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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter V

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"I cannot help thinking," said the Philosopher, "that a good deal of harm is being done to the race as a whole by the overpraise of women."

"Who overpraises them?" demanded the Girton Girl. "Men may talk nonsense to us--I don't know whether any of us are foolish enough to believe it--but I feel perfectly sure that when they are alone most of their time is occupied in abusing us."

"That is hardly fair," interrupted the Old Maid. "I doubt if they do talk about us among themselves as much as we think. Besides, it is always unwise to go behind the verdict. Some very beautiful things have been said about women by men."

"Well, ask them," said the Girton Girl. "Here are three of them present. Now, honestly, when you talk about us among yourselves, do you gush about our virtue, and goodness, and wisdom?"

"'Gush,'" said the Philosopher, reflecting, "'gush' would hardly be the correct word."

"In justice to the truth," I said, "I must admit our Girton friend is to a certain extent correct. Every man at some time of his life esteems to excess some one particular woman. Very young men, lacking in experience, admire perhaps indiscriminately. To them, anything in a petticoat is adorable: the milliner makes the angel. And very old men, so I am told, return to the delusions of their youth; but as to this I cannot as yet speak positively. The rest of us--well, when we are alone, it must be confessed, as our Philosopher says, that 'gush' is not the correct word."

"I told you so," chortled the Girton Girl.

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"Maybe," I added, "it is merely the result of reaction. Convention insists that to her face we show her a somewhat exaggerated deference. Her very follies we have to regard as added charms--the poets have decreed it. Maybe it comes as a relief to let the pendulum swing back."

"But is it not a fact," asked the Old Maid, "that the best men and even the wisest are those who have held women in most esteem? Do we not gauge civilization by the position a nation accords to its women?"

"In the same way as we judge them by the mildness of their laws, their tenderness for the weak. Uncivilised man killed off the useless numbers of the tribe; we provide for them hospitals, almshouses. Man's attitude towards woman proves the extent to which he has conquered his own selfishness, the distance he has travelled from the law of the ape: might is right.

"Please don't misunderstand me," pleaded the Philosopher, with a nervous glance towards the lowering eyebrows of the Girton Girl. "I am not saying for a moment woman is not the equal of man; indeed, it is my belief that she is. I am merely maintaining she is not his superior. The wise man honours woman as his friend, his fellow- labourer, his complement. It is the fool who imagines her unhuman."

"But are we not better," persisted the Old Maid, "for our ideals? I don't say we women are perfect--please don't think that. You are not more alive to our faults than we are. Read the women novelists from George Eliot downwards. But for your own sake--is it not well man should have something to look up to, and failing anything better--?"

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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