01 November 2013

What Good Did the Vote Ever Do Anyone?

It struck Tietjens that the young woman was a good deal more interested in the cause--of votes for women--than he had given her credit for. He wasn't much in the mood for talking to young women, but it was with considerably more than the surface of his mind that he answered:

'I don't. I approve entirely of your methods: but your aims are idiotic.'

She said:

'You don't know, I suppose, that Gertie Wilson, who's in bed at our house, is wanted by the police: not only for yesterday, but for putting explosives in a whole series of letter-boxes?'

He said:

'I didn't...but it was a perfectly proper thing to do. She hasn't burned any of my letters or I might be annoyed; but it wouldn't interfere with my approval.'

'You don't think,' she asked earnestly, 'that we...mother and I...are likely to get heavy sentences for shielding her? It would be beastly bad luck on mother. Because she's an anti...'

'I don't know about the sentence,' Tietjens said, 'but we'd better get her off your premises as soon as we can...'

She said:

'Oh, you'll help?'

He answered:

'Of course, your mother can't be incommoded. She's written the only novel that's been fit to read since the eighteenth century.'

She stopped and said earnestly:

'Look here. Don't be one of those ignoble triflers who say the vote won't do women any good. Women have a rotten time. They do, really. If you'd seen what I've seen, I'm not talking through my hat.' Her voice became quite deep: she had tears in her eyes: 'Poor women do!' she said, 'little insignificant creatures. We've got to change the divorce laws. We've got to get better conditions. You couldn't stand it if you knew what I know.'

Her emotion vexed him, for it seemed to establish a sort of fraternal intimacy that he didn't at the moment want. Women do not show emotion except before their families. He said drily:

'I daresay I shouldn't. But I don't know, so I can!' She said with deep disappointment:

'Oh, you are a beast! And I shall never beg your pardon for saying that. I don't believe you mean what you say, but merely to say it is heartless.'

This was another of the counts of Sylvia's indictment and Tietjens winced again. She explained:

'You don't know the case of the Pimlico army clothing factory workers or you wouldn't say the vote would be no use to women.'

'I know the case perfectly well,' Tietjens said: 'It came under my official notice, and I remember thinking that there never was a more signal instance of the uselessness of the vote to anyone.'

'We can't be thinking of the same case,' she said.

'We are,' he answered. 'The Pimlico army clothing factory is in the constituency of Westminster; the Under-Secretary for War is member for Westminster; his majority at the last election was six hundred. The clothing factory employed seven hundred men at 1s. 6d. an hour, all these men having votes in Westminster. The seven hundred men wrote to the Under-Secretary to say that if their screw wasn't raised to two bob they'd vote solid against him at the next election...'

Miss Wannop said: 'Well then!'

'So,' Tietjens said: 'The Under-Secretary had the seven hundred men at eighteenpence fired and took on seven hundred women at tenpence. What good did the vote do the seven hundred men? What good did a vote ever do anyone?'

Miss Wannop checked at that and Tietjens prevented her exposure of his fallacy by saying quickly:

'Now, if the seven hundred women, backed by all the other ill-used, sweated women of the country, had threatened the Under-Secretary, burned the pillar-boxes, and cut up all the golf greens round his country house, they'd have had their wages raised to half a crown next week. That's the only straight method. It's the feudal system at work.'

'Oh, but we couldn't cut up golf greens,' Miss Wannop said. 'At least the W.S.P.U. debated it the other day, and decided that anything so unsporting would make us too unpopular. I was for it personally.'

Tietjens groaned:

'It's maddening,' he said, 'to find women, as soon as they get in Council, as muddleheaded and as afraid to face straight issues as men!...'

--Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not, Book I of the tetralogy Parade's End (or "The Tietjens Novels").

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