And more 19th Century Gossip
I have just finished a biography of Mrs Humphrey Ward, the author of *Robert Elsemere*, and her achievements are vast but puzzling.
On the plus side, she helped set up the first women’s college at Oxford and suggested naming it Somerville after the great mathematician. She was very good at working committees.
Also, she (sort of accidentally) set up a massive network of kindergartens, day care centres and schools for children with special needs in London.
She was a sort of atheist – believed that Jesus was an actual person but rejected the supernatural and miraculous elements and wrote several excellent intellectual novels on this theme. One of her daughters married into the Huxley family because apparently atheistic families were just that few on the ground in the 19th century.
At the same time, she was a prominent anti-suffragette who opposed women getting the vote. She spearheaded the anti-suffragette movement, arguing that most women were put off by the violent actions of the extremist suffragettes, did not want the vote and were content to influence events from behind the scenes. She got her son into Parliament so he could argue this in person. BTW: the suffragettes loathed him and every time he spoke on the issue they sent him postcards saying ‘Mother will be proud’.
I find this kind of argument hard to fathom. It’s not like anyone was *forcing* her to vote. They were just proposing that it become an option for others. It reminds me of the opponents of gay marriage. It’s not like it will be compulsory, which is the only way it could possibly affect the validity of anyone else’s marriage.
As an aside, my first (terrible) boyfriend’s (terrible) mother had exactly this kind of doublethink. She was the chair of Women Against Women Priests* and her argument was essentially that women could always do what she had done, which was to marry a priest and then run the social aspects of the church in an ostentatiously modest way and to make endless comments about what ‘my husband, the Minister’ thought.
So, Mrs Humphrey Ward, a very clever woman who believed that she could influence people without the vote. Which in her case was probably true, given that she was sufficiently respected as an author that former President Roosevelt requested that she write puff pieces designed to bring America into the war. The British High Command agreed and she was given special tours of munitions factories, war ships, troop ships and even taken to France to review the conditions as she produced pro-war propaganda for Britain.
Perhaps it was this combination of extremely conservative views and the popularity of her writing which peeved the modernists so much. Eg. HG Wells and Elizabeth von Arnim responded to an article of her deploring modern sexual morality by making love on top of the newspaper and afterwards burning it.
· Pronounced WARP, not a good acronym. Also, the losers, so nyeeeeer.