Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/84

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[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

nor in pic-nics, neither in theatres nor in promenades, do you discover a young couple foolishly and unmistakeably in love with each other, perhaps arm-in-arm, certainly very close together, often silly, always happy, living, in fine, perspectively the desired state of matrimony.

Are there, then, no lovers in Vienna? 1 dare not give so a bold negative, although the state of the case might well warrant me in doing so. The fact is, marriages are made by parental contract, and however much the young couple may adore each other, they are not allowed to exhibit their feelings. They are never alone, indeed, till after the wedding,—a nuisance to the brothers and sisters, as may be supposed. This supervision is called playing elephant, and a lady once narrated to me the miseries attendant on such a custom.

“I have seen all my sisters and friends married,” she said dolefully,—“nearly twenty of them; and to each I have played elephant in turn. It was very bad for me when they used to kiss: where could I look—what could I do, so as not to appear more foolish than themselves?”

No young lady can walk in the streets alone; another social mistake, resulting in the same effects that we observe in Parisian life. A girl of eighteen, married, has twice the privileges of a single woman of thirty-five; consequently, in the upper circles, where the mariage de convenance system is most stringently carried out, we find husbands and wives living utterly apart, each having lovers, pleasures, and pursuits of their own. I believe the married life of the middle classes to be happy.

At the present time, when so much is said regarding the position of our single women, it will not be uninteresting to consider that of their sisters in Austria. I think on the whole, the English spinsters have the best of it. However antagonistic some of us may be to the idea of sister Florence or cousin Anna-Maria becoming M.R.C.S., D.C.L. or M.D., it would give us great pleasure to see the same young lady sending a second Zenobia to an Industrial Exhibition, or painting a “Horse-fair,” or writing a first-rate novel, or doing in fact anything good and useful that is not extravagant. Even politics and the sciences are fields for our active-minded ladies, not to mention many others less alluring and more beneficial. In Vienna all this is unknown. Ladies still maintain there the old housewifely, unambitious position. Of course one meets with occasional exceptions,—fiction-writers and poetesses, for instance, who have stepped out of the ranks; but the majority of women confine themselves exclusively to home and home affairs, and only look at the outer world through their husband’s or father’s eyes. As to discussing politics, a fair Viennese would as soon think of studying anatomy.

“I hear,” said an old lady to me once, “that English women spend most of their time in reading politics, and writing letters and novels. What become of their husband’s and children’s clothes? In the morning, we attend to the cooking and the linen, after dinner we go out with the father in the country, in the evening somebody drops in or we go to the theatre—where is the time for other matters?”

Every young lady learns cooking and needlework as an art, and many of really good family make their own dresses, their father’s shirts, and the patisserie of the family dinners. Reading is resorted to merely as an occasional amusement, and letter-writing hardly comes in the catalogue of daily pursuits at all.

But now let us consider these statements as bearing upon the condition of the unmarried women. They have no husbands to work for, if advanced in years probably no fathers; they cannot go district-visiting; they cannot, or rather have not the capacity for newspaper-reading, letter-writing, endless morning-calling; and they are debarred from professional and artistic occupations. What then remains?

“There is nothing for women to do but marry,” said a very intelligent lady to me (I repeat her statement word for word); “and seeing as they do how poor is the prospect of single women, they are ready to marry at the first opportunity—with little regard to the feelings concerned. An unmarried woman holds no position in society, and possesses no privileges. I am only thirty-two, and yet shall soon give up society altogether, for I find my place in it so unsatisfactory and disagreeable. I like dancing, music, and other pleasures, but hardly dare indulge in the enjoyment of them, or I am looked on as an interloper by younger girls,—and I may expect no privileges which belong to more advanced age; I must not go to a theatre or to a concert without chaperonage; I am not at liberty to choose pursuits and acquaintances for myself; in fact, I have no more liberty than a child of fifteen, whilst I am debarred from her pleasures. Thus it is in Austria. Unless a girl accepts the first offer made to her parents, she must bear the consequences. It ought not to be so, for it does away with the sacredness of matrimony altogether. At first a husband gives his wife a carriage for herself, an opera box, and presents and enjoyments unnumbered—a state of things very delightful, but not lasting. By-and-bye, if the two are ill-assorted, they separate in interests, and go each their own way. Of course it is bad for children to see such a picture