The Eternal Masculine (III)

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Charles Marville-Cloud Study over Paris 1850s

The Eternal Masculine[1]

Part Three: The End

I lived. I suffered. At seventeen I had to start my life over, even earn a living. And I was unfit for it, with my idle hands only used to the piano, my shiny silks and soft wool—a stranger to the most insignificant errand in the workshops where you get an apprenticeship and the habit of working.

They had never made me think of it.

And, except for the toil of the university for which I was not prepared—fought so hard for, by the way, that the most diligent and the most deserving died of hunger, their hands outstretched, without receiving even a scrap—except for this toil, what could I do?

Individual labor remained a closed book to me: they had not shown me the great mechanism wherein every being is one of the active, positive wheels, the millstone where they grind the bread of humanity.

My father went to his office while I worked on my classics. I know that we were living on his salary. I also know that Lucretia spun linen, that Philopoemen sawed wood and Cincinnatus pushed a cart! I know, too, that we give rent to the landlord and wages to the servants, that everything is bought and paid for—but that is all I knew! No one ever explained to me that mighty and tremendous law of exchange, of balance between effort and result, the purpose of life for creatures down here; the sovereign morality that shames the useless and gives the idlest hands a feverish activity.

To produce is to live—to be worthy of living, rather. It is paying for one’s part of the picnic and for the cost of one’s fantasies. Even more it is the revelation of a force, the market listing of one’s capacities—affirming one’s will before oneself, like the unit before zero; multiplying by ten the sterile number, awakening the dormant value, fertilizing the dead soil.

No one ever taught me this. I had to learn these things on my own. Although no one ever told me, “You should work,” when the time came they told me, “You have to work.” I resigned myself and considered it—and it was the serene notion of duty that helped me get through this painful obligation.

My fingers were pricked while sewing and my eyes grew weary under the lights—but I was free, with no cravings, no regrets… feeling sorry for the idle.

#

Free, yes. Happy, no! At every step in the battle, nothing but deception and strain. They will never know how rocky is the hill of the feminine ordeal! Before reaching the top, in torture or triumph—usually both—there is nothing but tears and bruises, slips and sometimes falls.

The weak and frail drop to their knees as much to ask forgiveness as because fate bends them down like branches in a windstorm. The strong stagger but resist; many fall on the road like they were hit by lightning and do not get up again. And the rare survivors follow their dream to the heights, leaving bloody footprints on the path.

You have to fight for your bread. You have to fight for your honor! And for the woman, isolated, weak, without support or resources, the man stands eternally before her—for the competition or the conquest!

Many give in, out of hunger; many give up, out of fear, tired of being insulted on the street, suspected by their neighbors, leered at by their apartment managers. It seems paradoxical and yet it is true. Scripture says, “Woe unto the man who is alone!”[2] But for a woman alone it says nothing… words fail it!

And the years passed—years so sorrowful, so dull and dreary that I prefer not to mention them, not to count them. And everywhere, always, the enemy: cruel and selfish man. So full of himself, so convinced of his omnipotence that today, like in the stone age when the Troglodytes lay in wait at the caves mouths, many of them try to get a female by starving her out.

Although I personally only had to put up with a little of this shameful self-interest, many around me suffered from it and died from it! And mourning them is painful and bitter for me. Purposefully parodying that ancient adage, I said, “I am a woman, nothing feminine is foreign to me.”[3]

Moreover, I feel even more sorry for those women who shut themselves up in their pride and for those who asked love for comfort and hope!

#

Love!

There is where manly egoism shines brightest. There is where the bitterest, most incurable wounds are inflicted. Ah, the romantic visions of youth, that dream of spending your life together, staring into each other’s eyes, hearts beating together, hand in hand! And the music of sweet nothings and that hymn of heavenly souls in springtime!

Souls? Ah, yes, well. We do not have time to have them anymore—it is old-fashioned. You look good to me, I look good to you, let’s get on with it. Let’s rent a room somewhere—and play house or have an affair.

There is no more gallantry. There are no more charming preludes where budding traps hide in the flowers. There are no more valiant passions that surmount all obstacles and break chains. Already in the time of Perrault[4] it was the brothers and not the lovers who went to free the wife of Bluebeard.

Man loves for himself, for his flesh, his vanity, his self-interest or his habit. He adapts his heart the best he can to the future—for love just like for war. Chivalry is a thing of the past.

And our sons frighten us when we think they could be worse than their fathers!

So? So, nothing. Here comes the dawn whitening my windows and my lamp is flickering, out of oil. Go out, little flame—you did your job. So clear and peaceful at first, a light as big and bright as the eyes of a child; and then steady and strong, drying the ink under your flame like dew in the sun; and finally lower and sad like the old people in the back of the chapel, on the threshold of the grave.

Go out, fragile lamp, without a flash, without revolt, in joyful peace—here comes the dawn!

 

Next:  3-Jules Vallès

[1] Signed Jacqueline in Gil Blas, September 2 1892.

[2] Ecclesiastes 4:10

[3] cf. Terence, Heuton Timorumenos, v.77: I am human, I consider nothing human foreign to me.

[4] Charles Perrault (1628-1703) who wrote many famous fairy tales, like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots.

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