Story type: Essay
Miss Sallie H.–s is one of the very few society women who, aided by nothing but their beauty, wit and talent, lift themselves into national prominence and attain something like fame. Miss H–s has been for several seasons the acknowledged belle of New York, and her position has not been disputed. She is a dark beauty, her features of classical purity, her profile very delicate and her figure superb. She is a brilliant talker, and her talents are many and varied. Presumably she has been the object of many masculine attentions and the subject of many masculine quarrels; but she has kept her head and hand to herself. At least she has done so until a few weeks ago. Then the announcement of her engagement to Mr. Duncan E–t was made public. She is to be married at Newport, September 15, and the wedding is to be as quiet an affair as possible. Mr. E–t is a young New York business man, good looking and talented. He goes in for athletics.– Chicago News.
The above slug of “taffy” was accompanied by a woodcut portrait of Miss H–s which made her resemble a half-naked Indian squaw suffering with an acute attack of mulligrubs, superinduced by an overfeed of baked dog. If Miss H–s’ face does not hurt her for very homeliness, any male jury in the country would award her damages against the News in the sum of a million dollars, and help her collect it with a shotgun.
But those guileless innocents who imagine Miss H–s entitled to sympathy are sadly mistaken. She, her fool friends or relatives paid a good round price for that “puff,” and fully expected that the “artist,” as well as the penny-a- liner, would indulge in a little fulsome flattery instead of turning state’s evidence and convicting his co-laborer of perjury.
Nearly every metropolitan daily is now engaged in this nauseous puffery business, and the infection is rapidly spreading to the illustrated weeklies and magazines. No wonder that foreigners have much to say about our bad manners, worse taste, lack of refinement and offensive “loudness,” when the “leading society ladies” of the land will pay big prices to have themselves written up like variety actresses or prize cattle, when they will pay to have their portraits paraded in the public prints and their personal charms proclaimed much as auctioneers in antebellum days expatiated upon the physical perfection of slaves put upon the block; when they will beg the attention of the world and pour into its unwilling ear an exaggerated tale of their love affairs,–not omitting the suggestion that certain silly masculine inanities have fought for their favors!
The present nauseating puffery of “society belles” has grown out of the unpardonable bad taste–not to say presumptuous insolence–which the American press has ever displayed in dealing with the fair sex. First it was “the accomplished” or “the vivacious” Miss So-and-so. That “caught.” Every woman likes to be thought accomplished or interesting, just as every man delights to see himself paraded in the papers as a “public-spirited citizen.” Then the press grew bolder and introduced the adjectives “charming,” “fascinating,” “beautiful,” etc. That “took” still better. The next step was the “write up” in extenso; next the portrait. Thus, in a ratio of geometrical progression, the bad habit has grown from the daring but courtly compliment to its present disguising proportions, and the vanity and folly of the fair followers of fashion have grown with it.
What will be its ultimate development? Where will the rivalry of “enterprising journals,” their determination to outdo each other in fulsome flattery of female fools who have money to pay for it, finally land them? Already they are freely commenting upon the form and features of the fair sex. What can they do next but go into particulars and inform us how much their patron measures around the bust (they have already told us of the snowy whiteness of her bosom); the actual size of the “tiny little foot” as sworn to by the bootmaker, and how many inches of elastic it requires to make her garter? When this becomes commonplace, perhaps it will be necessary, in order to command attention, to publish portraits of their patrons posing as Venuses, Eves, Hebes, etc., in puris naturalibus!
Is it not strange that a man will pay newspapers to say publicly about his wife or daughter things that he would knock his best friend down for saying to him privately; that he will deliberately set every scurrilous tongue wagging about the woman he loves and professes to honor; cause her form and features to be discussed in every dive? Should one of our American women overhear a male acquaintance commenting on the whiteness of her bosom, the size of her foot, the shape of her waist and the “latent passion in her dark eyes,” she would want him horsewhipped or shot; yet she will pay a rank stranger a dollar a line to say these things in the public prints. Verily ’tis a strange world–and sadly in need of a few more industrious fool killers!