‘The corruption of our society requires not shut doors and windows, but light and air’

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning


I confess it, dear Mr Thackeray, never was anyone turned out of a room for indecent behaviour in a more gracious and conciliatory manner!1 Also, I confess that from your ‘Cornhill’ standpoint (paterfamilias looking on) you are probably right ten times over. From mine, however, I may not be wrong, and I appeal to you as the deep man you are, whether it is not the higher mood, which on Sunday bears with the ‘plain word’, so offensive on Monday, during the cheating across the counter? I am not a ‘fast woman’. I don’t like coarse subjects, or the coarse treatment of any subject. But I am deeply convinced that the corruption of our society requires not shut doors and windows, but light and air; and that it is exactly because pure and prosperous women choose to ignore vice, that miserable women suffer wrong by it everywhere. Has paterfamilias, with his Oriental traditions and veiled female faces, very successfully dealt with a certain class of evil? What if materfamilias, with her quick sure instincts and honest innocent eyes, do more towards their expulsion by simply looking at them and calling them by their names? See what insolence you put me up to by your kind way of naming my dignities—‘Browning’s wife and Penini’s mother’.

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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