|Jane Austen, Public Domain|
Once, a friend said, "I take the view that if I don't go out with the postman, I won't end up falling in love and marrying him." At the time, to the dizzy, Mills & Boon-reading teenager that I was, this seemed unromantic, even calculating. Surely you couldn't choose with whom you fell in love! Yet, she had made an honest attempt at self-analysis about what was best for her. Coming from a fairly wealthy background, love-in-a-garret would not augur well for a future marriage for this charming but pampered friend.
Of course, these days women are perfectly capable of earning their own money and setting their own parameters within a relationship. But, just how much have things changed? Do we still look for that extra something that seems to emanate from money and power? What do women really want from men?
Women have been uttering these little sparks of wisdom since the sixth century to the present-day. Here is a selection of some favourite female comments:
Reputation and Freedom
For some women, it was always simply a matter of quietly going ahead, doing what you want, and letting life take care of itself. Here are two examples from women of previous centuries:
“If women want any rights they had better take them and say nothing about it.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
”Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.” ~ Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Women Wanting to be Beautiful
Fifty years ago, beauty was essential if you wanted to “catch” a husband. If not beauty, then you needed to be, at the very least, a woman of some substance, preferably an heiress. Women considered plain were diminished by their contemporaries, female as well as male.
”The Englishwoman is so refined / She has no bosom and no behind.” ~ Stevie Smith, 1937, (1902-1971)
”As she had no hope of raising herself to the rank of a beauty, her only chance was bringing others down to her own level.” ~ Emily Eden (1797-1869)
On the other hand, some attractive women decided to compromise, and learned to use their natural assets to good effect – and were brave enough to say so:
“I had always looked upon my beauty as a curse, because I was regarded as a whore rather than an actress. Now at least I understand that my beauty was a blessing. It was my lack of understanding the way to merchandise it that was the curse.” ~ Louise Brooks (1906-1985)
Others rebelled and decided they were perfectly all right as they were, a lesson many of us are beginning to take on board today as the diet and beauty industries become increasingly under fire for setting standards impossible to attain. At last, such deceptions as air-brushing are deemed unacceptable and many of us demand to be acknowledged for what we are.
“I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want - an adorable pancreas?” ~ Jean Kerr The Snake has all the Lines (1958)
However, there are truisms that work as well today as they did in previous centuries:
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” ~ Coco Chanel. (Gabrielle Bonheur, 1883-1971)
”A dirty exterior is a great enemy to beauty of all descriptions.” ~ Mary Martha Sherwood (1775-1851)
The Cost and Benefit of Beautiful Clothes
Fortunately, today we are more enlightened and we care much more about wildlife than mink or ermine coats unlike Louise Brooks:
”I was mad about clothes for a time. You know, ermine coats and those things eat up a lot of money.” ~ Louise Brooks (1906-1985)
”The sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.” ~ Miss C.F. Forbes (1817-1911)
Back in the seventeenth century, playwright Aphra Benn (1640-1689) said: “Come away, poverty’s catching.” This does rather echo the postman metaphor in this article’s introduction. Some women have always loved men with the Midas touch, for example:
“I have known many people who turned their gold into smoke, but you are the first to turn smoke into gold.” ~ Elizabeth I (1533-1603) to Sir Walter Raleigh.
Who can fail to sympathise with iconic short story writer, Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) when she said: “I must say I hate money but it's the lack of it I hate most.”
Even Jane Austen, (1775-1817) gentle romantic that she was, had plenty to say about money: “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. It certainly may secure all the myrtle and turkey part of it.”
The American women’s rights activist and writer, Gertrude Stein, (1874-1946) was actually being rather sneaky when she said: “I want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.” But Stein was already a wealthy woman in her own right, and so, she didn’t have to.
Throughout history, women have had to make many difficult decisions about their multi-faceted lives. What is amazing and often inspirational is their spirited determination to rise above the realities of their lives and the often wicked wit that has surfaced throughout the struggle and the turmoil.
The Wicked Wit of Women, Compiled by Dominique Enright, Michael O'Mara Books Ltd. London, 2003.
3500 Good Quotes for Speakers, Gerald F. Lieberman, Thorsons Publishers Ltd. Northamptonshire, 1984.
Pocket Treasury of Great Quotations, Reader's Digest, London, 1977