09 April 2011

"Novel-Reading: A Cause of Women's Depravity", by Anonymous, from La Belle Assembleé, May 1817

But woman no redemption knows
The wounds of honour never close
Pity may mourn but not restore
And woman falls to rise no more

THOSE who first made novel-reading an indispensable branch in the minds of young women have a deal to answer for. Without this instilled, as it were, into the blood, females in ordinary life would have been so much the slaves of vice. The plain food, wholesome air, and exercise they enjoy, would have exempted them from the tyranny of lawless passion; and, like their virtuous grandmothers, they would have pointed the finger of shame at the impure and licentious. But those generous sentiments, those liberal opinions, those tender tale abounding with fine feeling, soft ideas, gentleness, and warm descriptions, have been the ruin of them. A girl with intellectual powers enervated by such course of reading, falls an easy prey the first boy who assumes the languishing lover. He has only to stuff a of dirty paper into the crevice of her window, full of thous, thees, and thys, and mellifluous compounds, hieroglyphically spelled, perhaps, and Miss is long in finding out that "many cannot quench love neither, can the floods drown it:" so as Master is yet in apprenticeship, and friends would disapprove of an early marriage, they agree to dispense with the ceremony. Nay, even when brooding over a helpless base-born infant, and surrounded by a once respectable and happy family, now dejected and dishonoured, too often the infatuated fair one take pleasure in the misery she has created, and fancy floods of sorrow sweetly graceful, because, forsooth, she is in the same point of view as the hapless, the distressed, the love-lorn Sappho of some novel or other.
And yet this, bad as it is, is not worst result of such pernicious reading. It is no uncommon thing for a lady, who has attended her dearest friend to the altar, a few months after a marriage, which, perhaps but for her, had been happy one, to fix her affections on her friend's husband, and by artful blandishments allure him to herself! Be not staggered, moral reader, at the recital; such serpents are really in existence; such daemons in the form of women are now too often to be found! Three instances, in as many years, have occurred in the little circle I move in. I have seen two disconsolate parents drop into premature graves, miserable victims to their daughters' dishonour; and the peace of several relative families wounded, never to be healed again.
"And was novel reading the cause of this?" inquires some gentle fair one, who, deprived of such an amusement, could hardly exist; "was novel reading the foundation of such frail conduct?" I answer, yes! It is in that school the poor deluded female imbibes erroneous principles, and from thence pursues a flagrantly vicious line of conduct; it is there she is told that love is involuntary, and that attachments of the heart are decreed by fate! Impious reasoning! base infatuation! As if a Power infinitely wise and beneficent would ordain atrocity! The first idle prepossession, therefore, such a person feels, if it happen to be for the husband of her most intimate friend, instead of calling herself to a severe account for the illegal preference, she sets to work to reconcile it to nature. - "There is a fatality in it," argues she; "it is the will of Heaven our souls should be united in the silken bonds of reciprocal love, and there is no striving against it." - This once settled, criminality soon follows; the gentle, the sympathizing, the faithful friend undauntedly plants a dagger in the bosom of the mother and ruthlessly tears from the innocent children the parent stem on which their support and comfort depend. And yet this very female has cried, oh, how she has cried! over relations of fictitious distress.
If good spirits in the other world are sensible of what is done in this, how will the Spartan and Roman dames of antiquity bless themselves that they were not doomed to breathe on earth in the nineteenth century! how will the cheeks of many a British matron be suffused with shame for her polluted descendants!

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