‘The duties belonging to my femineity’

  • Elizabeth Barrett


As to the cross-stitches — or stitches alas! of any sort, I am ashamed to say how useless and unaccomplished my fingers are in respect to them — and the more ashamed because I feel conscious that people may suspect the fault, of the vanity of a merit — by way of pedantry or the like. So when talk begins of work—German wools, English threads and the rest, I make haste to change the subject or to look on one side and escape the imminent exposure. Oh! you can’t think, you can scarcely imagine, my awkwardness when I pretend to work! Such pricking of fingers, and knotting of thread, and sewing backwards in certain evolutions, instead of forwards!—I ought to have been well whipped at six years old, and then — that is, now—I should whip1 better. As it is, I once knitted an odd garter, and embroidered an odd ruffle, and committed fragments of several collars, and did something mysterious, the name of which operation has past from my head, toward producing the quarter of a purse — yes, and made several doll’s frocks, and one or two frocks for a poor child of mine adoption — and that is ‘the head and front of my attending2 to the duties belonging to my femineity. You who are excellent in all things will make an effort to forgive me — but the effort will be necessary. The best excuse for me is — that the occupation was never put to me in the form of a duty. I had nothing to mind or do, needle-ways, for my self or others. And then, my beloved friend, I was always insane about books and poems — poems of my own, I mean, and books of everybody’s else — and I read Mary Wollstonecraft when I was thirteen: no, twelve!3 and, through the whole course of my childhood, I had a steady indignation against Nature who made me a woman, and a determinate resolution to dress up in men’s clothes as soon as ever I was free of the nursery, and go into the world ‘to seek my fortune’. ‘How’, was not decided; but I rather leant towards being poor Lord Byron’s PAGE.

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Barrett

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