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Journal of No. 118


June 14th, 2015

Why Marry? by Jesse Lynch Williams @ 09:42 am


Okay, I'm not trying real hard to complete the bookchallenge thing, but I'm trying a little.

Anyway, I was thinking I could get a two-fer with...

Pulitzer-Prizewinning
A Play

Being a vulgarian, I'm not that into drama, but I looked at some of the recent winners, and there were a few that piqued my interest, but I was hoping for a cheap Kindle edition. Or in fact, any Kindle edition. After some frustrating looking, I said fuckit, let's go with the first ever Drama winner from 1917: Why Marry?

It's interesting as a time capsule, but not just for historical interest. I think the reviewer in the link is right that "I think a fascinating paper would be a queer reading of this play, especially because many of Helen and Ernest’s thoughts about marriage are reminiscent of rhetoric currently being used on both sides of the gay marriage/civil union argument."

It's also very timely given the notoriety of Nobel Prize-winner Tim Hunt's recent comments about women in the lab. The main couple in the play are scientists who work together, and it sounds very much like "you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you."

But things stand in the way of their happiness. He's poor-ish, and if he married her, he wouldn't be able to keep her in style, but she doesn't want that, she wants to continue working in the lab, and other characters representing cultural and religious forces disapprove of various parts of the plan. They get worked into a state where she won't marry him on principle, and he won't take her to McGuffinland to continue his research if she's a single lady. They nearly get things worked out to go and live and work together in sin, and that offends everybody. And on to the conclusion.

Anyway, the play may also be of interest to women in the sciences, and those who love them.

From the foreword by the author:
"When this play was first published most people were not thinking along these lines. Such ideas were considered radical then. They will soon be old-fashioned—even on the stage. Kind and discriminating as the critics have been in regard to this comedy (a discriminating critic being, of course, one who praises your play)...
...
They do not object to finding fault with mankind because "you can't change human nature," as they are fond of telling you with an interesting air of originality. But laws, customs, and ideals can be changed, can be improved. Therefore they cry: "Hands off! How dare you!" Man made human institutions, therefore we reverence them."



Lucy Now, deary, tell me all about it. How did it happen?
Jean Oh, I simply followed your advice.
Lucy Picked a quarrel with him?
Jean [laughing] Yes. I pretended to believe in woman suffrage!
Lucy Good! They hate that.


Jean But he's in love with my sister. You know that as well as I do.
Lucy [uncomfortably] Oh, well, he was once, but not now. Men admire these independent women, but they don't marry them. Nobody wants to marry a sexless freak with a scientific degree.


John But she's a woman.
Ernest Just what has that to do with it?
John Everything. We have the highest respect for you, Doctor Hamilton, but also ... one must respect the opinions of the world, you know.
Ernest [thinks it over] That's right. One must. I forgot to think of that.... It's curious, but when working with women of ability one learns to respect them so much that one quite loses the habit of insulting them.


Ernest Sentimental twaddle! What makes it more "womanly" to do menial work for men than intellectual work with them?


The Others Why, of course you'll have to, that's all.
Helen [nodding] Oh, I know just how you feel about it. I thought so, too, at first, but I can't marry Ernest Hamilton. I love him.


Helen Aren't we sacrificing enough for the world—money, comforts, even children? Must we also sacrifice each other to the world? Must we be hypocrites because others are? Must we, too, be cowards and take on the protective coloring of our species?
Ernest Our ideas may be higher than society's, but society rewards and punishes its members according to its own ideas, not ours.
Helen Do you want society's rewards? Do you fear society's punishment?


Society can no longer force females into wedlock—so it is forcing them out ... by the thousands! Approve of it? Of course not. But what good will our disapproval do? They will only laugh at you. The strike is on. Few of the strikers will let you see it. Few of the strikers have Helen's courage. But, believe it or not, the strike will spread. It cannot be crushed by law or force. Unless society wakes up and reforms its rules and regulations of marriage, marriage is doomed.... What are you going to do about it? [Silence.] I thought so—nothing. Call them bad women and let it go at that. Blame it all on human nature, made by God, and leave untouched our human institutions, made by man. You poor little pessimists! human nature to-day is better than it ever was, but our most important institution is worse—the most sacred relationship in life has become a jest in the market-place.... You funny little cowards, you're afraid of life, afraid of love, afraid of truth. You worship lies, and call it God!
 
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Journal of No. 118