Monday, 25 September 2017

The Canadian Incubus

The Canadian Incubus
By Lacey Amy
From Saturday Night magazine, Toronto, Canada, 11 November 1916.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, 23 September, 2017 for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca
Apology – This entry has been created from very old microfilm from a very old magazine. Certain areas of the graphic are unclear. I have endeavoured to reason at the missing parts of words. If there are errors, or if the meaning is not clear, it is my fault./drf


WE were tea-ing at the home of one of England’s illustrious titled men, five Canadians and an equal number of English people, who are making themselves especially agreeable to Canadian soldiers and workers. Among the Canadians was a woman whose name will probably be emblazoned in the Canadian annals after the war as one of the self-sacrificing, expatriated office staff of a certain Canadian organization in London.
Into the conversation entered the name of a Canadian woman well known in London through her husband, a friend of our English host. Instantly I noted the head of my compatriot worker rise, and into her eyes came the hard light of the woman-in-the-same-set. For a minute or two she listened to a desultory account of the other’s last visit to London and of a certain war work in which she is interesting herself back in Canada.
“Pooh!” she snorted at last. “I’d rather hold up a lamp-post in Piccadilly than be lady mayoress of—” (naming the home city of the one being discussed).
I believed her. It was neither the kind of remark nor the tone to accept to any extent other than its limit. The impression that entered my mind—and I am sure it came to our hosts much the same, for they were obviously ill at ease—was of a woman whose presence in London was not at all on account of the work in which she happened to be concerned, but whose work was a mere excuse for her presence in London. Either that or she was willing to sneer at her native land to suit her perverted idea of what would please her English friends.
A few days later I entered the building in which are situated the offices of the organization through which she will undoubtedly claim social distinction upon her return to Canada after the war. A complete storey distant from the offices a blast of noisy chatter in female voices convinced me that it was no place for a man seeking information. I went elsewhere.
There are in London to-day—all over south-eastern England in fact—three kinds of Canadian women: those who come as part of the household of a resident Canadian whose work is in England, those who were sent from Canada for the distinct purpose of carrying on necessary work for the Canadian soldiers, and those who wish to give the appearance of the second class. There are no acknowledged idlers. Oh, dear, no.
The onlooker might rearrange the classes into those who have an excuse for being here and those who are a nuisance. I am inclined to think he would include in the better the entire third class and those who, like the Canadian woman instanced, are at work only to be near the centre of the excitement, “in the swim,” without giving critics a chance to associate them with their idle sisters.
What is the number of Canadian women in and around London I could only guess, and others might guess differently. What Londoners guess is what counts for Canada’s fair name. I have before me a statement of a great London paper that “hundreds of thousands of Canadian women have followed their husbands to England.” Of course, that is worthy of Hearst since there are less than two hundred thousand soldiers and a few hundred doctors and other officials here. The value of the estimate is in its bulk in the London mind, the implied criticism of Canadian common sense and patriotism.
One cannot censure such an estimate. The Canadian woman is almost as conspicuous here as her other half, not in numbers, but in her ubiquity and in her evident away-from-home-and-hurrah look when she is not wholeheartedly at work. Canadian women are everywhere about London—in the restaurants, on the streets, in the theatres. The Savoy, the Cecil, the Carlton, the Piccadilly, the Regent Palace and the Strand Palace are favorite meeting grounds for the inevitable afternoon tea, to which the Canadian in London has taken like a boy to the jam cupboard. A certain section of the city, Russell Square, that used to be called the American section, is now turned over in name to the boarding Canadians. And, of course, at such a camp centre as Folkestone, Canadian women—were they not often too anxious, in this country, to eschew that to which they have been prepared for that which seems a la mode—could form a little Dominion of their own.
The newspapers of both sides of the water have endeavored to interrupt the stream—handicapped in their efforts now and then by some “sob-squad” artist, with the widowed-mother and weeping-wife story that dampens handkerchiefs, pictures me a double-dyed villain compared with whom Pharaoh was chicken-hearted, and entirely ignores the question that really counts. No one has a deeper sympathy than I for the woman left at home to mourn; nobody could be more eager for the Canadian in whose lots in England than the English people, if conditions permitted even a doubt. But it is as impossible to justify the presence in England of the useless Canadian woman—the one who neither works nor brightens the home of a resident husband—as it is to support the plea that is actually being made by her English counterpart. That the wives of the soldiers at the front should be allowed to visit their husbands at their pleasure. It is as difficult to supply England with the necessary food and sustenance as it is France, and yet I venture to doubt that any Canadian woman will support such a ridiculous proposition.
The root of the trouble has two bunches. One class, which places itself entirely beyond the pale, consists of those who see in England at this time the height of their marital dreams. The other has a vague idea that in England they will be able to spend the week ends with their husbands or sons. That is a folly which even the ordinary brain should appreciate. I do know of Canadian women coming to England to see their husbands and having to hasten back to Canada to do it. Rightly enough, the War Office cannot clutter up its usefulness by considering anything but the prosecution of the war and the quickest relief of the soldiers. By a special arrangement they have made it possible now for the wife to return to Canada with the husband—if there is room, and if she is willing to put up with the accommodation.
The wife who imagines that she will be in touch in England with her soldier-husband is going to have a rude awakening. I have beside me the letter of a Canadian woman in which she complains that, although she arrived in England in early June, she has not yet seen her husband. And there are hundreds like her. There is no such thing as leave since the Somme offensive began, nor is there likely to be much of it for the rest of the war. England has discovered that leave is a much more recuperative measure for the harassed enemy than for the driving Allies. Two years of dragging warfare has altered methods of actively prosecuting the war, one of the discoveries being that it is more disastrous to coddle soldiers than to press them. Brutal as that statement may be, there is no reason why it should be left to the post-bellum annals. The battalions with the best records are those whose commanding officers adopted measures that might appeal to the Prevention of Cruelty societies as inhumane. It is a question of driving to victory or lounging to a draw; and the wives, I fear, have nothing whatever to do with it.
The “sob-squad” argument I once read from a reputable Toronto paper on behalf of the visiting Canadian woman, that her husband’s reason was despaired of unless she took up her abode in England to comfort him during his short leaves, was merely a dramatic staging of proof that the man should be discharged rather than that the woman should be brought to England. Soldiers of that kind—and there may be some so weak mentally—are better at home.
The Canadian woman who has faith that her ability, her willingness “to do anything,” or England’s gratitude to Canada and her need of woman workers, will find a place for her had better disillusion herself in Canada among friends than in England among strangers. Ability counts little, willingness less. I could mention a certain Canadian home, started in England with great splash and publicity, “a Canadian home for Canadian soldiers,” uncontrolled by the War Office, where ability is the last thing desired. Philanthropy is merely another name for advertisement sometimes.
There is no work in England for Canadian women. There is no assurance, even if work is obtained, that it will be permanent. England does not want women workers, however badly she might need them. I may have more to say on this another time. Frankly, don’t believe the appeals which fill the English papers. As the editor of a London paper said to me; “that is only one of the War Office frolics.” I could give the disillusionizing experiences of some Canadian women with a sincere desire to do war work.
I pick up a single issue of “The Times” and find in its Personal Column these appeals, each costing the advertiser about two dollars and a half:
“Two ladies would give services in munition-workers’ canteen or hostel. Resident. Can pay board if necessary.”
“Lady would do volunteer work or charitable work of any kind, and pay her own expenses. St. John certificates. Average capabilities.”
“Volunteer war work—Two ladies would give three days weekly to canteen or other war work, paying own expenses. Not London.”
And yet every day the papers are burdened with a cry for canteen workers. In desperation many Canadian women have become what is called hospital visitors. I can assure Canadian readers that the average hospital visitor in England has undertaken a thankless task. One reason is that it is recognized as a mere filler-in of time for women who feel bound to justify themselves. The second reason is that ninety per cent. of the Canadian boys would as soon take a dose of calomel as face the average hospital visitor. I am prepared to hear clamorous protests at this. I can only say that the intimacy of my connection with the boys places me in a position to know. I have the word of hundreds of them, given in moments of frankness. Also I have seen scores of them deliberately turn their backs and feign sleep when the hospital visitor looms in sight. It is a delicate question which I am more willing to put in print, I will admit than in words to the visitors themselves.
There are other unpleasant surprises for the Canadian woman who comes here with the idea that everything will be rosy for her. Right from the start she has a narrow path to walk to evade a reputation many of her sisters. I regret to say, have justly earned. Every day I am forced to agree that Satan is still the fond old entertainer of the idle.
But she is going to find, too, that her preconceived ideas of the cost of living in England need revision. I gather from what is even more convincing than the Government statement that the cost of living has advanced sixty-eight per cent. since the war began, that the Englishman is bewildered with the climb of prices. Even if the Canadian woman is able to overcome her scruples in other directions, she should come prepared to pay at least fifteen dollars a week for board and one semi-furnished room in and around London; and at that it is of a class she would scorn in Canada. Those who have visited England in the good old days when the best beef was twenty cents a pound, eggs thirty-five cents a dozen, and bread eleven cents a loaf—when sugar was not a luxury to be prayed for at night with the other blessings of Providence—should have heard a sad Canadian housewife here telling me of being forced to pay nine cents apiece for fresh eggs a month ago. We avoid eggs for breakfast. The details of English living are worth a special article later.
The presence of idle Canadian women in England cannot, I think be laid to sentiment. In forcing themselves on a country which finds it more difficult than most people know to secure its supplies they are replacing the higher sentiment by the lower. The scores of Canadian girls who sally forth to England to marry, or who marry soldiers just before departure from Canada and thereby think to justify their presence here, I would hand over to a more biting pen than mine. When the newspapers and Governments of both sides of the water have failed to stem the flood is there nothing else can be done? There is sign of a budding sense of proportions in Canada but the season for buds is backward. Can’t we force them?

The Eternal Snob.
THERE are certain inherent tendencies of human nature that nothing will ever change. However much the forms may vary, the essence of them remains the same. They are as immutable as the leopard’s spots or the Ethiop’s skin. You may denounce them, jeer at them, or, if you happen to be a sentimentalist, weep over them, but so long as the earth is populated by men and women nothing you can do or say will have the very slightest effect. There is no cure for love-making, unreasoning self-sacrifice, or snobbishness, says Efemera, in “The Bystander.”
The snob like the poor, is always with us. Every age is afflicted with the particular brand of snob it deserves. Snobbishness, in itself, is no great evil, though some of the forms it takes may be both repellent and ridiculous. In some classes it consists in having a parlor, an entirely useless apartment generally, furnished in red plush, set apart for the purpose of showing that the happy owners are socially equal to, if not a cut above, their neighbors. Late dinner, in certain households, is another manifestation of the same ambition, and we all know the type of lower middle-class young lady who for snobbish reasons would rather do anything than demean herself with housework—because housework is not reckoned genteel by the social luminaries of her set.
In the hallowed days of the Book of Snobs this was the distinctive mark of snobbishness, but times change, and a number of new variations have sprung up. The war and the system of voluntary recruiting brought in patriotic snobbishness which forbade any self-respecting girl to show herself in public with a man not garbed in khaki or navy-blue. A healthy manifestation, with which I, for one, have no quarrel, though in the case of men rejected by the military authorities some undeserved hardship was unavoidable. There is no reason why every nice girl should not love to be seen with a sailor, or a soldier. Who wouldn’t?
Another laudable form of the snobbish instinct is the desire to be thought to be connected with some kind of war work—that is, when it leads to some useful occupation. I hold no brief for the “war-work” which consists solely in selling flags in smart hotels and fashionable West End thoroughfares, or in getting up and taking part in entertainments from which no one in their senses, whole or wounded, military or civilian, could derive either profit or diversion, or which, on the plea of amusing our heroes home from the Front, beguiles them into expenses that many of them can ill afford.
After all, the wish to rise in the social world, or, at least, to appear to have risen, is a very natural one. Very few people whose position is not so assured as to defy criticism are entirely free from it. Through all time every class has sought to ape the customs and manner of living of the class just above it. Not a bad thing, for the whole standard has gradually been raised. This is particularly true in democratic, or, rather, plutocratic, countries, where everyone may hope to rise. Again, very few persons object to being envied, and an easy way to achieve envy is to shine in the reflected glory of smarter or wealthier friends.
That sort of snobbery is an insult to the real worker; and it is own sister to the particular brand evolved by the period in which we live—the kind of snobbishness that obtained before the war and has continued in full swing ever since. The old-fashioned snob wished to associate with his or her social superiors, or at least to appear to be in some way connected with them in some semblance of equality. The snobbish woman fawned upon ladies of title and position, and in imitation of their patronage of art and artists took to unearthing lions of her own, where-with to amaze her friends and neighbors, not to mention raising envy in their gentle breasts. Anything that could roar gently and wear some semblance to a lion’s skin was good enough. The poor Christian who had no lion to boast of was indeed to be pitied.

In the end the whole thing became a frantic race for notoriety. The snobbish woman who could not manage, upon some pretext or other, to get her name and photograph into the illustrated papers might as well be dead. However cheap the advertisement, it must be obtained at all costs. Anything has grown to be good enough, any means legitimate. As persons of established position and real lions are either scarce or not sufficiently available, Madame and Mademoiselle Snob have recourse to the merely notorious. All that is wanted is some excuse to appear in the limelight, how, when, where, and in what company does not much matter. Dignity, social or personal, counts for nothing—how should it? When Madame or Mademoiselle Snob arranges complacently to appear in some public performance with favorites, or even only notorieties, of the footlights, does she do it because the stage appears to her the most desirable career, or because of great friendship and admiration for the a fore-mentioned favorite, or simply because of the advertisement? It is true that the sacred cause of charity is generally invoked as an excuse, but charity has been known to cover a multitude of—well, let us say, indiscretions.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.