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WOMAN'S MASTERY OF THE STORY
BY GEORGE MALCOLM STRATTON
speak of the other creative arts, and we I
feel at once the chill: Chaminade looks The eminence which women have ill at ease in the presence of Beethoven; reached in writing fiction they have Joanna Baillie, with Shakespeare; Anattained in no other of the creative gelika Kauffmann, with Michelangelo. arts; and this is surprising, since in these This wide success in the one direcother arts also they take delight. tion and the hesitant mediocrity in the
For if one looks to music he will find other are the more puzzling when one that its pleasure comes freely to women, considers how inapplicable are the everand many are trained to song and to the ready explanations. Even were it clear instrument; and yet the great compo- or probable that the native intellect of sers are not of them. And women show women is less than that of men, yet fica refinement and a joy in color, and tion is certainly no less ‘intellectual' many enter schools of painting, but the than is painting; indeed it would seem foremost painters ever have been men. to make sterner demands on thought, The theatre in its turn adds its own and to have less of its substance in the testimony; for the play is to woman a region of mere sense. Nor can custom daily and a nightly pleasure, and she and convention here explain. For while knows its art both as observer and as the approach to the writing of fiction, actress; yet women have never been it is true, has been easy and open, yet among the first composers of the drama. the way to acting has often been stony
In the minor art of dancing, and in and forbidden; and if convention in the the nobler work of reproducing the past could have prohibited, we should music of the great composers, as in act- have no actresses to-day. In Shakesing the characters of the great drama- peare's England it was against custom tists, there are women of high, and even for women to appear upon the stage. of highest, rank. But to leave these And until recently with us as in anmore interpretative or reproductive cient Rome, and in China to this dayarts, only in fiction does she approach there has been a moral suspicion of the the mark of men. For here she must be actor's work, that must have been to counted with the great of the craft. And many a woman of talent for the stage a even should some crabbed soul insist very lion in the path. The readier exthat the rare company in which are planations, as I have said, here lead to George Eliot, Jane Austen, George nothing, and one is restless until he Sand, Madame de Staël, and the Queen strikes a truer course. But with fresh of Navarre, does not include the one endeavor and a favoring gale, one may who is greatest in the guild, yet there still hope to reach the haven. is no discomfort felt in naming these women along with Scott and Dickens, And first let us see, if possible, the Hugo, Cervantes, and Boccaccio. But wings of the novelist's fancy unfolding from the silken chrysalis. Thus we of this, but she will more readily enter shall discern already something of the regions still more remote, guided as by secret of woman's power.
Ariel and Puck in turn, and even by In a former issue of the Atlantic I Caliban. One girl made nightly visits gave an account of experiments upon in her still-waking fancy to a cavernous the tale-composing faculty in children, land of wart-faced tusky dwarfs. Anwhere the girls proved far more skill. other imagined herself clad in rich raiful in handling the story-maker's gear. ment, riding a beautiful elephant up But the products there examined were and down the streets of Spokane! Anmade upon request and under a watch- other had at call a winged pony, glossy ful eye, and one would like to know black, to whisk her off to cloudland. what the child does when not in bond- Under the warm light of girls' intelliage to the Egyptian. Only then shall gence, also, conscious life springs up in we know his impulse and free genius. all things — in animals, flowers, and Of their own heart and will, do both trees, and even the common instruboys and girls make stories, and often, ments of home. And with the wider and with equal grace? Does story-im- region traversed, there is a more varied agining have a like honor in the life of stir of feeling. The girls in their emoeach?
tion appear less confined to fright and The answer to such questions cannot to a sense of conquering strength; but be sought direct in school or nursery; keeping some taste of these, they pass for the timid facts we are after would easily on to mirth, affection, and beauhide at our approach. Better fortune I ty, and to all those strangely mingled find with persons more mature, and yet emotions that come from fairies, gobstill young, recalling their ways in lins, and magicians. childhood. Thus through the memory Dull counting would indicate that of many hundreds of generous young with the girls are found the many who men and women, there has been afford- have known the spell of story-making. ed some glimpse of the imagination at But - what is perhaps of greater imits play
port - among the girls who feel the And if I may at once share with the spell, more have yielded heart and soul. reader what is found, I notice that One finds here and there a lad who spontaneous story-composing is almost gives to this invisible art-much room, universal among children. Rare is the but with the girls we find a more freboy who has not yielded to its spell; quent surrender, deep and complete, as and rarer still the girl. And in the sub- to an enchantment. 'I have lived so ject-matter of these tales, while much much in imaginary places and as imagis common to the boy and girl, drawn inary persons,' writes one, who speaks from the experience of common living for many, 'that I still find myself exmade rosy by some hidden light within, aggerating fact into fiction. I imagine yet the situations imagined by the girls events so strongly that I tell them as seem to have wider range and contrast. having occurred.' The imagination of your usual lad, This solid reality of what is imagined when it is not engaged in practical plan- comes more rarely to the boy, and even ning, runs easily to adventure with In- then is often honeycombed with doubt. dians and outlaws, adventure on the Listen to these confessions, from among sea, and the deeds of heroes - perhaps
perhaps the boys who are nearest to having Richard the Lion-hearted. The girl, if faith. The stories were not real to me she be a fair example, will include some at first,' says one young dog of an unbe
liever, 'but after telling them several ly find in an obsession such as this the times they would become a part of me promise of the highest art; it is too simand at times would feel as though they ilar to‘automatic speech,' or to improreally happened.' "The stories were visation in music, which lack the virquite real when first begun,' says an- tues that come only by critical control; other, 'but even as a child one recog- yet it tells us of the girl's nature, seemnizes their utter impossibility.' And ing to show that the currents of her still another, “The stories were very imagination have their source less in real to me, and I could almost make the high open spaces held by the will myself believe that things occurred and judgment, than in the depths and which I had only imagined.'
recesses of the mind. 'Not real to me at first,' 'At times,' 'I could almost make myself believe'out upon a fancy so sicklied o'er with thought! But hearken to the girls. ‘My If the girl's story often comes from stories were very real to me.' "They subterranean and more constant sourwere very real, being my companions ces, this would help to explain another when alone. If I was with others, the quality. For in her who finds the greatstories were real, but were now in the er joy in the art and yields herself to background as old friends. The sto- its pleasure, the story's characters and ries were always very real; the pictures action might well reveal a strange perof the events passed through my mind sistence. And thus among the girls we with almost the vividness of halluci- more often find stories woven upon nations at times, especially at night.' the same thread, day after day, for Here is no faltering; the stories call months and even years a feature forth the very throb and tremor of life. which Miss Leroyd had already come
And if I may illustrate from still an- upon, and my own findings amply conother side this fuller surrender by the firm her account. One young woman girls, we find them often, not ‘making' tells me that her imaginings throughthe story, but passive, themselves car- out childhood were all upon a single ried along on the story's own career. theme, the doings of a group of mon“These stories seemed to come naturally sters half-human and half-beast. Aninto my mind with no effort whatever,' other girl continued her story for as is the testimony of one, and my supply many as twelve years. And further, of them seemed unlimited.' Indeed the there are girls and rarely a boy, I find, tale sometimes takes the bit in its teeth in whom run several 'continued' stoand runs away. The stories were al- ries abreast; and now one and now anways most real at night,' writes one other develops, as the mood may lead. young woman, and began almost auto- With the boys there is also a frequent matically when I laid my head on the persistence, but usually of another kind: pillow, arousing almost as much emo- they work their tales over, or repeat tion as actual events. The habit came them without retouching. In part this to keep me awake to such an extent shows some poverty of imagination, that it was necessary to cut it off for the but it may also show more deliberation sake of health, and for years a contin- and less impulse. Their creation comes ual strong effort was made to banish by sweat of brow, as to smith or potter. the stories at night, although they al. With the girls the story grows. And ways greatly interfered with work or even where there is no continued story, study in the daytime.' We should hard in the usual sense, yet former charac
ters reappear and act anew, in this way in unmellowed form of what there must outliving the interruptions of the be in all great art: the artist putting story-process. The experience here is himself into his work? The girl more not unlike those others, — which also, often appears in her story, not from exso far as my own evidence goes, are less ceptional egotism, but because her tale rare among girls, — where for years the is vital to her, and she must of necessity child has as his playmate some wholly feel herself within it, sharing its risk imaginary creature.
and happy outcome. In miniature and Although it has a larger place and distantly it reflects that noble self-condeeper hold and continuity, the story. sciousness, almost as of divine ordinapower among girls more often moves in tion for the work, which is revealed in secret; its fabric is something never to Milton and in Dante. be revealed. The boy will often tell his tale as from the house-tops, though
III sometimes keeping it as for the hawthorn-shade. But to the girl any un- Yet the presence of the girl in her own guarding of her treasures, even to a tale points further and offers a clue to closest friend, may seem a violation, al- more for which we seek. Thus far we most a profaning. 'I could never bring have been observing a contrast in immyself to share them with any one,' agination, which appears too distinct writes one; and another says of her sto- and early to come wholly by education ries, 'No one ever knew of these dreams or by moulding custom; in the main it of mine. They were as real and as sacred seems rather to be natural and of enas anything could be.' This secrecy, dowment. But now we may see how with all its tangled motives, shows how endowment is fortified by circumstance. intimate the story is with the compo
One of our witnesses testified that in ser's heart and self.
her more intimate stories, told in her And this close bond is shown in a heart alone, she was the hero, and not further and unexpected way. The man- the heroine. And may this not help us child is of course born to the purple, on our way? Men have less need to born to be lord of the world; and with imagine a world with themselves as all the call that is heard within and centre, because they more nearly poswithout to egotism, why should he not sess it in reality. It is the woman's life weave his tale about himself! Yet we that is more hedged about; and what find that the girls oftener than the boys she has not, she seeks. Fancy is the are in the centre and thick of the fray. great supplement of reality, the correctIt is from the women that one common- er of its lacks; and in its realm the ly gains testimony such as this: ‘I was moral law is reversed, and to him that always a character in my stories. In hath not shall be given. fact my stories were but a part of my Indeed if we wish to stimulate the life, as much as any real actions were.' imagination, what better device could
Her stories were part of her life, as be conceived than to fan desire and much as any real actions were,' — will hinder the act itself? Where the world not this perhaps give the key to the offers a hundred outlets for will and anomaly? With boys and girls there is energy, there is less occasion to live an of course self-seeking, the desire for imagined life. Your weakling boy it is self-aggrandizement; but surely there who dreams of feats of strength. 'On cannot be more of this in girls. Have account of a physical infirmity which I we not here, rather, some appearance have had since my early childhood,' writes a youth I know, 'I was always hindered and by vigorous action made very much alone; and my great di- less passionate, but even such power version was the weaving of tales — of as he possesses will probably be commyself in characters which I could mandeered to other work. The imaginever hope to fulfill - such as sailor, nation, we must remember, can be soldier, or adventurer.' This is the old either bond or free, while yet it is imagtruth which Professor Shaler illustrates ination. It may be free, restrained only in his autobiography, that as an unusu- by restraints which our taste and enally timid boy he persistently thought joyment impose — imagination essenof himself in deeds of bravery in war. tially for its own sake. Or it may be It is also tender, frail Stevenson over used as a means for some other end, again, who in drollery, yet with a shade pressed into the service of invention or of wistfulness, saw heaven as a place discovery, of theory, of social and powhere we might all at last be pirates. litical reform — where the imagina
In the imagination, then, our prison tion is something more than drudge doors fly open. And just because each and less than mistress. human life is in some degree impris- Now man's demon, in driving him to oned, does each of us love a tale. But arduous employment, drives with him those who are more restricted in act, his imagination. Woman also works; while yet free and rich in impulse and but as she gains freedom from the in longing, will seek more eagerly to act squaw's millstone and hoe and bearing in fancy.
of burdens, there does not come in their Now the male has within him the place - at least not yet that presdemon of unrest, and the social re- sure of profession and commerce and straints with him are less; and in his organized craft, with their fixed hours freedom, tense with real risks, he feels and high momentum and all that moneless call for mimic striving. In busi- tary gauge of success that keeps the ness, in the control of police and rail- male with soul and body at the wheel. ways, in litigation, and in war, he finds With us the women still govern the almost enough to quench his thirst for home and child a work whose drivpersonal clash. But woman, with a ing energy is not so high, more guided nervous vitality and a passion surely no by quiet traditions, commonly less inwhit below man's, yet with less mus- sistent and engrossing upon the mind. cular strength and with social confines The grievance of some who would which hitherto have given her a less rightly enlarge woman's life is, that her changing and perilous work than man's traditional labor has too much of mono - what wonder if her energies, blocked tone and provides no interest and open in their outward flow, should burst over door. But without wishing it for her, into imaginary action? As both boys we may recognize that what is unfayand girls compose their tales, I find, far orable to life may favor a certain qualoftener when the body is still — sitting, ity of imagination. The very humor in bed while not asleep — than
drum of household duties, as many a when it is active; so it is in harmony young woman has assured me, may with this that women should in their send the mind off to build castles in the greater bodily quiet and weakness pre- clouds. Man's work is so absorbing, so pare a warmer welcome for fancied full of stake, that this doubling of the deeds. Their life is less agile and closer stream - actual performance running to the gates of dreams.
by the side of imaginary performance Not only is the boy's imagination - is often quite impossible. He must