If you water one, you water the other.
As part of my research regarding women involved in the arts neglected by history, I continue to ready essays by Alice Meynell (1847-1922). However, reading Alice, I realize that the past is a foreign country. Reading 19th cen. English almost seems like reading another language. Save for a few phrases such as “saucy jades”, “humble cumdumble”, “she tells thumpers” and “as tame as a clout”, the language itself is comprehensible. It is how it’s structured that sometimes confuses me.
In her essay “Mrs. Dingley”, Alice expresses her dismay as to how Mrs Dingley has been treated. Who is Mrs. Dingley? And what is this treatment that bothers Alice so much?
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), tutored the young Esther Johnson in reading and writing. Impressed by her wit and charm, upon the death of her guardian, Swift encouraged Esther to move to Dublin where he was from. So Esther moved to Ireland along with her friend Rebecca Dingley. Swift spend much time with the two women and would write letters to both of them when away. In his letters he refers to Esther as “Stella” and to Rebecca as “Mrs. Dingley”. This in itself bothers Alice as she feels Mrs. Dingley is not given the respect due of using her Christian name as well.
But what really bothers Alice, still defending Mrs. Dingley, is that “no one else in literary history has been so defrauded of her honors.” Why couldn’t the “sentimentalist” acknowledge that Swift had sentiments for Mrs. Dingley as much as he did for Stella? Because in love, she says quoting Shelley, ”to divide is not to take away.” Love is fluid and flows and can simultaneously be here and there. Like two plants in a pot, you can water one while simultaneously watering the other.
But types of historians (notoriously males) Alice calls “the sentimentalists” cannot comprehend this. And their lack of comprehension has subjected women to perpetual injustice. By assigning importance to events and people according to their own perceptions, historians leave the reader not with a summary of facts so much as with a presentation of their own worldview. Alice, in the spirit of Synergy & Solidarity, thus feels the need to defend another woman whose “empowerment has gotten hijacked by the patriarchal overculture.” *
Mrs Dingley is still alive.
Related: In the Shade of a Tamarisk
Meynell, Alice. The Spirit of Place, and Other Essays. John Lane the Bodley Head. London and New York. 1890. Read on archive.org HERE
*Rein, Valerie. Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Inner Barrier to Women’s Happiness and Fulfillment. Lioncrest Publishing. Austin, Texas. 2019. (Thank you Eileen!)