This Modern Living:
A Study of the Difficulties Which a Complex Civilisation Presents for the Women of Today
by Arnold Bennett
An example is worth ten general statements of what is. I give an example known to me, of the role of a woman in this modern living. Her husband is a busy professional man. Me is also a man not tab]e for tidiness, and has to be followed about in the house by a wife who transforms his disorder into her order. His profession necessitates various social contacts, so that the pair are frequently entertained and frequently entertain. In practice the entertainer is of course his wife. The husband comes in and enlivens the meal; but it is the wife who has organized the meal. For certain reasons the entertaining and the being entertained involve late nights. But the wife must be Up early, for she escorts her young children to school, and, no matter what time the mother has gone to bed, the school exacts punctuality. She often drives the car, andÄ what is more troublesome-she parks and garage.` the car.
Like most of us she its always preoccupied with the two grand problems of this modern living: satisfactory domestic service, and making both ends meet. She always designs her own frocks and sometimes makes them. When the pair go away for a holiday she first packs for herself and then packs for her husband, who cannot he trusted to pack for himself. She keeps the family accounts. She battles with tradesmen, and with pedagogues, and with the ill-health of the family, for when a malady supervenes she is the nurse as well.
"Well," you say, "there is nothing very extraordinary in all that."
Admitted. But I have incidentally to mention that the wife also follows a profession.
Another example: a modern couple, at whose house I attended a dinner of over thirty covers, divided into two rooms. The husband presided over room No. I. and the wife over room No. 2. It was a good dinner, served with perfect tranquillity and without delay.
The point is that they had no servants Äonly a morning help. An intimate guest here and there inobtrusively assisted, according to previous arrangement. I was so intrigued by this amazing feat of entertaining that, being of an inquisitive and informal disposition, I said to my hostess after the dinner was finished:
"I want to see your kitchen."
The kitchen, radiant as a kitchen in some Ideal Home exhibition, was utterly empty of debris. In the scullery all the dirty crockery lay neatly assorted in piles to await the advent of the help the next morning
Such is this modern living. It is very different from the ancient living which even I who am not yet quite as old as Methuselah, can well remember. All the new developments affect women more than men. For both sexes there are more, and more various, interests demanding physical and mental activity. We have more games, more holidays, more diversions, more public spectacles, more change, more entertaining, and more argument - par ticularly about the national welfare and about the relations and comparative importance an value of the coxes; indeed more everything except perhaps sleep.
But men had always their present interest Men are doing nothing today which the did not do aforetime Women are now coin all sorts of things which they used not to d and which then they were not expected to do and speaking broadly they are besides still doing all the things which they used to d' The demands on the energy of women have tremendously multiplied. The women of this age have to be, and are, political, financial, sociological, criminological, artistic, scien tific, intellectual. They must and do keep abreast of every manifestation of human ac tivity. They must and do take part with in telligence and knowledge in all discussions They read the "woman's page" of newspapers But they read the other pages too. Books plays, films, murders, politics, sports, fluc tuations in the prices of stocks and share Äthese and a hundred other matters al come within the scope of their comprehension and their criticism
When men "join the ladies" their conver sations is no longer narrowed down to suit the limitation of lesser minds; it continues in full, wide stream. Women still see things differently from men, and always will; but they do see. Formerly they did not see; for they merely did not look.
Add to all this the influence of two other indisputable facts. First, that the woman's business of running a home has become much more difficult than it was. Second, that women give much more time and brains and enthusiasm to personal appearance than they did. And you will wonder how on earth women contrive to get through with the job of living on the old time- allowance of twenty-four hours a day.
And you will not wonder at the complaint which you hear on all sides about the resulting excessive strain upon their nervous energy. This complaint is justified If women in old days did not live excitingly enough, they now live too excitingly. Equipoise be tween the supply of nervous energy and the demands made on it has not yet been at- tained. But in my opinion, and in the opinion (I think) of the majority of fair-minded men, women are coming through our transitional period with very considerable credit to them t selves.
The chief trouble with them is that, while actually achieving a great deal, they at- tempt too much. It is not that they attempt too many things; it is that they attempt too much in each thing. They are apt to niggle and worry over details which are simply not worth the attention bestowed upon them. They want too many perfections. They expect more from their own human nature and the human nature of others than human nature can give With them it is the same as with the captain of a mail-steamer who stopped his vessel and lowered a boat be- cause a ten-shilling note had dropped over- board. No captain of a steamer would stop even if the vessel's wake were strewn with ten-shilling notes Or to vary the simile, they are like the packer who stuffed trifle upon trifle into a trunk after it was full, and stamped down the lid and said 'Everything is in", careless of the fact that at the end of the journey everything in the trunk would prove to be damaged. You may call the trunk 'Time".
WOMEN somehow cannot leave out trifles. They will not admit that trifles are trifles. They are reorganizing their existences with- out having properly grasped the great truth that the basis of good organizing is a sense of proportion.
The first-rate organizer is never in a hurry; he is never late; he always keeps up his sleeve a margin for the unexprcted. This is so well known that everyone in need of help goes by instinct to the busy, organized man. It is only the ill-organized, busy person who has no spare time for others. Women on the contrary are too often in a hurry. In addition to expecting too much from human na- ture, they expect too much from clocks they have a superstisious notion that, when it is convenient to them, the hands of clocks will cease to move.
One final suggestion. Time was always precious, but never so precious as in this modern living. The aim is continually to save time. Now in certain states of mind the best way to save time is to waste it. One of the most furious and successful workers of the Twentieth Century made a habit of spending a day a week in bed. I rather doubt whether any woman would be capable of a procedure so drastic; nor would I dare to demand it of any woman. But I would respectfully suggest to every woman who feels herself "rushed" that between one task and the next she should lie down, relax her mus- cles, shut her eyes, and empty her brain for five minutes. She would lose the five minutes, but she would most assuredly gain more than five; and she would gain, too, the invaluable sensation of serenity in the modern storm.