9/22/2011 – 953 Words
West Civ – Prof. xxchexxx
Mrs. Humphry in “The Exorcist”
This essay compares two documents: an 1889 letter to the Editor of the influential magazine, Nineteenth Century by Mrs. Humphry Ward, and an excerpt from a French suffragist pamphlet published in 1913 by the French Union for Women’s’ Suffrage. Ward’s argument rejects woman’s suffrage outright whilst the French Union for Women’s’ Suffrage presents an idea of reform, allowing women the right to vote in matters of State to positively benefit society’s future. If Mrs. Humphry had not been so possessed and defined by her static world view, she could have had the foresight to recognize that unique contributions of women in society are completely compatible with the right to vote on matters of State and Country.
Mary Ward was a best-selling British novelist. She was also an anti-suffrage supporter which is ironic as “her declared aim was ‘equalization’ in society” (Arnold). It is interesting to note that in her popular writing and her articles and letters criticizing suffragettes, she signed her name as Mrs. Humphrey Ward instead of Mary Ward, which puts forth a notion she is the property of her husband. This moniker has been opined to be an intentional choice to further drive home her philosophical point: that “constitutional, legal, financial, military, and international problems were problems only men could solve” (Arnold). Her letter to the editor posits women have a separate sphere of existence than men in which they are uniquely able to serve and provide. In Ward’s view, unlike women, men have the practical experience and physicality to enforce matters of policy, especially as it relates to foreign interests and the possibility of disagreements which can result in war. Conversely, it is the women who are naturally nurturers and educators. Ward fears that to allow women the same platitudes as men will lead to “a total misconception of women’s true dignity and special mission” (Ward). Certainly it would not be unreasonable to adopt such an attitude in the late 1800s. Hers is a conservative approach that both fears and rejects the winds of change. But as years progress, change does arrive in the form of the French Union for Women’s Suffrage.
Founded in 1909 by French nobleman and feminist Jeanne-Elizabeth Schmahl, the French Union for Women’s Suffrage sought to secure women’s right to vote. From the pamphlet published in 1913 titled, A Pro-Suffrage Argument, we are presented with the basic expostulation that as women are working in greater numbers in more diverse fields, and as she has a responsibility to her children and family, her opinions are matters of significance. Or as more directly presented in the writing, “If she [a woman] is in business, she, like any businessman, has interests to protect” (Levack 747). It is argued in this pro-suffrage pamphlet that the conditions of society will improve as women add their influence from their unique perspectives; new and better social laws will be established, the problems for women of men’s alcoholism will be addressed, and more attention will be paid to matters of health, welfare, child labor, and prostitution. In short, the temperament of a woman’s perspective can offer society more reasonable and cautioned communal options in lieu of men’s impulsive flight or fight mechanisms. Twenty-four years have passed between Mrs. Humphrey’s letter to the editor and A Pro-Suffrage Argument. Quite an incongruity presents itself when one considers that only seven years further, Mrs. Humphrey published a book, England’s Effort at the request of former President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt in 1916. This manuscript was designed to encourage America to enter the war.
The Pro-Suffrage position in the pamphlet by the French Union for Women’s Suffrage does not, however, argue against separate spheres between men in women. Rather, it seems to suggest an overlap in which the two spheres can become interdependent for what each brings to table for the betterment of the whole of society. The pamphlet eloquently frames the importance of women as compared to men by embracing the uniqueness of what women have to offer: “Finally, her special characteristics of order, economy, patience and resourcefulness will be as useful to society as the characteristics of man and will favor the establishment of laws too often overlooked until now” (Levack 747)--which brings us to “The Exorcist.”
Mrs. Humphry was possessed of a simpler time of chivalry, when men opened the door for women and swooned for their affection. Men were known as the bread winners and women as the caregivers. The kinds of struggles and responsibilities men had to bear for women made Mrs. Humphry’s head spin. Then suddenly there is a knock on the door and Mrs. Humphry answers it. The fog rolls in, the dramatic music tones. It is the future calling! Women can now be doctors, lawyers, and clergy of the Church. Mrs. Humphry turns away and pukes rather everywhere. But the future is unafraid. It gives women the vote, allows women into the army, into higher office, into great positions of corporate power. It shakes Mrs. Humphry by the shoulders and says, “TAKE ME!” And then the future jumps out the window possessed by the devil of history, rolls down a long flight of stairs, and appears to break its neck. ‘Mrs. Humphry’ is no more. It is now the un-possessed Mary Ward who remains with us, free of her demons, unshackled from all impression of her husband’s proprietorship, living on in the words and the wake of her actions--her legacy so much more profound than simply that of a novelist, an activist, a pioneer of modern child day-care, and the inadvertent cause célèbre of contemporary copyright law. She is free, for now.
The future returns in Exorcist III to mixed reviews.
Arnold, Mary. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mary Augusta Ward". Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh ed. Cambridge University Press.
Ward, Mrs. Humphry, "An Appeal Against Female Suffrage." The Nineteenth Century (1889).
Levack, Brian, Edward Muir, and Meredith Veldman. The West - Encounters & Transformations. 3rd ed.,. 2. New Jersey: Pearson, 2011. 747. Print.