Mandeville. I don’t see that the men novel-writers are better than the women.
Herbert. That’s not the question; but what are women who write so large a proportion of the current stories bringing into literature? Aside from the question of morals, and the absolutely demoralizing manner of treating social questions, most of their stories are vapid and weak beyond expression, and are slovenly in composition, showing neither study, training, nor mental discipline.
The mistress. Considering that women have been shut out from the training of the universities, and have few opportunities for the wide observation that men enjoy, isn’t it pretty well that the foremost living writers of fiction are women?
Herbert. You can say that for the moment, since Thackeray and Dickens have just died. But it does not affect the general estimate. We are inundated with a flood of weak writing. Take the Sunday-school literature, largely the product of women; it has n’t as much character as a dried apple pie. I don’t know what we are coming to if the presses keep on running.
Our next door. We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful time; I’m glad I don’t write novels.
The Parson. So am I.
Our next door. I tried a Sunday-school book once; but I made the good boy end in the poorhouse, and the bad boy go to Congress; and the publisher said it wouldn’t do, the public wouldn’t stand that sort of thing. Nobody but the good go to Congress.
The mistress. Herbert, what do you think women are good for?
Our next door. That’s a poser.
Herbert. Well, I think they are in a tentative state as to literature, and we cannot yet tell what they will do. Some of our most brilliant books of travel, correspondence, and writing on topics in which their sympathies have warmly interested them, are by women. Some of them are also strong writers in the daily journals.
Mandeville. I ’m not sure there’s anything a woman cannot do as well as a man, if she sets her heart on it.
The Parson. That’s because she’s no conscience.
Chorus. O Parson!
The Parson. Well, it does n’t trouble her, if she wants to do anything. She looks at the end, not the means. A woman, set on anything, will walk right through the moral crockery without wincing. She’d be a great deal more unscrupulous in politics than the average man. Did you ever see a female lobbyist? Or a criminal? It is Lady Macbeth who does not falter. Don’t raise your hands at me! The sweetest angel or the coolest devil is a woman. I see in some of the modern novels we have been talking of the same unscrupulous daring, a blindness to moral distinctions, a constant exaltation of a passion into a virtue, an entire disregard of the immutable laws on which the family and society rest. And you ask lawyers and trustees how scrupulous women are in business transactions!