Search This Blog

Friday, 26 January 2018

Blavatsky's Articulate Feminist Editorial on Sexual Harassment

Blavatsky’s support of Leo Tolstoy is fairly well-known. The autographed copy of The Voice of the Silence still exists in the Tolstoi archives and he even quotes from it in one of his non-fiction works. In Lucifer, Vol. VI, No. 35, July, 1890, pp. 353-364, in an article called “Diagnoses and Palliatives” (Collected Writings, 12, 239-256), she reviewed his controversial Kreutzer Sonata (along with another work, The Girl of the Future by G. Allen), showing that she could be right on top of some the day’s most pressing social questions, with an alternative view to the mostly negative critiques it received and also showing a strong feminist voice in her writings. The work has been the subject of more recent discussion:
Tolstoy & The Kreutzer Sonata: Literature & Music
Dick Strawser  September 22, 2011
Sofiya Tolstoy’s Defense
Sophie Pinkham - October 21, 2014
Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata - Olga Kerziouk 17 October 2017
Some extracts from Diagnoses and Palliatives, July 1890:
Tolstoy, however, “preaches” nothing of the sort; nor does his Pozdnisheff say so, though the critics misunderstand him from A to Z, as they do also the wise statement that “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth” or a vile man’s heart and imagination. It is not “monasticism” but the law of continence as taught by Jesus (and Occultism) in its esoteric meaning—which most Christians are unable to perceive— that he preaches. Nothing can be more moral or conducive to human happiness and perfectibility than the application of this law. It is one ordained by Nature herself. Animals follow it instinctively, as do also the savage tribes. Once pregnant, to the last day of the nursing of her babe, i.e., for eighteen or twenty months, the savage squaw is sacred to her husband; the civilised and semi-civilized man alone breaking this beneficent law. Therefore, speaking of the immorality of marriage relations as at present practised, and of unions performed on commercial bases, or, what is worse, on mere sensual love, Pozdnisheff elaborates the idea by uttering the greatest and the holiest truth, namely, that:
For morality to exist between men and women in their daily life, they must make perfect chastity their law.* In progressing towards this end, man subdues himself. When he has arrived at the last degree of subjection we shall have moral marriages. But if a man as in our Society advances only towards physical love, even though he surrounds it with deception and with the shallow formality of marriage, he obtains nothing but licensed vice.
A good proof that it is not “monasticism” and utter celibacy which are preached, but only continence, is found on page 84 where the fellow traveller of Pozdnisheff is made to remark that the result of the theory of the latter would be “that a man would have to keep away from hiswife except once every year or two.” Then again there is this sentence:—
I did not at that time understand that the words of the Gospel as to looking upon a woman with the eyes of desire did not refer only to the wives of others, but especially and above all to one’s own wife.
“Monastics” have no wives, nor do they get married if they would remain chaste on the physical plane. Tolstoy, however, seems to have answered in anticipation of British criticism and objections on these lines, by making the hero of his “grimy and revolting book” (Scot’s Observer) say:—
Think what a perversity of ideas there must be, when the happiest, the freest condition of the human being, that of (mental) chastity, is looked upon as something miserable and ridiculous. The highest ideal, the most perfect condition to be attained by woman, that of a pure being, a vestal, a virgin, provokes, in our society, fear and laughter. (245)
We maintain that to call Kreutzer Sonata pointless, and “a vain book,” is to miss most egregiously the noblest as well as the most important points in it. It is nothing less than wilful blindness, or what is still worse—that moral cowardice which will sanction every growing immorality rather than allow its mention, let alone its discussion, in public. It is on such fruitful soil that our moral leprosy thrives and prospers instead of being checked by timely palliatives. It is blindness to one of her greatest social evils of this kind that led France to issue her unrighteous law, prohibiting the so-called “search of paternity.” And is it not again the ferocious selfishness of the male, in which species legislators are of course included, which is responsible for the many iniquitous laws with which the country of old disgraced itself? e.g., the right of every brute of a husband to sell his wife in a market-place with a rope around her neck; the right of every beggar-husband over his rich wife’s fortune, rights now happily abrogated. But does not law protect man to this day, granting him means for legal impunity in almost all his dealings with woman? (CW12, 246)
Has it never occurred to any grave judge or critic either— any more than to Pozdnisheff—“that immorality does not consist in physical acts alone but on the contrary, in liberating one’s self from all moral obligations, which such acts impose”? (Kreutzer Sonata, p. 32.) And as a direct result of such legal “liberation from any moral obligations,” we have the present marriage system in every civilized nation, viz., men “steeped in corruption” seeking “at the same time for a virgin whose purity might be worthy” of them (p. 39); men, out of a thousand of whom “hardly one could be found who has not been married before at least a dozen times” (p. 41)! (CW12, 246)
Aye, gentlemen of the press, and humble slaves to public opinion, too many terrible, vital truths, to be sure, are uttered by Pozdnisheff to make the Kreutzer Sonata ever palatable to you. The male portion of mankind—book reviewers as others—does not like to have a too faithful mirror presented to it. It does not like to see itself as it is, but only as it would like to make itself appear. Had the book been directed against your slave and creature—woman, Tolstoy’s popularity would have, no doubt, increased proportionately. But for almost the first time in literature, a work shows male kind collectively in all the artificial ugliness of the final fruits of civilisation, which make every vicious man believe himself, like Pozdnisheff, “a thoroughly moral man.” And it points out as plainly that female dissimulation, worldliness and vice, are but the handiwork of generations of men, whose brutal sensuality and selfishness have led woman to seek reprisals. Hear the fine and truthful description of most Society men:—
Women know well enough that the most noble, the most poetic love is inspired, not by moral qualities, but by physical intimacy . . . . Ask an experienced coquette . . . . which she would prefer, to be convicted in the presence of the man she wishes to subjugate, of falsehood, perversity, and cruelty, or to appear before him in a dress ill-made. . . . . She would choose the first alternative. She knows very well that we only lie when we speak of our lofty sentiments; that what we are seeking is the woman herself, and that for that we are ready to forgive all her ignominies, while we would not forgive her a costume badly cut . . . . Hence those abominable jerseys, those artificial protrusions behind, those naked arms, shoulders and bosoms. (CW12, 247)
Create no demand and there will be no supply. But such demand being established by men, it . . . .
. . . explains this extraordinary phenomenon: that on the one hand woman is reduced to the lowest degree of humiliation, while on the other she reigns above everything . . . . “Ah, you wish us to be merely objects of pleasure? Very well, by that very means we will bend you beneath our yoke,” say the women [who] like absolute queens, keep as prisoners of war and at hard labor nine-tenths of the human race; and all because they have been humiliated, because they have been deprived of the rights enjoyed by man. They avenge themselves on our voluptuousness, they catch us in their nets . . . . [Why? Because] “the great majority look upon the journey to the church as a necessary condition for the possession of a certain woman. So you may say what you will, we live in such an abyss of falsehood, that unless some event comes down upon our head . . . . we cannot wake up to the truth. . . (CW12, 247)
And would you know why? It is an old truism, a fact pointed out by Ouida, as by twenty other novelists. Because the husbands of the “ladies in good Society”—we speak only of the fashionable majority, of course—would most likely gradually desert their legitimate wives were these to offer them too strong a contrast with the demi-mondaines whom they all adore. For certain men who for long years have constantly enjoyed the intoxicating atmosphere of certain places of amusement, the late suppers in cabinets particuliers in the company of enamelled females artificial from top to foot, the correct demeanor of a lady, presiding over their dinner table, with her cheeks paintless, her hair, complexion and eyes as nature made them—becomes very soon a bore.
 A legitimate wife who imitates in dress, and mimicks the desinvolture of her husband’s mistress has perhaps been driven at the beginning to effect such a change out of sheer despair, as the only means of preserving some of her husband’s affection, once she is unable to have it undivided. Here, again, the abnormal fact of enamelled, straw-haired, painted and almost undressed wives and girls in good Society, are the handiwork of men—of fathers, husbands, brothers. Had the animal demands of the latter never created that class which Baudelaire calls so poetically les fleurs du mal, and who end by destroying every household and family whose male members have once fallen a victim to their hypnotism—no wife and mother, still less a daughter or a sister, would have ever thought of emulating the modern hetaera. But now they have. The act of despair of the first wife abandoned for a demi-mondaine has borne its fruit. Other wives have followed suit, then the transformation has gradually become a fashion, a necessity.( CW12, 248)
 How true then these remarks:
The absence of women’s rights does not consist in being deprived of the right of voting, or of administering law; but in the fact that with regard to matters of affection she is not the equal of man, that she has not the right to choose instead of being chosen. That would be quite abnormal, you think. Then let men also be without their rights. . . . . At bottom her slavery lies in the fact of her being regarded as a source of enjoyment. You excite her, you give her all kinds of rights equal to those of man:* but she is still looked upon as an instrument of pleasure, and she is brought up in that character from her childhood. . . . She is always the slave, humiliated and corrupted and  man remains still her pleasure-seeking master. Yes, to abolish slavery, it is first of all necessary that public opinion should admit that it is shameful to profit by the labor of one’s neighbor; and to emancipate woman it is necessary that public opinion should admit that it is shameful to regard her as an instrument of pleasure.
Such is man, who is shown in all the hideous nakedness of his selfish nature, almost beneath the “animals” which “would seem to know that their descendants continue the species, and they accordingly follow a certain law.” But “man alone does not, and will not, know. . . . . The lord of creation—man; who, in the name of his love, kills one half of the human race! Of woman, who ought to be his help-mate in the movement of Humanity towards freedom, he makes, for the sake of his pleasures, not a helpmate but an enemy. . . .” (CW12 ,249)
And now it is made abundantly clear, why the author of the Kreutzer Sonata has suddenly become in the eyes of all men—“the most conspicuous case out of Bedlam.” Count Tolstoy who alone has dared to speak the truth in proclaiming the whole relation of the sexes to each other as at present “a gross and vile abomination,” and who thus inteferes with “man’s pleasures”—must, of course, expect to be proclaimed a madman. He preaches “Christian virtue,” and what men want now is vice, such as the old Romans themselves have never dreamed of. “Stone him to death” — gentlemen of the press. (CW12249)
* This, only in “semi”-civilised Russia, if you please. In England she has not even the privilege of voting yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment