Emily Faithfull: Miscellanea (3)

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The following articles were published in editions of the satirical magazine,
Punch, during 1857.

Forget the damned petticoats, beget more children.

    Among the causes which are cited to account for the decreasing rate of increase of the French population, it is thought that the spread of the crinoline contagion is proving most injurious in its effects upon the census.  The mode now prevailing is one of such extravagance that it is continually demanding fresh sacrifices, and ladies have to choose between a fine dress and a family, for no income but a Rothschild’s can provide for both.

    The result is, for the most part, as we learn by the Examiner, that: “Where you would see the English with half a dozen healthy boys and girls walking with their parents, you see instead, in the Bois de Boulogne, a fine lady in a handsome open carriage.”

    To take a broad view of the subject, we must look at the wide petticoats, and the many “widths” of silk which are consumed in covering them; and we shall see at once a proof that the declining census has greatly owed its decrease to this crinolineal influence.  Of course, the wider grow the dresses the longer grow the bills, which ladies have to pay for them, and the narrower in consequence become their means of living.  So much swelling when they are out necessitates their inching somewhat closely when at home; and whatever can be done without is given up at once as not to be afforded.  Children are not in the fashion, and may therefore be dispensed with; so that as the petticoats expand, the population dwindles, and a love of a new dress supplants that of a family.

    If the census fail to bring the nation to its senses, it is obvious that Government will have to interfere, and devise the means to check this forced march of extravagance, which is proving a dead march to the nonrising generation.  We would suggest, were we consulted, that a Censor of Crinoline should forthwith be appointed, and that the shops permitted of extravagant circumference, or of such a richness of material as might impoverish a family.  It would, doubtless, much conduce to the prosperity of Paris, were cradles brought in fashion and were crinoline kicked out of it; and we should be rejoiced to hear that coral bells and baby-jumpers were becoming there a merchandise in more demand than air-jupons.  All true friends of France would rather see a houseful there of children than of petticoats and flounces, and at present only in the mansion of a millionaire would there be room enough for both.

    It has been said that Frenchwomen display, universally, the best taste in dressing, and are, by nature, gifted with extraordinary aptitude for learning and avoiding what is unbecoming to them.  But certainly at present they evince but little proof of this.  We cannot think it in good taste to show more love for finery than affection for a family: nor can we regard it as becoming in a wife to so far forget her nature, and distort her duties, as to ruin her husband by the richness of her dresses and in the blindness of idolatry to even sacrifice her children to the Juggernaut of Fashion.

Ladies about the House? Absurd.

    One of the pet grievances of those strong-minded women, who lose their time and temper in talking of their “rights”, is that by the law, as it presently stands, ladies are not suffered to have seats in Parliament.  Now, without being ungallant enough to show the absurdity of making a complaint of what they ought to feel rejoiced at, we will be content with simply proving that to comply with their demand would be at present quite impossible.

    Granting that a Female Parliament, or House of Ladies, were to meet, we need scarcely dwell upon the difficulty that there would be in stopping them from speaking all together: nor how impossible the Speakeress would find it to proceed with public business, without enforcing some such order as that not more than six (say) should be on their legs at once.

    But it seems to us that were the memberesses properly returned, it would still be quite preposterous for more than 1 in 20 of them to expect to have a seat, for the simple reason that, unless their numbers were extremely limited, it would be impossible to find a room to hold them.  In their present state of crinoline, ladies on an average require at least a dozen yards of sitting room apiece; and were they to return as many members as gentlemen, it has been estimated that the space which would be covered by above 600 petticoats would considerably exceed a couple of acres.  Such a room as this of course would have to be constructed specially; and until the present Houses are completed, it would be preposterous to vote supplies for new ones.

    It is probable, however, that by the time of the completion of the now erecting structure – that is to say, by the end of the next century – the fashion will have changed, and the present blown-up petticoats have become exploded; in which case the erection of a Female House of Parliament would then be no more necessary than, we are so ungallant to think, it would be at this present.

Tongue in cheek.

    Sir Erskine Perry’s Bill for the better security of the rights of married women has met with so favourable a reception that, should it not pass during the present session, it may pass in the next century.  We, however, hope for immediate legislation.  There are two clauses in the Bill that no man, at least no husband who is not an absolute brute, can object to.  The first makes a married woman answerable for her own tongue – and therefore relieves the husband of a responsibility that, since the invention of marriage, no man has known how to grapple with.  A wife who says something not very affectionate of her sister woman, shall henceforth answer for damages committed by the lingual organ.  This may be just, but it will now and then wring the conjugal bosom to know that notice of action has been served upon Jemima; that verdict of damages has been given against her; and that, as it may happen, a judgement may carry female bone from bone male to the Queen’s Bench.

    However, the rights of women must be respected; and with this conviction, the judgement must be allowed to take place, and – foolish fellows as we are – we must yield nothing to weakness.

    The second right about to accrue to married women is the right to pay their own debts.  We do not know whether this amended law will tend to make the shops of bonnet-makers and milliners less attractive, but we think it not unlikely.   As the injustice of the existing law operates, a woman loses nothing in yielding to the temptation of dress, seeing that the husband must pay for it.  But with women fully possessed of their rights, it will be otherwise.  Thus, a woman who cannot pay for her own dress will go to jail for the debt.  However, we understand that the legislation will lend itself to the allowance of the following amendment: “That whereas, every woman committed to prison upon a judgement debt contracted for her own gowns or petticoats, shall not be confined within the walls, but be allowed to live ‘in the rule’ of her own crinoline.”


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