“A mother, a protectress, a goddess”

I opened a paper only ten minutes ago in which it was solemnly said, in the fine old style of such arguments, that there was a time when men regarded women as chattels. This is outside the serious possibilities of the human race. Men never could have regarded women as chattels. If a man tried to regard a woman as a chattel his life would not be worth living for twenty-four hours. You might as well say that there was a bad custom of using live tigers as arm-chairs; or that men had outgrown the habit of wearing dangerous snakes instead of watch-chains. It may or may not be the fact that men have sometimes found it necessary to define the non-political position of women by some legal form which called them chattels; just as they have thought it necessary in England to define the necessary authority of the State by the legal form of saying that the King could do no wrong. Whether this is so or not I do not know, and I do not care. But that any living man ever felt like that, that any living man ever felt as if a woman was a piece of furniture, with which he could do what he liked, is starkly incredible. And the whole tradition and the whole literature of mankind is solid against it. There is any amount of literature from the earliest time in praise of woman: calling her a mother, a protectress, a goddess. There is any amount of literature from the earliest time devoted to the abuse of woman, calling her a serpent, a snare, a devil, a consuming fire. But there is no ancient literature whatever, from the Ionians to the Ashantees, which denies her vitality and her power. The woman is always either the cause of a wicked war, like Helen, or she is the end of a great journey, like Penelope. In all the enormous love poetry of the world, it is practically impossible to find more than two or three poems written by a man to a woman which adopt that tone of de haut en bas, that tone as towards a pet animal, which we are now constantly assured has been the historic tone of men towards women. The poems are all on the other note; it is always “Why is the queen so cruel?” “Why is the goddess so cold?”

The Illustrated London News, 6 April 1907.

Published in: on May 16, 2007 at 12:44 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for dropping by… it is always good to get unexpedcted visitors! Thanks for the directions. I shall certainly make this a regular stopping place, a weekly dose of Chesterton is a splendid idea.

  2. Many thanks for running this site — a little weekly dose of clear-sighted paradoxical sanity is just what I need.


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