Wives by Richard King

Story type: Essay

The wife of a poor man really can be a helpmate, but the wife of a rich man is so often only asked to be a mistress who can bear her husband legitimate children. Everything which a woman can do, a rich woman pays other women to do for her, while she graces the results of their labour with a studied charm which receives its triumph in the envy of her husband’s male friends. No wonder there are so many wild and discontented wives among the middle and upper classes. Where a man or a woman has no “ideal,” where they have nothing to do which is really worth doing, they always approach the primitive in morals. We may pretend to spurn the cocotte–but to look as nearly as she looks, to live as nearly as she lives, to resemble her and yet to place that resemblance on a legal and, consequently, secure foundation, is becoming more and more the life-work of that feminine “scum” which the war stirred up and peace has caused to overflow. Beneath it all I know there is a strata of the Magnificent, but the surface-ground is weedier than ever. I am not a prude (I think!), but the eternally amusement-seeking and irresponsible lives led by many of the rich, and the really appalling looseness of morals now being led by girls without a qualm, bode very seriously ill for the future of that New World which we were promised the war would make safe for–well, I believe we were told it was to be Democracy, but the Government official and the profiteer still seem the most firmly dug in of us all. I go to the fashionable West-end haunts, and I see the crowds of wealthy women getting as near the nude as they and their dressmakers can manage; I go to the poor parts of London, and I am really shocked by the immense number of girls, some only children, who are practically and voluntarily on the streets. These may only be the minority of women and girls, I admit, but they are a minority which is having, and is going to have, a very sinister influence on the future–and the peace and beauty of that future. For the out-and-out prostitute one can feel understanding, and with understanding there is a certain respect; but these amateur “syrens” are a menace and a disgrace to the “homes” which breed them so carelessly, and look after them so ill.

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