A Castaway

Original Text: 
Augusta Webster, Portraits, 2nd edn. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1870): 35-62.
1POOR little diary, with its simple thoughts,
2its good resolves, its "Studied French an hour,"
3"Read Modern History," "Trimmed up my grey hat,"
5"Went to the daily service," "Took Bess soup,"
6"Went out to tea." Poor simple diary!
7and did I write it? Was I this good girl,
8this budding colourless young rose of home?
9did I so live content in such a life,
10seeing no larger scope, nor asking it,
11than this small constant round -- old clothes to mend,
12new clothes to make, then go and say my prayers,
13or carry soup, or take a little walk
15Then for ambition, (was there ever life
16that could forego that?) to improve my mind
17and know French better and sing harder songs;
18for gaiety, to go, in my best white
19well washed and starched and freshened with new bows,
20and take tea out to meet the clergyman.
21No wishes and no cares, almost no hopes,
22only the young girl's hazed and golden dreams
23that veil the Future from her.
24                                                   So long since:
25and now it seems a jest to talk of me
26as if I could be one with her, of me
27who am ...... me.
28                                  And what is that? My looking-glass
29answers it passably; a woman sure,
30no fiend, no slimy thing out of the pools,
31a woman with a ripe and smiling lip
32that has no venom in its touch I think,
33with a white brow on which there is no brand;
34a woman none dare call not beautiful,
35not womanly in every woman's grace.
36Aye let me feed upon my beauty thus,
37be glad in it like painters when they see
38at last the face they dreamed but could not find
39look from their canvass on them, triumph in it,
40the dearest thing I have. Why, 'tis my all,
41let me make much of it: is it not this,
42this beauty, my own curse at once and tool
43to snare men's souls -- (I know what the good say
44of beauty in such creatures) -- is it not this
45that makes me feel myself a woman still,
47                                                     Here's a jest!
48what word will fit the sense but modesty?
49A wanton I but modest!
50                                           Modest, true;
51I'm not drunk in the streets, ply not for hire
52at infamous corners with my likenesses
53of the humbler kind; yes, modesty's my word --
54'twould shape my mouth well too, I think I'll try:
55"Sir, Mr What-you-will, Lord Who-knows-what,
56my present lover or my next to come,
57value me at my worth, fill your purse full,
58for I am modest; yes, and honour me
59as though your schoolgirl sister or your wife
60could let her skirts brush mine or talk of me;
61for I am modest."
62                                  Well, I flout myself:
63but yet, but yet --
64                                 Fie, poor fantastic fool,
65why do I play the hypocrite alone,
66who am no hypocrite with others by?
67where should be my "But yet"? I am that thing
68called half a dozen dainty names, and none
69dainty enough to serve the turn and hide
70the one coarse English worst that lurks beneath:
71just that, no worse, no better.
72                                                    And, for me,
73I say let no one be above her trade;
75who sells herself as I, although she crouch
76in fetid garrets and I have a home
78although she hide her skeleton in rags
79and I set fashions and wear cobweb lace:
80the difference lies but in my choicer ware,
81that I sell beauty and she ugliness;
82our traffic's one -- I'm no sweet slaver-tongue
84a sort of fractious angel misconceived --
85our traffic's one: I own it. And what then?
86I know of worse that are called honourable.
87Our lawyers, who, with noble eloquence
88and virtuous outbursts, lie to hang a man,
89or lie to save him, which way goes the fee:
90our preachers, gloating on your future hell
91for not believing what they doubt themselves:
92our doctors, who sort poisons out by chance,
93and wonder how they'll answer, and grow rich:
94our journalists, whose business is to fib
95and juggle truths and falsehoods to and fro:
96our tradesmen, who must keep unspotted names
97and cheat the least like stealing that they can:
98our -- all of them, the virtuous worthy men
99who feed on the world's follies, vices, wants,
100and do their businesses of lies and shams
101honestly, reputably, while the world
102claps hands and cries "good luck," which of their trades,
103their honourable trades, barefaced like mine,
104all secrets brazened out, would shew more white?
105And whom do I hurt more than they? as much?
106The wives? Poor fools, what do I take from them
107worth crying for or keeping? If they knew
108what their fine husbands look like seen by eyes
109that may perceive there are more men than one!
110But, if they can, let them just take the pains
111to keep them: 'tis not such a mighty task
112to pin an idiot to your apron-string;
113and wives have an advantage over us,
114(the good and blind ones have), the smile or pout
115leaves them no secret nausea at odd times.
116Oh they could keep their husbands if they cared,
117but 'tis an easier life to let them go,
118and whimper at it for morality.
119Oh! those shrill carping virtues, safely housed
120from reach of even a smile that should put red
121on a decorous cheek, who rail at us
122with such a spiteful scorn and rancourousness,
123(which maybe is half envy at the heart),
124and boast themselves so measurelessly good
125and us so measurelessly unlike them,
126what is their wondrous merit that they stay
127in comfortable homes whence not a soul
128has ever thought of tempting them, and wear
129no kisses but a husband's upon lips
130there is no other man desires to kiss --
131refrain in fact from sin impossible?
132How dare they hate us so? what have they done,
133what borne, to prove them other than we are?
134What right have they to scorn us -- glass-case saints,
136more than the well-fed helpless barn-door fowl
137to scorn the larcenous wild-birds?
138                                                           Pshaw, let be!
139Scorn or no scorn, what matter for their scorn?
140I have outfaced my own -- that's harder work.
141Aye let their virtuous malice dribble on --
142mock snowstorms on the stage -- I'm proof long since:
143I have looked coolly on my what and why,
144and I accept myself.
145                                      Oh I'll endorse
146the shamefullest revilings mouthed at me,
147cry "True! Oh perfect picture! Yes, that's I!"
148and add a telling blackness here and there,
149and then dare swear you, every nine of ten,
150my judges and accusers, I'd not change
151my conscience against yours, you who tread out
152your devil's pilgrimage along the roads
153that take in church and chapel, and arrange
154a roundabout and decent way to hell.
155Well, mine's a short way and a merry one:
156so says my pious hash of ohs and ahs,
157choice texts and choicer threats, appropriate names,
159hurled at me through the post. We had rare fun
160over that tract digested with champagne.
161Where is it? where's my rich repertory
162of insults biblical? 'I prey on souls' --
163only my men have oftenest none I think:
164'I snare the simple ones' -- but in these days
165there seem to be none simple and none snared,
166and most men have their favourite sinnings planned
167to do them civilly and sensibly:
169'I paint my cheeks' -- I always wear them pale:
170'I -- '
171              Pshaw! the trash is savourless to-day:
172one cannot laugh alone. There, let it burn.
173What, does the windy dullard think one needs
175his threats out-threatening God's, to teach the news
176that those who need not sin have safer souls?
177We know it, but we've bodies to save too;
178and so we earn our living.
179                                               Well lit, tract!
180at least you've made me a good leaping blaze.
181Up, up, how the flame shoots! and now 'tis dead.
182Oh proper finish, preaching to the last --
183no such bad omen either; sudden end,
184and no sad withering horrible old age.
185How one would clutch at youth to hold it tight!
186and then to know it gone, to see it gone,
187be taught its absence by harsh, careless looks,
188to live forgotten, solitary, old --
189the cruellest word that ever woman learns.
190Old -- that's to be nothing, or to be at best
191a blurred memorial that in better days
192there was a woman once with such a name.
193No, no, I could not bear it: death itself
194shews kinder promise ...... even death itself,
195since it must come one day --
196                                                   Oh this grey gloom!
197This rain, rain, rain, what wretched thoughts it brings!
198Death: I'll not think of it.
199                                            Will no one come?
200'Tis dreary work alone.
201                                          Why did I read
202that silly diary? Now, sing song, ding dong,
203come the old vexing echoes back again,
204church bells and nursery good-books, back again
205upon my shrinking ears that had forgotten --
206I hate the useless memories: 'tis fools' work
207singing the hacknied dirge of 'better days:'
208best take Now kindly, give the past good-bye,
209whether it were a better or a worse.
210Yes, yes, I listened to the echoes once,
211the echoes and the thoughts from the old days.
212The worse for me: I lost my richest friend,
213and that was all the difference. For the world
214would not have that flight known. How they'd roar:
215"What! Eulalie, when she refused us all,
217tears, ashes, and her Bible, and then off
219A wild whim that, to fancy I could change
220my new self for my old, because I wished!
221since then, when in my languid days there comes
222that craving, like homesickness, to go back
223to the good days, the dear old stupid days,
224to the quiet and the innocence, I know
225'tis a sick fancy and try palliatives.
226What is it? You go back to the old home,
227and 'tis not your home, has no place for you,
228and, if it had, you could not fit you in it.
229And could I fit me to my former self?
230If I had had the wit, like some of us,
232could I not find me shelter in the peace
233of some far nook where none of them would come,
234nor whisper travel from this scurrilous world,
235that gloats and moralizes through its leers,
236to blast me with my fashionable shame?
237There I might -- oh my castle in the clouds!
238and where's its rent? -- but there, were there a there,
239I might again live the grave blameless life
240among such simple pleasures, simple cares:
241but could they be my pleasures, be my cares?
242The blameless life, but never the content --
243never. How could I henceforth be content
244in any life but one that sets the brain
245in a hot merry fever with its stir?
246what would there be in quiet rustic days,
247each like the other, full of time to think,
248to keep one bold enough to live at all?
249Quiet is hell, I say -- as if a woman
250could bear to sit alone, quiet all day,
251and loathe herself, and sicken on her thoughts.
252They tried it at the Refuge, and I failed:
253I could not bear it. Dreary hideous room,
254coarse pittance, prison rules, one might bear these
255and keep one's purpose; but so much alone,
256and then made faint and weak and fanciful
257by change from pampering to half-famishing --
258good God, what thoughts come! Only one week more
259and 'twould have ended: but in one day more
260I must have killed myself. And I loathe death,
261the dreadful foul corruption, with who knows
262what future after it.
263                                    Well, I came back,
264Back to my slough. Who says I had my choice?
265Could I stay there to die of some mad death?
266and if I rambled out into the world,
267sinless but penniless, what else were that
268but slower death, slow pining shivering death
269by misery and hunger? Choice! what choice
270of living well or ill? could I have that?
271and who would give it me? I think indeed
272some kind hand, a woman's -- I hate men --
273had stretched itself to help me to firm ground,
274taken a chance and risked my falling back,
275could have gone my way not falling back:
276but, let her be all brave, all charitable,
277how could she do it? Such a trifling boon,
278little work to live by, 'tis not much,
279and I might have found will enough to last:
280but where's the work? More sempstresses than shirts;
282drop starved at last: dressmakers, milliners,
283too many too they say; and then their trades
284need skill, apprenticeship. And who so bold
285as hire me for their humblest drudgery?
287for governess, although they'd get me cheap.
288And after all it would be something hard,
289with the marts for decent women overfull,
290if I could elbow in and snatch a chance
291and oust some good girl so, who then perforce
292must come and snatch her chance among our crowd.
293Why, if the worthy men who think all's done
294if we'll but come where we can hear them preach,
295could bring us all, or any half of us,
296into their fold, teach all us wandering sheep,
297or only half of us, to stand in rows
299what would they do with us? what could they do?
300Just think! with were't but half of us on hand
301to find work for ... or husbands. Would they try
303Well, well; I know the wise ones talk and talk:
304"Here's cause, here's cure:" "No, here it is and here:"
305and find society to blame, or law,
306the Church, the men, the women, too few schools,
307too many schools, too much, too little taught:
308somewhere or somehow someone is to blame:
309but I say all the fault's with God himself
310who puts too many women in the world.
311We ought to die off reasonably and leave
312as many as the men want, none to waste.
313Here's cause; the woman's superfluity:
314and for the cure, why, if it were the law,
315say, every year, in due percentages,
316balancing them with men as the times need,
317to kill off female infants, 'twould make room;
318and some of us would not have lost too much,
319losing life ere we know what it can mean.
320The other day I saw a woman weep
321beside her dead child's bed: the little thing
322lay smiling, and the mother wailed half mad,
323shrieking to God to give it back again.
324I could have laughed aloud: the little girl
325living had but her mother's life to live;
326there she lay smiling, and her mother wept
327to know her gone!
328                                  My mother would have wept.
329Oh mother, mother, did you ever dream,
330you good grave simple mother, you pure soul
331no evil could come nigh, did you once dream
332in all your dying cares for your lone girl
333left to fight out her fortune all alone
334that there would be this danger? -- for your girl,
335taught by you, lapped in a sweet ignorance,
336scarcely more wise of what things sin could be
337than some young child a summer six months old
338where in the north the summer makes a day,
339of what is darkness ... darkness that will come
340to-morrow suddenly. Thank God at least
341for this much of my life, that when you died,
342that when you kissed me dying, not a thought
343of this made sorrow for you, that I too
344was pure of even fear.
345                                         Oh yes, I thought,
346still new in my insipid treadmill life,
347(my father so late dead), and hopeful still
348here might be something pleasant somewhere in it,
350any pumpkin to a chariot, I thought then
351that I might plod, and plod, and drum the sounds
352of useless facts into unwilling ears,
353tease children with dull questions half the day,
354then con dull answers in my room at night
355ready for next day's questions, mend quill pens
356and cut my fingers, add up sums done wrong
357and never get them right; teach, teach, and teach --
358what I half knew, or not at all -- teach, teach
359for years, a lifetime -- I!
360                                            And yet, who knows?
361it might have been, for I was patient once,
362and willing, and meant well; it might have been
363had I but still clung on in my first place --
364a safe dull place, where mostly there were smiles
365but never merry-makings; where all days
366jogged on sedately busy, with no haste;
367where all seemed measured out, but margins broad:
368a dull home but a peaceful, where I felt
369my pupils would be dear young sisters soon,
370and felt their mother take me to her heart,
371motherly to all lonely harmless things.
372But I must have a conscience, must blurt out
373my great discovery of my ignorance!
374And who required it of me? And who gained?
375What did it matter for a more or less
376the girls learnt in their schoolbooks, to forget
378they loved me and I them: but I went off
379to housemaid's pay, six crossgrained brats to teach,
380wrangles and jangles, doubts, disgrace ... then this;
381and they had a perfection found for them,
382who has all ladies' learning in her head
383abridged and scheduled, speaks five languages,
385draws, paints, plays, sings, embroiders, teaches all
386on a patent method never known to fail:
387and now they're finished and, I hear, poor things,
388are the worst dancers and worst dressers out.
389And where's their profit of those prison years
390all gone to make them wise in lesson books?
391who wants his wife to know weeds' Latin names?
392who ever chose a girl for saying dates?
393or asked if she had learned to trace a map?
394Well, well, the silly rules this silly world
395makes about women! This is one of them.
396Why must there be pretence of teaching them
397what no one ever cares that they should know,
398what, grown out of the schoolroom, they cast off
400for any use of real grown-up life,
401for any use to her who seeks or waits
402the husband and the home, for any use,
403for any shallowest pretence of use,
404to her who has them? Do I not know this,
405I like my betters, that a woman's life,
406her natural life, her good life, her one life,
407is in her husband, God on earth to her,
408and what she knows and what she can and is
409is only good as it brings good to him?
410Oh God, do I not know it? I the thing
411of shame and rottenness, the animal
412that feed men's lusts and prey on them, I, I,
413who should not dare to take the name of wife
414on my polluted lips, who in the word
415hear but my own reviling, I know that.
416I could have lived by that rule, how content:
417my pleasure to make him some pleasure, pride
418to be as he would have me, duty, care,
419to fit all to his taste, rule my small sphere
420to his intention; then to lean on him,
421be guided, tutored, loved -- no not that word,
422that loved which between men and women means
423all selfishness, all putrid talk, all lust,
424all vanity, all idiocy -- not loved
425but cared for. I've been loved myself, I think,
426some once or twice since my poor mother died,
427but cared for, never: -- that a word for homes,
428kind homes, good homes, where simple children come
429and ask their mother is this right or wrong,
430because they know she's perfect, cannot err;
431their father told them so, and he knows all,
432being so wise and good and wonderful,
433even enough to scold even her at times
434and tell her everything she does not know.
435Ah the sweet nursery logic!
436                                                  Fool! thrice fool!
437do I hanker after that too? Fancy me
438infallible nursery saint, live code of law!
439me preaching! teaching innocence to be good!
440a mother!
441                     Yet the baby thing that woke
442and wailed an hour or two, and then was dead,
443was mine, and had he lived ...... why then my name
444would have been mother. But 'twas well he died:
445I could have been no mother, I, lost then
446beyond his saving. Had he come before
447and lived, come to me in the doubtful days
448when shame and boldness had not grown one sense,
449for his sake, with the courage come of him,
450I might have struggled back.
451                                                   But how? But how?
452His father would not then have let me go:
453his time had not yet come to make an end
454of my 'for ever' with a hireling's fee
455and civil light dismissal. None but him
456to claim a bit of bread of if I went,
457child or no child: would he have given it me?
458He! no; he had not done with me. No help,
459no help, no help. Some ways can be trodden back,
460but never our way, we who one wild day
461have given goodbye to what in our deep hearts
462the lowest woman still holds best in life,
463good name -- good name though given by the world
464that mouths and garbles with its decent prate,
465and wraps it in respectable grave shams,
466and patches conscience partly by the rule
467of what one's neighbour thinks but something more
468by what his eyes are sharp enough to see.
470if it could not scorn me: but yet, but yet --
471oh God, if I could look it in the face!
472Oh I am wild, am ill, I think, to night:
473will no one come and laugh with me? No feast,
474no merriment to-night. So long alone!
475Will no one come?
476                                  At least there's a new dress
477to try, and grumble at -- they never fit
478to one's ideal. Yes, a new rich dress,
479with lace like this too, that's a soothing balm
480for any fretting woman, cannot fail,
481I've heard men say it ... and they know so well
482what's in all women's hearts, especially
483women like me.
484                               No help! no help! no help!
485How could it be? It was too late long since --
486even at the first too late. Whose blame is that?
487there are some kindly people in the world,
488but what can they do? If one hurls oneself
489into a quicksand, what can be the end,
490but that one sinks and sinks? Cry out for help?
491Ah yes, and, if it came, who is so strong
492to strain from the firm ground and lift one out?
493And how, so firmly clutching the stretched hand,
494as death's pursuing terror bids, even so,
495how can one reach firm land, having to foot
496the treacherous crumbling soil that slides and gives
497and sucks one in again? Impossible path!
498No, why waste struggles, I or any one?
499what is must be. What then? I, where I am,
500sinking and sinking; let the wise pass by
501and keep their wisdom for an apter use,
502let me sink merrily as I best may.
503Only, I think, my brother -- I forgot
504he stopped his brotherhood some years ago --
505but if he had been just so much less good
506as to remember mercy. Did he think
507how once I was his sister, prizing him
508as sisters do, content to learn for him
509the lesson girls with brothers all must learn,
510to do without?
511                             I have heard girls lament
512that doing so without all things one would,
513but I saw never aught to murmur at,
514for men must be made ready for their work,
515and women all have more or less their chance
516of husbands to work for them, keep them safe
517like summer roses in soft greenhouse air
518that never guess 'tis winter out of doors:
519no, I saw never aught to murmur at,
520content with stinted fare and shabby clothes
521and cloistered silent life to save expense,
522teaching myself out of my borrowed books,
523while he for some one pastime, (needful true
524to keep him of his rank, 'twas not his fault),
525spent in a month what could have given me
526my teachers for a year.
527                                          'Twas no one's fault:
528for could he be launched forth on the rude sea
529of this contentious world and left to find
530oars and the boatman's skill by some good chance?
531'Twas no one's fault: yet still he might have thought
532of our so different youths, and owned at least
533'tis pitiful when a mere nerveless girl,
534untutored, must put forth upon that sea,
535not in the woman's true place, the wife's place,
536to trust a husband and be borne along,
537but impotent blind pilot to herself.
538Merciless, merciless -- like the prudent world
540with a hoped second virtue, will not have
541the woman fallen once lift up herself ......
542lest she should fall again. Oh how his taunts,
543his loathing fierce reproaches, scarred and seared,
544like branding iron hissing in a wound!
545And it was true -- that killed me: and I felt
546a hideous hopeless shame kill out my heart,
547and knew myself for ever that he said,
548that which I was -- Oh it was true, true, true.
549No, not true then. I was not all that then.
550Oh, I have drifted on before mad winds
551and made ignoble shipwreck, not to-day
552could any breeze of heaven prosper me
553into the track again, nor any hand
554snatch me out of the whirlpool I have reached;
555but then?
556                    Nay he judged very well: he knew
557repentance was too dear a luxury
558for a beggar's buying, knew it earns no bread --
559and knew me a too base and nerveless thing
560to bear my first fault's sequel and just die.
561And how could he have helped me? Held my hand,
562owned me for his, fronted the angry world
563clothed with my ignominy? Or maybe
564taken me to his home to damn him worse?
565What did I look for? for what less would serve
566that he could do, a man without a purse?
567He meant me well, he sent me that five pounds,
568much to him then; and, if he bade me work
569and never vex him more with news of me,
570we both knew him too poor for pensioners.
571I see he did his best; I could wish now
572sending it back I had professed some thanks.
573But there! I was too wretched to be meek:
574it seemed to me as if he, every one,
575the whole great world, were guilty of my guilt,
576abettors and avengers: in my heart
577I gibed them back their gibings; I was wild.
578I see clear now and know one has one's life
579in hand at first to spend or spare or give
580like any other coin; spend it or give
581or drop it in the mire, can the world see
582you get your value for it, or bar back
583the hurrying of its marts to grope it up
584and give it back to you for better use?
585And if you spend or give that is your choice;
586and if you let it slip that's your choice too,
587you should have held it firmer. Yours the blame,
588and not another's, not the indifferent world's
589which goes on steadily, statistically,
590and count by censuses not separate souls --
591and if it somehow needs to its worst use
592so many lives of women, useless else,
593it buys us of ourselves, we could hold back,
594free all of us to starve, and some of us,
595(those who have done no ill and are in luck),
596to slave their lives out and have food and clothes
597until they grow unserviceably old.
598Oh I blame no one -- scarcely even myself.
599It was to be: the very good in me
600has always turned to hurt; all I thought right
601at the hot moment, judged of afterwards,
602shows reckless.
603                                  Why, look at it, had I taken
604the pay my dead child's father offered me
605for having been its mother, I could then
606have kept life in me, (many have to do it,
607that swarm in the back alleys, on no more,
608cold sometimes, mostly hungry, but they live);
609I could have gained a respite trying it,
610and maybe found at last some humble work
611to eke the pittance out. Not I, forsooth,
612I must have spirit, must have womanly pride,
613must dash back his contemptuous wages, I,
614who had not scorned to earn them, dash them back
615the fiercer that he dared to count our boy
616in my appraising: and yet now I think
617I might have taken it for my dead boy's sake;
618it would have been his gift.
619                                                    But I went forth
620with my fine scorn, and whither did it lead?
621Money's the root of evil do they say?
622money is virtue, strength: money to me
623would then have been repentance: could I live
624upon my idiot's pride?
625                                              Well, it fell soon.
626I had prayed Edward might believe me dead,
627and yet I begged of him -- That's like me too,
628beg of him and then send him back his alms!
629What if he gave as to a whining wretch
630that holds her hand and lies? I am less to him
631than such a one; her rags do him no wrong,
632but I, I, wrong him merely that I live,
633being his sister. Could I not at least
634have still let him forget me? But 'tis past:
635and naturally he may hope I am long dead.
636Good God! to think that we were what we were
637one to the other ... and now!
638                                                     He has done well;
639married a sort of heiress, I have heard,
640a dapper little madam, dimple cheeked
641and dimple brained, who makes him a good wife --
642No doubt she'd never own but just to him,
643and in a whisper, she can even suspect
644that we exist, we other women things:
645what would she say if she could learn one day
646she has a sister-in-law! So he and I
647must stand apart till doomsday.
648                                                             But the jest,
649to think how she would look! -- Her fright, poor thing!
650The notion! -- I could laugh outright ...... or else,
651for I feel near it, roll on the ground and sob.
652Well, after all, there's not much difference
653between the two sometimes.
654                                                        Was that the bell?
655Some one at last, thank goodness. There's a voice,
656and that's a pleasure. Whose though? Ah I know.
657Why did she come alone, the cackling goose?
658why not have brought her sister? -- she tells more
659and titters less. No matter; half a loaf
660is better than no bread.
661                                               Oh, is it you?
662Most welcome, dear: one gets so moped alone.


4] Tatted: made knotted lacery. Back to Line
14] ragged-robins: robin-flowers, spiderworts. Back to Line
46] The 1893 edition adds a line here:
Some little pride, some little -- Stop!
Some little pride, some little -- Here's a jest!
Back to Line
74] drab: poor, common prostitute. Back to Line
77] marqueterie: inlaid mosaic, as in woodwork.
pastilles: candies, or aromatic paste used for incense. Back to Line
83] gloze: interpret deceitfully. Back to Line
135] Dianas: Diana was the Roman goddess of virginity. Back to Line
158] Rahabs: Joshua saved the harlot Rahab and her family from the destruction of Jericho because she hid messengers that he had sent into the city (Joshua 6: 17).
Jezebels: Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, a worshipper of the idol gods Baal and Asherah, and an enemy of Yahweh's prophets (see 1 Judges 16 and 18).
Tartuffe: a hypocrite pretending to virtue from Molière's play of the same name. Back to Line
168] Cf. 1 Timothy 2.9-10: "... women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion." Back to Line
174] Solomon's: son of David and Bathsheba, and a great king of Israel, noted for his wisdom and love of women (cf. the Biblical "Song of Solomon"). Back to Line
216] doing Magdalene: playing the part of a converted prostitute, an allusion to Mary Magdalene in the New Testament, one of Jesus' disciplines, out of whom he cast seven devils (Luke 8.2), and a woman associated with the sinner unnamed in Luke 7.37. The so-called Magdalen houses of Victorian England served as places to which prostitutes could come to redeem their ways. Back to Line
218] Refuge: a house of refuge, a shelter. Back to Line
231] three per cents: British government securities that since 1751 yielded three percent interest annually. Back to Line
281] white work: white-thread embroidery on a white cloth base. Back to Line
286] scullery: dishwashing room or area in the kitchen. Back to Line
298] good lack: a proper exclamation. Back to Line
302] Christine Sutphin refers here to Sir Sidney Herbert's plan, in 1849, to emigrate half a million women to the colonies as wives (202, n. 2). Back to Line
349] An allusion to the 18th-century French tale of Cinderella by Charles Perrault about a mistreated servant girl whose fairy godmother clothed her in a splendid dress and transformed a pumpkin into a coach so as to take her to a ball where she would meet a prince who would later search for and identify her by a lost slipper and so wed her. Back to Line
377] first season: the first May, June, and July that a young woman "comes out" socially so as to find a husband. Back to Line
384] conchology: science of sea-shells. Back to Line
399] pinafore: apron. Back to Line
469] Pharisees: strict and sometimes hypocritical Jewish religious sect, condemned in the Christian New Testament. Back to Line
539] prank: dress up for show. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001