October 26th, 2020
In Ella D’Arcy’s “At Twickenham,” Minnie and Loetitia are hollow: they lead lives of purposelessness. They’re bored and vacant. D’Arcy’s social critique seems rooted in the belief that the domestic sphere alone does not, and perhaps cannot, stimulate women sufficiently for a fulfilling life. There are two unquestioned assumptions here: one that such a life is the standard, and two, that such a life is necessarily dull. It is upper-class white women who could obsess over peacock feathers as decorum on mantelpieces, for the vast majority of women were not, or could not, be vacant in this way. This being said, even for the so-called true “Angel in the House,” is it accurate to paint her experience as vacant? Certainly one could argue that reorganizing, cleaning, and shopping is a fueling of untapped cognitive energy, but to that, I say: who decides what’s appropriate use of one’s cognitive energy?
I also wonder about our unquestioned assumptions about what constitutes the so-called “end” of a woman’s life. We observed in “At Twickenham” two women as seemingly frozen at their “destinations”: marriage, child-rearing, and domesticity. But we even project this “end” on so-called New Women. When Sabrina spoke of Ethel Reed, a question stuck with me. “Was the New Woman doomed?” Sabrina asked. Doomed to “fall off the face of the earth,” captive to, in Reed’s case, child rearing. Why do we assume that she is doomed because she had children? Why does her ceasing to publish constitute her erasure?