The Sisters-In-Law by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
This complete new freedom, and personal privacy, entailed in time a result which Alexina would have been the last to anticipate even if she had disposed of her husband by death or divorce.
Owing to the thoroughness of her mental methods she was psychologically free, the legal tie mattered as little as if Mortimer had been transposed by some beneficent law to the status of a brother. The will when it is strong enough can control acts, and, when favored by bias, thought; but it has no command whatever over the sub-consciousness, and in that mysterious region are the subtle inheritances of mind and character, the springs and the direction, of all functional life; a fate with a thousand threads on her wheel, filaments from the souls and the bodies, the minds and the acts, of every ancestor straight back to that vast impersonal ocean where, unthinkable millions of years ago proemial life awaited the call of the worlds.
This aged untiring fate at the wheel battles unceasingly with the conscious mind above, for age is prone to live by law and rote. These fates, the oldest daughters of the Earth-Mother, Nature, know nothing of morals or manners, assume that men and women are as naive in their normality as the denizens of forest and field. And so they are while children.
The eternal pull between civilizing Mind (Oh, centuries yet from being civilized!) and the memoried but obstinate old lady at the wheel (who laughs when a man of powerful will and too active mind "wills" sleep; forcing him finally to choose between the horrors of insomnia, the insidious tyranny of drugs, and the doubtful and wearisome alternative of psychotherapeutics)--this pull, automatic in people of low estate, becomes bitter and often appalling where the mind is highly developed and attuned besides to the codes and customs of the best that civilization has so far accomplished.
The most vital of all these functions, for without it Mother Earth would be like an ant hill without ants, and all these ancient norms of daughters as homeless as the rest of the fates, is what man in a spirit of social compromise has labeled an instinct--the sex-instinct. It is no more an instinct than recurring sleep, lymphatic action, hunger, thirst, alimentation. It is a primal function for which Mind, wisely foreseeing the consequences of too much Nature, long since created laws both civil and social to curb. There are many impulses, Inherited, from ten thousand ancestors and constantly jogged by Earth's busy agent, human nature, that may logically be called instincts (their roots lying in the ancient social groups and their struggle to exist) but not a function that governs the law of reproduction, as appetite governs the law of renewing the vital necessities of the body.
In the Latin races the conscious war between the brain above and the sub-ego below, with the latter's constant reminders that mind is a mere excrescence, often warped or ill-directed, at the apex of the perfect body, is almost negligible. Even, when moral their lack of reticence, their practical logic, their habit of facing every fact pertaining to life, psychical and physical, as squarely as they face a simple question of hunger and thirst, above all their almost complete lack of that modern, development, called romance, which has given birth to a peculiar form of personal imagination, too often without foundation or logic--all these preclude that most active of all mental aids to the matter of fact needs of the body--glamour.
But it is far otherwise with the English-speaking races--loosely called Anglo-Saxon, They are powerfully sexed; their feelings and sentiments go deeper than is possible to those of more ebullient temperament but fatal clarity of vision; refinement of mind and habit and manner is perhaps the most precious of their achievements, and they have established a code which not only demands rectitude of act but suppression of thought and desire where there is no lawful outlet.
Nothing, possibly, has more infuriated the old lady at the methodically performing wheel than this. She takes her revenge and squirts poison into the physical structure of the brain, obscures the soul with dark and brooding clouds, and subtly reduces the blood system to such a state that any germ is welcome.
Once more Mind uses its highest faculties and outwits her, having no intention that civilization shall drop below the plane to which it has been raised through long laborious centuries of time. Life becomes more diverse, more complex. The middle classes work harder to live; they have little leisure for thoughts, for introspection. Punishment is dire....Those that have leisure and yet not enough to command the more brilliant and special forms of distraction are supplied with public libraries, gymnasiums, free medical advice regarding the laws of hygiene in places where they cannot fail to see it, new forms of cheap amusement; they are subtly encouraged to take up useful work or study; or there are increasing pressures which may force even this semi-leisure class to work for luxuries if not for bread. Tens of thousands of women are led into the passionate diversions of club life. For them, too, politics with its fierce championships and hatreds and frictions; the necessity of concentration of thought on the impersonal plane if only in the matter of getting the best of rivals within the fold; and if hair flies souls are saved.
Over the Oldest Profession Mind still scratches its head in vain. It is ever hopeful, and hamstrings a sovereign patron, like alcohol, now and again; but the lady at the wheel smiles, for here, in addition to the unquenchable maternal instinct, the ignorance of the poor, and the glamour that the men of certain races have learned to give to love, she has her clearest field.
Aside from the women of commerce there are, of course, many secret rebels--now and then only does one make her exit from society through the courts. The vast majority of Anglo-Saxons in whatever clime or capital, suppress their "unrefined" appetites or vagrant fancies--which are vibrations from the wheel; sometimes hard jerks when the presiding genius is more than commonly out of patience--and rise to serene heights or grow morbid and irritable according to the strength or the meagerness of their equipment; or the nature of their resources. A cultivated resource is a persistent fiction that life is as it ought to be, not as it is, and it is no plan of theirs to read books or witness plays that might carve and populate a new groove in their brains.
Let no one imagine that this class will become more "enlightened," "broader," as time goes on. Not for a century at least. Mind has made too great a success of this product; she has practically achieved a complete triumph over the lady at the wheel. It is this class that has made civilization progress, the solid thing it is to date. The excrescences, the deserters from the normal, scintillating or subtle, may be tolerated for the spice they give to life but they will never rule,
Possibly they do not mind. Life Is made up of compromises and compensations.
American women in youth, of the visibly reputable world, may be freely divided into two classes, the oversexed and those that seem cold to themselves and others until they are well into the period of their second youth--between twenty-four and thirty; and a not inconsiderable number are so and permanently. In the first case they either precipitate themselves into matrimony or have one or more intrigues until they find the man they wish to marry, when they settle down and make excellent wives. The others, if they are imaginative and high-minded, fall in love romantically and marry far too soon; or they capitalize their youth or beauty and marry to the best advantage; or they elect to live a life of serene spinsterhood like Alexina's Aunt Clara, and bring up the family children. A not inconsiderable number take their fling late.
When the American girl of the super-refined class, and whose baleful norm in the crypt was asleep at the wheel in her first blind youth, finds herself disappointed in the most intimate partnership that exists, the complaisance, voluntary at the beginning, drifts into habit, more and more grimly endured. Some have the moral courage to put an end to it as they would to any false situation, but if individuals were not rare in this world we should have chaos, not a civilization of sorts which is a pleasant place to plant the feet, however high into the clouds the head may poke its investigating nose.
It is natural that with such women during the period of endurance all love should seem distasteful, and the mind dwell upon any other subject. But remove the cause of sex-inertia and there is likely to be the stir and awakening of spring after a long monotonous winter of hard frost and blanketing snow. Or a homelier simile: remove the cause of chronic indigestion and the appetite becomes fresh and normal.