sees
74the why of its development when one regards the mental as simply a
75solution to the physiological condition. There is no doubt it is
76intimately connected with sex feeling & that the fact that it is often
77strongly shown by little girls to their big brothers only shows that
78quite unconsciously sex instinct must be there. I remember when I was
79a little child being whipped till I could hardly stand by a big
80brother twelve years older than myself whom I worshipped, because I
81didn't open a door quickly. If anyone else had done it I would never
82have forgiven them to my dying day. But I hadn't the least feeling of
83resentment or injustice. I only crept away & felt as if my heart was
84broken. When I remember what a wild indomitable child I was & how
85fiercely I resented injustice, it stands out to me as a most
86remarkable case of instinct over-riding everything. I remember
87distinctly that I did not feel the least trace of unlove, only for
88weeks when I looked at his hands I used to quiver. I couldn't bear to
89think it was they that hurt me. This feeling I believe is lay dormant
90in woman, it always exists when she loves a man, but not of course
91when she is simply bought by him. The anguish wh. man can inflict on
92woman through taking advantage of this instinct is ^simply^ incalculable,
93 & the feeling appears to increase in intensity as woman advances in
94intellectual power, but I have no doubt that on the whole its action
95is benificent.
97 I doubt whether many men realise at all how great a fact in the life
98of woman is played by the longing to find in man an object of worship,
99a thing which she can look up to & trust. The Christian religion lived
100so long as& died so hard because it held out to woman an ideal man &
101said to him live for him, sacrifice yourself for him, he is noble. In
102the woman who has parted with Xy the strength has lain in the giving
103up this ideal & there is something pathetic in the stirring of passion
104with wh. such women turn to the world of men about them to try &
105refind it there. It is interesting as showing how distinctly any given
106religion is simply the outcome of a want in human nature. You may say
107that this desire is simply lunacy & idiocy. Be it so. But it is there
108& a fact wh. those who deal with social phenomena have to take into
109account. Do you really believe that when at the present day a man gets
110that loving tender service from a woman that he buys it from her? Do
111you know that if he was stricken down with disease & became dependent
112upon her support as a little child, then the full force of her love
113would leap out to him for the first time. A man may labour all his
114life & spend all his money on women, a wife or otherwise, & in the end
115he may never have had an act of true devotion from a woman, never have
116possessed one woman. No, by 'God', you can't buy us; if we give
117ourselves to you with the money it is still only a gift - you can buy
118nothing but the shells.
120 If you want to be tender & helpful to us & to feel your power, you
121will always have room enough for that side of your nature in our
122physical weakness & in the marvellous control our love gives you over
123us. I often wish I were a man just that I might be tender to women. A
124man can do so much more for a woman than she can do for him. It must
125be so glorious to have the same unlimited power & use it magnanimously.
126 A woman has a high sense of that sometimes & its so glorious splendid.
128 You say something wh. coming from an ordinary philistine I should take
129as a matter of course, but wh. coming from yourself is painful to me.
130You say that woman must be kept from the knowledge of the true facts
131of life. Why? In order that she may keep faith & hope & gentleness!
132Are you not using here the very argument that Xy & superstition have
133used in all ages to keep out knowledge? We don't question that it is
134the fact but it is better not to know it; it will destroy something
135beautiful? Surely we have passed beyond that stage in wh. men desire
136to put up a little screen in some corner of the earth & say 'At least
137here the sunlight of fact shall not come & scorch up our flowers - &
138then the screen gets knocked over at last, as it always must, & then
139are found to be nothing but toad stools behind it, the only things
140that can grow without light! If faith & hope & gentleness depended on
141ignorance then the sooner they went the better, but they do not depend
142on it. I remember the burst of infinite delight with wh. one day when
143I was thinking of some insects I had been watching it flashed upon me
144that life might originate within the parent form. I rushed into the
145house to proclaim my glorious discovery & was of course instantly
146annihilated, but I believe it was a glorious discovery.
148 Viewed from the intellectual side the sexual facts wh. underlie life
149from the most complex, the most delicately coordinated & therefore the
150most unreadable of the phenomena presented to our intelligence, viewed
151from the emotional they are the most beautiful; their power of
152expressing affection, of binding human beings together, of creating
153life puts them into the category of those things of wh. one does not
154easily speak, not because they are painful but because they are sacred.
155 The man who finds no food in sex matter for anything but a joke, &
156the ascetic who turns up his eyes at them are ?merely to be pitied.
157Perhaps you will say it is not the knowledge of physical truth you
158would keep from women but social facts. Here I cannot again agree with
159you. The knowledge of the saddest social facts, that there ^are^ women
160who never see a look of respect & tenderness in a man's eyes, who are
161of no 'use' among their 'close associates', whose natures are deformed
162by the over action of one part & the atrophy of another, that then one
163man, sometimes the noblest of the race, in whom inherited instinct
164acts so strongly that it always tends to obtain a ?sway incompatible
165with the full expression of those highest intelligent powers wh.
166constitute the developed custom, & in whom therefore there is always a
167conflict - or a submission followed by suffering, & desponding that is
168sometimes always ^almost^ despair. This is the saddest of social facts
169but the true knowledge of it does not make any woman's heart less
170?forth. It does not make her love man less or desire his love less, I
171think it makes her gentler all round
173 Olive Schreiner