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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Mansions of Philosophy by Durant

Yesterday I stopped by a thrift store on my way home from errands in another city. It was a little hole-in-the-wall place, smelling of old, unwashed clothes and filled with unmatched dishware and grimy knicknacks.

At the very back of the store was a bookshelf piled high with books wantonly tossed there. I started going through the books to see if I could find anything of interest, and among them was a very old, tattered original first edition of "The Mansions of Philosophy" written in 1929 by Will Durant, who is most famous for his work in the multi-volumed "The Story of Civilization." He was an incredible man with a brilliant mind who was very respected during his own time as well as today. In fact, "The Mansions of Philosophy" was one of the top 10 bestsellers in 1929.

Although my edition is more beat-up than the one pictured here, the content is the same. I find it fascinating to hear a voice from beyond the grave concerning societal issues. Some of it is shockingly predictive and dead-on, perhaps due to his progressive thinking (he was strongly pro women's rights and racial equality, equal wages and good labor conditions).

Perhaps it's only me, and you won't find it of interest, but over the next couple of days I intend to share some of his thoughts with you. If you find it deadly dull, please warn me so that I don't expend too much energy on the project.

DURANT'S OBSERVATIONS ON THE MODERN WOMAN

"That woman should be anything but a household slave, a social ornament, or a sexual convenience, was a phenomenon known to other centuries than ours, but only as a phenomenon, as an immoral exception worthy of universal notice and surprise."

"It is to woman's credit that she went out of the home into the factory; she sought the work that had gone from her hands; she knew that without it she would become a meaningless parasite, an impossible luxury for any but economically established or physiologically decadent men."

"Through work in the factory, or lack of work at home, the modern woman had become physiologically weaker than her ancestors. The decadent esthetic sense of the modern male had made matters worse by idolizing the slenderest and frailest figure; such women as Rubens knew, or such mothers as Bonaparte's Laetitia, were not to the taste of our artists or men about town, who judged beauty in terms of transient sexual lure rather than as a promise of robust maternity."

"One by one the new woman took over the habits, good or bad, of the traditional and old-fashioned male; she imitated his cigarettes, his profanity, his agnosticism, his hair-dress, and his trousers. The new diurnal propinquity made men effeminate and women masculine... Within a generation it will be necessary to label them with distinguishing badges to prevent regrettable complications. Already one cannot be quite sure."

"In industry she is adapting herself with an astounding versatility, with an unsuspected flexibility of mind. Most of the tricks and habits of intelligence which a fairly recent psychology pronounced innately male, turn out to be superficial acquisitions which women can take on as readily as rouge."

"There is no telling how far this feminine permeation of industry will go; the time may come when the superior tact of women, and their skill in the manipulation of details, will all but balance the greater strength and bolder initiative of men."

"In politics our daughters will not be so fortunate. No doubt the industrialized woman had to enter this sorry game to protect herself against man-made decrees and contemporary discrimination... The bravery of embattled men drunk with the sound and fury of war could not outmatch the courage of these women marching to the polls, knocking at the gates of power, knocking till the doors were opened and democracy was forced to take them in. Fifty years from now they will realize how completely they have been taken in... Some of them understand it now, and perceive that nose-counting is not emancipation, and that freedom is not political, but of the mind."

"What will come of all this education? Will it... give her an intelligence capable of coping with this changing world? ...Will this new intelligence in woman disturb and frighten off the possible suitor, and make it difficult for the educated woman to find a mate? ...the girl whose culture is of knowledge and ideas rather than of natural charm and half-unconscious skill, is at a disadvantage in the pursuit of a mate; she is trespassing upon fields which men have for centuries reserved for men. Sixty percent of women college graduates remain unmarried. ...A clever lass will conceal her mental superiority until it is too late."

"Once a woman of forty was old, decrepit, and trustworthy; today there is nothing so dangerous."

"Short skirts are a boon to all the world except the tailors."

"Recently, as a respectable Baltimore periodical informs us, "an unidentified man was brought to a hospital here in a critical condition, suffering from painful injuries said to have been inflicted by three girls in a wood near Hurlock. The man was walking... when the girls, in an auto, offered him a 'lift.' He accepted. After riding a short distance, he said, the girls stopped the car on a lonely road. During a petting party which followed... one of the girls became enraged at his lack of ardour. A scuffle ensued. While two held him, the third stabbed him with a hatpin. The girls fled, leaving him helpless on the ground." After this can we any longer doubt the emancipation of women?" (Note: hatpins weren't ordinary pins. They were very large and sharp)

"Shaw was wrong: matrimony is not a maximum of temptation combined with a maximum of opportunity. The opportunity endures; but the temptation is soon reduced to a minimum... Soon, doubtless, we shall have polyandry, and masterful women will collect harems of industrious males, guarded by lady eunuchs who will stand for no nonsense."

"Perhaps in the future we will have three sexes, as among the ants and bees; some women will procreate the race, and others will give themselves so completely to economic activity as to lose their first desire, and then the capacity, for motherhood."

"Behold... the parasitic woman. Freed from domestic toil by the withdrawal of industry from the home, and freed from the burden of motherhood by contraceptives or nurses and maids, she is left with hands, head and heart restlessly idle, a rich soil for alien seed. And by a natural development, the less she has to do the lazier she becomes, and the less willing she is to perform what remains of the work which once made her a helpmate instead of a doll. No insult is offered here to the woman who works, at home or in the shop, as a producer of human life or of humanly valuable goods. The insult is offered... to the woman who commercializes her beauty, in marriage or without; who drives hard bargains in luxury and finery for her love; who spends her days in resting, primping, powdering, curling, and (at last) dressing, and her nights in amusement and flirtation." (This sounds like all the names in Hollywood!)

Tomorrow: THE BREAKDOWN OF MARRIAGE

6 comments:

United We Lay said...

That is really interesting. I think we women have done each other a great disservice by not helping each other raise children or ecome economically viable. In small neighborhoods, there is no reason why one mother shouldn't be able to stay home while the others work. No one has to go to day care. They are being watched by someone who knows their families well. That is CRUCIAL to the proper upbringing of a child, and I really believe that institutionalized day care is why we have the problems with our children that we have today. I think women rarely lose their desire for motherhood, but instead often find it economically impossible. women are left in poverty by the number fo children they have, espcially if the man they chose to have them with becomes worthless.

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Matt said...

I love to read almost pre-historic minds to see how they conceptualized our social sphere, particularly enjoying the language they employ.

Hmmmm, I had a parasitic woman once. She had to be removed by court order.

Senor Caiman said...

Saur,

I just love women in the workforce except for when they have to be home with a sick child. I haven't done any real work in about 15 years because you women are so darn good at working. Keep on impressing me.

Excellent post and keep up the good work.

daveawayfromhome said...

an interesting combination of foresight and paternalism

vidya said...

Please share with me about bringing up children and understanding their minds. i heard that there is mention about it in this book.

Thanks!!