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decorated initial 'C'orelli, in her discussion of the Woman Question, ascribes to women a certain moral superiority over men while still forcing them into the traditional role as man's helper and source of delight. A woman's aim in marriage is "a desire to please" and "to charm" man, "to win his heart, — to endear herself to him in a thousand tender ways, — to wind herself irretrievably round his life" ("Eve", 159). A woman's duty in love, Corelli argues — "the best part of every woman's life" (Ibid., 160) — is to balance his masculinity through her natural feminine qualities. These are a "[b]eautiful, frail, trusting, loving" character (Ibid., 160, "coquetry — [...] tenderness — [...] persuasiveness, [and] unconscious grace and beauty" (Woman, 7), "[c]harm, grace of manner, easy eloquence and exquisite self-restraint" (Ibid., 23).

Corelli accepts gender roles as natural and unchangeable, which also has consequences for her view on female suffrage. Her anti-suffrage pamphlet Woman, — or Suffragette and her essay "The Advance of Woman" illustrate this viewpoint. Nature, Corelli claims, insists on contrasts, and the — in Corelli's view always violent — suffragette betrays feminine culture and shows herself in allegiance with men rather than as committed to her own sex.

In breaking the rusty fetters, and stepping out into the glorious liberty of the free, Woman has one great thing to remember and to strive for, — a thing that she is at present, in her newly emancipated condition, somewhat prone to forget. In claiming and securing intellectual equality with Man, she should ever bear in mind that such a position is only to be held by always maintaining and preserving as great an Unlikeness to him as possible in her life and surroundings. Let her imitate him in nothing but independence and individuality. Let her eschew his fashions in dress, his talk and his manners. A woman who wears "mannish" clothes, smokes cigars, rattles out slang, gambles at cards, and drinks brandy and soda on the slightest provocation, is lost altogether, both as woman and man, and becomes sexless. But the woman whose dress is always becoming and graceful, whose voice is always becoming and graceful, whose voice is equable and tender, who enhances whatever beauty she possesses by exquisite manner, unblemished reputation, and intellectual capacity combined, raises herself not only to an equality with man, but goes so far above him that she straightway becomes the Goddess and he the Worshipper. This is as it should be. Men adore what they cannot imitate." ["Advance", 182-183]

If women use their natural power over men, Corelli argues, there is, in fact, no need for their political involvement, and the suffragette's cry for the vote becomes an expression of the loss of feminine finesse and female influence.

[T]o my mind, the very desire for a vote on the part of a woman is an open confession of weakness, - a proof that she has lost ground, and is not sure of herself. For if she is real Woman, - if she has the natural heritage of her sex, which is the mystic power to persuade, enthral and subjugate man, she has no need to come down from her throne and mingle in any of his political frays, inasmuch as she is already the very head and front of Government. Let those who will, laugh at, or sneer down the statement, the fact remains that a man is seldom anything more than a woman's representative. No man, in either business or pleasure, can ever quite shake off the influence of the woman with whom he is most privately and intimately connected. Good or bad, she colours his life. [Woman, 14]

And Corelli continues her defence of a woman's seductive powers with a disturbing image:

The clever woman sits at home, — and like a meadow spider spreads a pretty web of rose and gold, spangled with diamond dew. Flies — or men — tumble in by scores, — and she holds them all prisoners at her pleasure with a silken strand as fine as a hair. Nature gave her at her birth the "right" to do this, and if she does it well, she will always have her web full. But her weaving must not be to hold the flies, — i.e., to influence men, — solely for her own amusement and satisfaction; — she must learn to take a wider outlook and use her limitless powers for the benefit and betterment of the world. [31]

I love my own sex, and I heartily sympathise with every step that women take towards culture, freedom, advancement, and the moral and intellectual mastery of themselves. I would fain serve them in all that may be for their peace and perfect happiness, but I honestly feel that such peace and happiness are not to be gained by violent or unnatural methods. The object of woman's existence is not to war with man, or allow man to war with her, but simply to conquer him and hold him in subservience without so much as a threat or a blow. Clever women always do this; clever women have always done it. It is only stupid women who cannot command men. [27]

Therefore, Corelli concludes determinedly, "I have no politics, and want none" ("Eve", 156).

References

Corelli, Marie. "Accursèd Eve". Free Opinions Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct. London: Constable, 1905. 152-161.

Corelli, Marie. "The Advance of Woman". Free Opinions Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct. London: Constable, 1905. 169-184.

Corelli, Marie. Woman, — or Suffragette? A Question of National Choice. London: Pearson, 1907.


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Last modified 26 April 2005