It is unclear in what format the British people first received Max Beerbohm’s “Pervasion of Rouge” – as a speech, as a newspaper editorial, or perhaps in a collection of essays. What is clear is that Beerbohm wrote for an audience of men. Take the following paragraph for example.
…Women appear to have been in those days utterly natural in their conduct — flighty, fainting, blushing, gushing, giggling, and shaking their curls. They knew no reserve in the first days of the Victorian era. No thought was held too trivial, no emotion too silly to express. To Nature everything was sacrificed. Great heavens! And in those barren days what influence did women exert! By men they seem not to have been feared nor loved, but regarded rather as "dear little creatures" or "wonderful little beings," and in their relation to life as foolish and ineffectual as the landscapes they did in water-colours. Yet, if the women of those years were of no great account, they had a certain charm, and they at least had not begun to trespass upon men's ground; if they touched not thought, which is theirs by right, at any rate they refrained [113/114] from action, which is ours. Far more serious was it when, in the natural trend of time, they became enamoured of ! rinking and archery and galloping along the Brighton Parade. Swiftly they have sped on since then from horror to horror. The invasion of the tennis-courts and of the golf-links, the seizure of the bicycle and of the typewriter, were but steps preliminary in that campaign which is to end with the final victorious occupation of St. Stephen's [House of Commons B.]. But stay! The horrific pioneers of womanhood who gad hither and thither and, confounding wisdom with the device on her shield, shriek for the unbecoming, are doomed. Though they spin their bicycle treadles so amazingly fast, they are too late. Though they scream victory, none follow them. Artifice, that fair exile, has returned.
Given this situation, a number of interesting questions come to mind:
Why would Beerbohm direct his message to men if his essay concerns the habits of women? Does this strategy say anything about Beerbohm’s own feelings towards women or perhaps the narrator’s attitudes?
Do you think Beerbohm expected women to read this text?
Is Beerbohm interested in effecting change in his society? How does this essay fit with that approach?
Last modified: 12 March 2001