Part 08, Chapter 2 : Maternity
Part 08, Chapter 2
MOTHERHOOD to-day is on the lips of every penny-a-liner, every social patch-worker and political climber. It is so much prated about that one is led to believe that motherhood, in its present condition, is a force for good. It therefore required a free spirit combined with great dramatic power to tear the mask oft the lying face of motherhood, that we may see that, whatever its possibilities in a free future, motherhood is to-day a sickly tree setting forth diseased branches. For its sake thousands of women are being sacrificed and children sent into a cold and barren world without the slightest provision for their physical and mental needs. It was left to Brieux to inscribe with letters of fire the crying shame of the motherhood of to-day.
Brignac, a provincial lawyer and an unscrupulous climber for political success, represents the typical pillar of society. He believes implicitly in the supremacy of God over the destiny of man. He swears by the State and the army, and cringes before the power of money. Naturally he is the champion of large families as essential to the welfare of society, and of motherhood, as the most sacred and sole function of woman.
He is the father of three children, all of whom are in a precarious condition. He resents the idea that society ought to take care of the children already in existence, rather than continue indiscriminately breeding more. Brignac himself wants more children. In vain his wife Lucie, weakened by repeated pregnancies, pleads with him for a respite.
Lucie. Listen, Julien, since we are talking about this. I wanted to tell you-I haven't had much leisure since our marriage. We have not been able to take advantage of a single one of your holidays. I really, have a right to a little rest. . . . Consider, we have not had any time to know one another, or to love one another. Besides, remember that we already have to find dowries for three girls.
Brignac. I tell you this is going to be a boy.
Lucie. A boy is expensive.
Brignac. We are going to be rich.
Brignac. Luck may come in several ways. I may stay in the civil service and get promoted quickly. I may go back to the bar. . . . I am certain we shall be rich. After all, it's not much good your saying so, if I say yes.
Lucie. Evidently. My consent was asked for before I was given a husband, but my consent is not asked for before I am given a child. . . . This is slavery-yes, slavery. After all you are disposing of my health, my sufferings, my life-of a year of my existence, calmly, without consulting me.
Brignac. Do I do it out of selfishness? Do you suppose I am not a most unhappy husband all the time I have a future mother at my side instead of a loving wife? . . . A father is a man all the same.
Lucie. Rubbish! You evidently take me for a fool. I know what you do at those times . . . . Don't deny it. You must see that I know all about it . . . . Do you want me to tell you the name of the person you go to see over at Villeneuve, while I am nursing or " a future mother," as you call it? We had better say no more about it.
Brignac goes oft to his political meeting to proclaim to his constituency the sacredness of motherhood,-the deepest and highest function of woman.
Lucie has a younger sister, Annette, a girl of eighteen. Their parents being dead, Lucie takes the place of the mother. She is passionately fond of her little sister and makes it her purpose to keep the 'girl sheltered and protected from the outside world. Annette arrives and announces with great enthusiasm that the son of the wealthy Bernins has declared his love and asked her to marry him, and that his mother, Mme. Bernin, is coming to talk the matter over with Lucie.
Mme. Bernin does arrive, but not for the pur. pose poor Annette had hoped. Rather is it to tell Lucie that her son cannot marry the girl. Oh, not because she isn't beautiful, pure or attractive. Indeed not! Mme. Bernin herself says that her son could not wish for a more suitable match. But, then, she has no money, and her son must succeed in the world. He must acquire social standing and position; that cannot be had without money. When Lucie pleads with her that after all the Bernins themselves had begun at the bottom, and that it did not prevent their being happy, Mme. Bernin replies:
NO, no; we are not happy, because we have worn ourselves out hunting after happiness. We wanted to " get on," and we got on. But what a price we paid for it! First, when we were both earning in-ages, our life was one long drudgers, of petty economy and meanness. When we set tip on our own account, we lived in an atmosphere of trickery, of enmity, of lying; flattering the customers, and always in terror of bankruptcy. oh, I know the road to fortune! It means tears, lies, envy, hate; one suffers-and one makes other people suffer. I have had to go through it: my children shan't. We've only had two children: we meant only to have one. Having two we had to be doubly hard upon ourselves. Instead of a husband and wife helping one another, we have been partners spying upon one another; calling one another to account for every little expenditure or stupidity; and on our very pillows disputing about our business. That's boss- we got rich; and now we can't enjoy our money because we don't know how to use it; and we aren't happy because our old age is made bitter by the memories and the rancor left by the old bad days; because they have suffered too much and hated too much. My children shall not go through this. I endured it that they might be spared.
Learning the price Mme. Bernin has paid for her wealth, we need not blame her for turning a deaf ear to the entreaties of Lucie in behalf of her sister. Neither can Lucie be held responsible for her stupidity in keeping her sister in ignorance until she was incapable of protecting herself when the occasion demanded. Poor Annette, one of the many offered up to the insatiable monster of ignorance and social convention I
When Annette is informed of the result of Mme. Bernin's visit, the girl grows hysterical, and Lucie learns that her little sister is about to become a mother. Under the pretext of love and marriage young, pampered Jaques Bernin has taken advantage of the girl's inexperience and innocence. In her despair Annette rushes out in search of her lover, only to be repelled by him in a vulgar and cruel manner. She then attempts suicide by trying to throw herself under the train which is to carry off her worthless seducer. She is rescued by the faithful nurse Catherine, and brought back to her anxious sister Lucie. Annette, in great excitement, relates:
Annette. You'll never guess what he said. He got angry, and he began to abuse me. He said he guessed what I was up to; that I wanted to make a scandal to force him to marry me - oh, he spared me nothing -to force him to marry me because he was rich. And when that made me furious, he threatened to call the police!
I ought to have left him, run away, come home, oughtn't I? But I couldn't believe it of him all at once, like that I And I couldn't go away while I had any hope. . . . As long as I was holding to his arm it was as if I was engaged. When he was gone I should only be a miserable ruined girl, like dozens of others. . . . MY life was at stake: and to save myself I went down into the very lowest depths of vileness and cowardice. I cried, I implored. I lost all shame. . . . What he said then I cannot tell you - not even you - it was too much - too much - I did not understand at first. It was only afterwards, coming back, going over all his words, that I made out what he meant. . . . Then he rushed to the train, and jumped into a carriage, and almost crushed my fingers in the door; and he went and hid behind his mother, and she threatened, too, to have me arrested. . . . I wish I was dead! Lucie, dear, I don't want to go through all that's coming - I am too little - I am too weak, I'm too young to bear it. Really, I haven't the strength.
But Lucie has faith in her husband. In all the years of their married life she has heard him proclaim from the very housetops that motherhood is the most sacred function of woman; that the State needs large numbers; that commerce and the army require an increase of the population, and " the government commands you to further this end to the best of your ability, each one of you in his own commune." She has heard her husband repeat, over and over again, that the woman who refuses to abide by the command of God and the laws to become a mother is immoral, is criminal. Surely he would understand the tragedy of Annette, who had been placed in this condition not through her own fault but because she had been confiding and trusting in the promise of the man. Surely Brignac would come to the rescue of Annette; would help and comfort her in her trying and difficult moment. But Lucie, like many wives, does not know her husband; she does not know that a man who is so hide- bound by statutes and codes cannot have human compassion, and that he will not stand by the little girl who has committed the "unpardonable sin." Lucie does not know, but she is soon to learn the truth.
Lucie. I tell you Annette is the victim of this wretch. If you are going to do nothing but insult her, we had better stop discussing the matter.
Brignac. I am in a nice fix now! There is nothing left for us but to pack our trunks and be off. I am done for. Ruined! Smashed! I tell you if she was caught red handed stealing, the wreck wouldn't be more complete. . . . We must make some excuse. We will invent an aunt or cousin who has invited her to stay. I will find a decent house for her in Paris to go to. She'll be all right there. When the time comes she can put the child out to nurse in the country, and come back to us.
Lucie. You seriously propose to send that poor child to Paris, where she doesn't know a soul?
Brignac. What do you mean by that? I will go to Paris myself, if necessary. There are special boarding houses: very respectable ones. I'll inquire: of course without letting out that it is for anyone I know. And I'll pay what is necessary. What more can you want?
Lucie. Just when the child is most in need of every care, you propose to send her off alone; alone, do you understand, alone! To tear her away from here, put her into a train, and send her off to Paris, like a sick animal you want to get rid of. If I consented to that I should feel that I was as bad as the man who seduced her. Be honest, Julien: remember it is in our interest you propose to sacrifice her. We shall gain peace and quiet at the price of her loneliness and despair. To save ourselves-serious troubles, I admit-we are to abandon this child to strangers . . . away from all love and care and comfort, without a friend to put kind arms around her and let her sob her grief away. I implore you, Julien, I entreat you, for our children's sake, don't keep me from her, don't ask me to do this shameful thing.
Brignac. There would have been no question of misery if she had behaved herself.
Lucie. She is this man's victim! But she won't go. You'll have to drive her out as you drove out the servant. . . . And then - after that - she is to let her child go; to stifle her strongest instinct; to silence the cry of love that consoles us all for the tortures we have to go through; to turn away her eyes and say, " Take him away, I don't want him." And at that price she is to be forgiven for another person's crime. . . . Then that is Society's welcome to the new born child?
Brignac. To the child born outside of marriage, yes. If it wasn't for that, there would soon be nothing but illegitimate births. It is to preserve the family that society condemns the natural child.
Lucie. You say you want a larger number of births, and at the same time you say to women: " No mother. hood without marriage, and no marriage without money." As long as you've not changed that, all your circulars will be met with shouts of derision-half from hate, half from pity. . . . If you drive Annette out, I shall go with her.
Lucie and Annette go out into the world. As middle-class girls they have been taught a little of everything and not much of anything. They try all kinds of work to enable them to make a living, but though they toil hard and long hours, they barely earn enough for a meager existence' As long as Annette's condition is not noticeable life is bearable; but soon everybody remarks her state. She and Lucie are driven from place to place. In her despair Annette does what many girls in her position have done before her and will do after her so long as the Brignacs and their morality are dominant. She visits a midwife, and one more victim is added to the large number slaughtered upon the altar of morality.
The last act is in the court room. Mme. Thomas, the midwife, is on trial for criminal abortion. With her are a number of women whose names have been found on her register.
Bit by bit we learn the whole tragedy of each of the defendants; we see all the sordidness of poverty, the inability to procure the bare necessities of life, and the dread of the unwelcome child.
A schoolmistress, although earning a few hundred francs, and living with her husband, is compelled to have an abortion performed because another child would mean hunger for all of them.
Schoolmistress. We just managed to get along by being most careful; and several times we cut down expenses it did not seem possible to cut down. A third child coming upset everything. We couldn't have lived. We should have all starved. Besides, the inspectors and directresses don't like us to have many children, especially if we nurse them ourselves. They told me to hide myself when I was suckling the last one. I only had ten minutes to do it in, at the recreation, at ten o'clock and at two o'clock; and k-,,-lien my mother brought baby to me I had to shut myself up with him in a dark closet.
The couple Tupin stand before the bar to defend themselves against the charge of criminal abortion. Tupin has been out of work for a long time and is driven by misery to drink. He is known to the police as a disreputable character. One of his sons is serving a sentence for theft, and a daughter is a woman of the streets. But Tupin is a thinking man. He proves that his earnings at best are not enough to supply the needs of an already large family. The daily nourishment of five children consists of a four pound loaf, soup of vegetables and dripping, and a stew which costs go centimes. Total, 3f. 75c. This is the expenditure of the father: Return ticket for tram, 3oc. Tobacco, I5c. Dinner, If.25c. The rent, 300f. Clothing for the whole family, and boots: I6 pairs of boots for the children at 4f. Soc. each, 4 for the parents at 8f., total again 3oof. Total for the year, 2,6oof. Tupin, who is an exceptional workman, earns I6of. a month, that is to say, 2, I I00f a year. There is therefore an annual deficit of 500f., provided Tupin keeps at work all the time, which never happens in the life of a workingman. Under such circumstances no one need be surprised that one of his children is imprisoned for theft, and the other is walking the streets, while Tupin himself is driven to drink.
Tupin. When we began to get short in the house, my wife and I started to quarrel. Every time a child came we were mad at making it worse for the others. And so . . . I ended up in the saloon. It's warm there, and you can't hear the children crying nor the mother complaining. And besides, when you have drink in you, you forget. . . . And that's how we got poorer and poorer. My fault, if you like. . . . Our last child was a cripple. He was born in starvation, and his mother was worn out. And they nursed him, and they nursed him, and they nursed him. They did not leave him a minute. They made him live in spite of himself. And they let the other children - the. strong ones - go to the bad. With half the money and the fuss they wasted on the cripple, they could have made fine fellows of all the others.
Align. Tupin I have to add that all this is not my fault. My husband and I worked like beasts; we did without every kind of pleasure to try and bring up our children. If we had wanted to slave more, I declare to you we couldn't have done it. And now that we have given our lives, for them, the oldest is in hospital, ruined and done for because he worked in " a dangerous trade " as they call it. . . . There are too many people in the world. . . . 'My little girl had to choose between starvation and the street. . . . I'm only a poor woman, and I know what it means to have nothing to eat, so I forgave her.
Thus Align. Tupin also understands that it is a crime to add one more victim to those who are born ill and for whom society has no place.
Then Lucie faces the court,- Lucie who loved her sister too well, and who, driven by the same conditions that killed Innette, has also been compelled to undergo an abortion rather than have a fourth child by the man she did not love any more. Like the Schoolmistress and the Tupins, she is dragged before the bar of justice to explain her crime, while her husband, who had forced both Annette and Lucie out of the house, has meanwhile risen to a high position as a supporter of the State with his favorite slogan, " Motherhood is the highest function of woman."
Finally the midwife Thomas is called upon for her defense.
Thomas. A girl came to me one day; she was a servant. She had been seduced by her master. I refused to do what she asked me to do: she went and drowned herself. Another I refused to help was brought up before you here for infanticide. Then when the others came, I said, " Yes." I have prevented many a suicide and many a crime.
It is not likely that the venerable judge, the State's attorney or the gentlemen of the jury can see in Mme. Thomas a greater benefactress to society than they; any more than they can grasp the deep importance of the concluding words of the counsel for the defense in this great social tragedy.
Counsel for the Defense. Their crime is not an individual crime; it is a social crime. . . . It is not a crime against nature. It is a revolt against nature. And with all the warmth of a heart melted by pity, with all the indignation of my outraged reason, I look for that glorious hour of liberation when some master mind shall discover for us the means of having only the children we need and desire, release forever from the prison of hypocrisy and absolve us from the profanation of love. That would indeed be a conquest of nature -savage nature -which pours out life with culpable profusion, and sees it disappear with indifference.
Surely there can be no doubt as to the revolutionary significance of " Maternity ": the demand that woman must be given means to prevent conception of undesired and unloved children; that she must become free and strong to choose the father of her child and to decide the number of children she is to bring into the world, and under what conditions. That is the only kind of motherhood which can endure.
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