Monday, November 2, 2015

Etiquette and a British View of Dollar Princesses

"Rita" was actually British
authoress, Mrs. Desmond Humphreys – Dollar Princesses, unlike their British peers, had loads of 
confidence, were not as restrained by rules of etiquette, and were considered very outspoken. They made an indelible impact on British society that continues to this day. Princess Diana's great-grandmother, Frances Work (later the Honorable Mrs. Frances Burke-Roche), was the daughter of another Wall Street millionaire, and was a Dollar Princess whose great, great grandson is now heir to the British throne.

It may seem as if I was prejudiced, but indeed I am not. If the real truth were spoken of most of these international alliances they would be proved not only unsatisfactory but immoral. Wholly and entirely immoral as concerned with the true obligations and the true meaning of marriage. But the truth never is spoken of such matters. It hurts too much; or humiliates to cruelly.

I had been told so much of the perfections of the American husband that I naturally studied him as a valuable addition to my snapshots of American character. Except that he made money for his wife to spend, and gave her too little of his time for quarreling, and let her do exactly as she pleased, there was nothing to discover. His public attitude was what his National pride in himself demanded. His private life and his views of marital obligations were just those of the ordinary selfish polygamist creature who has existed since the foundations of the world.   
"Luncheons and " teas" in New York, at the Plaza, the Waldorf, Delmonico's, or in private houses or clubs, did not interest me very much except as a surprise at the absence of men. No American — I ask pardon — New York man attends any "function" until the evening. He is too busy making money, commercially or professionally; but the women take so much pains to entertain each other and their guests that one scarcely notices the omission. Also, they have the good sense to dress as carefully and expensively for their own sex as the women of Europe deem necessary for the other. Still, I must confess to some natural surprise at the absence of men. Not that I consider the American man an ornamental addition to room or restaurant."

The American husband is neither better nor worse than any other husband, but it is considered unwise for his wife to say so. She praises him in notes of exclamation, and effects of pity for her English sister who has "freedom," and less money to spend on her own pretty, selfish, vain person.

The story was going through the length and breadth of the States as to a bogus title purchased by the usual American dollars for the new usual American daughter. I felt so sorry for the sordid story, the shame and misery that it entailed that I could not even say, "Well, you deserve what you get!" But I did ask, "Will this be a lesson to the American father, and the American daughter?" No one believed it would.

Which brings me back to my starting point. If marriage is not looked upon as a sacred obligation, it must of necessity sink to sordid barter. And when an "alliance" between two absolutely indifferent, yet commercially minded people is published, advertised, and gloried in, there is no one on earth to be more commiserated than those two people. And in their heart of hearts they know it, or will know it, ere the echo of their wedding bells has ceased to haunt their ears.

I was perpetually worried by interviewers as to my idea on divorce. American divorce, of course. I refused to give any opinion, so it was given for me in that airy independent fashion of your American interviewer. However, I read up on "statistics" on the subject, and made all sorts of judicious inquiries, and I learned that reports as to the number of divorces being a third of the number of marriages, were much exaggerated.

True that marriage is not looked upon as a binding contract; it has a pleasing illusion of instability, but that does not necessitate divorce. It only simplifies marriage. The "lamb" is led to the "slaughter" with a chastened hope of green meadows and sweet pasturage beyond the slaughter house. She grows less fearful of the ordeal, and looks forward to the escape. Just a leap into blindness, darkness, momentary confusion and then – Freedom.

To the American girl, Freedom is the breath of life. She expects it as her right and she only accepts a marriage as one of its prerogatives. Thus it is that no self-respecting American husband denies his wife her coterie of boys; her faithful admirers; The donors of candy and flowers, and corsage bouquets; the escort to theater and restaurant; the glad wild hooliganism of Coney or Manhattan Beach, or Long Island, or the romantic shelter of the Adirondacks. With all this liberty there is absolutely no need for any radical "change of partners," unless indeed the lawful husband desires it or obliges it by some untoward scandal.

With a little discretion an American marriage might be the happiest and most tolerant of American contracts. Far less exacting than the professional or business one. It is certainly less important. –"Rita" for the New York Times, 1910



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