Story type: Essay
England’s most famous dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, has placed in the pillory of letters what he is pleased to call “The Disagreeable Girl.”
And he has done it by a dry-plate, quick-shutter process in a manner that surely lays him liable for criminal libel in the assize of high society.
I say society’s assize advisedly, because it is only in society that the Disagreeable Girl can play a prominent part, assuming the center of the stage. Society, in the society sense, is built upon vacuity; its favors being for those who reveal a fine capacity to waste and consume. Those who would write their names high on society’s honor roll, need not be either useful or intelligent–they need only seem.
And this gives to the Disagreeable Girl her opportunity. In the paper box factory she would have to make good; Cluett, Coon & Co. ask for results; the stage demands at least a modicum of intellect, in addition to shape, but society asks for nothing but pretense, and the palm is awarded to palaver. But do not, if you please, imagine that the Disagreeable Girl does not wield an influence. That is the very point–her influence is so far-reaching in its effect that George Bernard Shaw, giving cross-sections of life in the form of dramas, cannot write a play and leave her out.
She is always with us, ubiquitous, omniscient and omnipresent–is the Disagreeable Girl. She is a disappointment to her father, a source of humiliation to her mother, a pest to her brothers and sisters, and when she finally marries, she slowly saps the inspiration of her husband and very often converts a proud and ambitious man into a weak and cowardly cur.
Only in society does the Disagreeable Girl shine–everywhere else she is an abject failure. The much-vaunted Gibson Girl is a kind of de luxe edition of Shaw’s Disagreeable Girl. The Gibson Girl lolls, loafs, pouts, weeps, talks back, lies in wait, dreams, eats, drinks, sleeps and yawns. She rides in a coach in a red jacket, plays golf in a secondary sexual sweater, dawdles on a hotel veranda, and can tum-tum on a piano, but you never hear of her doing a useful thing or saying a wise one. She plays bridge whist, for “keeps” when she wins, and “owes” when she loses, and her picture in flattering half-tone often adorns a page of the Sunday Yellow.
She reveals a beautiful capacity for avoiding all useful effort.
Gibson gilds the Disagreeable Girl.
Shaw paints her as she is.
In the Doll’s House Henrik Ibsen has given us Nora Hebler, a Disagreeable Girl of mature age, who, beyond a doubt, first set George Bernard Shaw a-thinking. Then looking about, Shaw saw her at every turn in every stage of her moth-and-butterfly existence.
And the Disagreeable Girl being everywhere, Shaw, dealer in human character, cannot write a play and leave her out, any more than the artist Turner could paint a picture and leave man out, or Paul Veronese produce a canvas and omit the dog.
The Disagreeable Girl is a female of the genus homo persuasion, built around a digestive apparatus that possesses marked marshmallow proclivities. She is pretty, pug-nosed, pink, pert and poetical; and at first glance, to the unwary, she shows signs of gentleness and intelligence. Her age is anywhere from eighteen to twenty-eight. At twenty-eight she begins to evolve into something else, and her capacity for harm is largely curtailed, because by this time spirit has written itself in her form and features, and the grossness and animality which before were veiled are becoming apparent.
Habit writes itself on the face, and body is an automatic recording machine.
To have a beautiful old age, you must live a beautiful youth, for we ourselves are posterity, and every man is his own ancestor. I am to-day what I am because I was yesterday what I was. The Disagreeable Girl is always pretty, at least we have been told she is pretty, and she fully accepts the dictum.
She has also been told she is clever, and she thinks she is.
The actual fact is she is only “sassy.”
The fine flaring up of youth has tended to set sex rampant, but she is not “immoral” save in her mind.
She has caution to the verge of cowardice, and so she is sans reproche. In public she pretends to be dainty; but alone, or with those for whose good opinion she does not care, she is gross, coarse and sensual in every feature of her life. She eats too much, does not exercise enough and considers it amusing to let other people wait on her and do for her the things she should do for herself. Her room is a jumble of disorder. The one gleam of hope for her lies in the fact that out of shame, she allows no visitor to enter her apartments if she can help it. Concrete selfishness is her chief mark. She will avoid responsibility, side-step every duty that calls for honest effort; is untruthful, secretive, indolent and dishonest.
“What are you eating?” asks Nora Hebler’s husband as she enters the room, not expecting to see him.
“Nothing,” is the answer, and she hides the box of bonbons behind her, and soon backs out of the room.
I think Mr. Hebler had no business to ask her what she was eating–no man should ask any woman such a question, and really it was no difference anyway. But Nora is always on the defensive and fabricates when it is necessary, and when it isn’t, just through habit. She will hide a letter written by her grandmother as quickly and deftly as if it were a missive from a guilty lover. The habit of her life is one of suspicion, for being inwardly guilty herself, she suspects everybody although it is quite likely that crime with her has never broken through thought into deed. Nora will rifle her husband’s pockets, read his note-book, examine his letters, and when he goes on a trip she spends the day checking up his desk, for her soul delights in duplicate keys.
At times she lets drop hints of knowledge concerning little nothings that are none of hers, just to mystify folks.
She does strange, annoying things simply to see what others will do.
In degree, Nora’s husband fixed the vice of finesse in her nature, for when even a “good” woman is accused she parries by the use of trickery and wins her point by the artistry of the bagnio. Women and men are never really far apart anyway, and women are largely what men have made them.
We are all just getting rid of our shackles; listen closely, anywhere, even among honest and intellectual people, if such there be, and you can detect the rattle of chains.
The Disagreeable Girl’s mind and soul have not kept pace with her body. Yesterday she was a slave, sold in a Circassian mart, and freedom to her is so new and strange that she is unfamiliar with her environment, and she does not know what to do with it.
The tragedy she works, according to George Bernard Shaw, is through the fact that very often good men, blinded by the glamour of sex, imagine they love the Disagreeable Girl, when what they love is their own ideal–an image born in their own minds.
Nature is both a trickster and a humorist, and ever sets the will of the species beyond the discernment of the individual. The picador has to blindfold his horse in order to get him into the bull-ring, and likewise, Dan Cupid does the myopic to a purpose.
For aught we know, the lovely Beatrice of Dante was only a Disagreeable Girl, clothed in a poet’s fancy, and idealized by a dreamer. Fortunate was Dante that he worshipped her afar, that he never knew her well enough to be undeceived, and so walked through life in love with love, sensitive, saintly, sweetly sad and most divinely happy in his melancholy.