Radical feminism in the Romanian fin de siecle

Friday, 29 March, Year 11 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

You had no idea, did you. Well, what are we gathered here for ? Permit the expert hand to extract the frogs' nerves for your aedification!

We will be dissecting a report, by Ion Luca Caragialei, on the [end of] the life of Alexandru Odobescu. So : text, produced by the latter on top of the life experience of the formerii. Ready ? We begin!

Condiția nu o pusese femeia, condiția și-o pusese nenorocitul singur. El voise să premeargă unor pretențiuni oneste pe care tot el și le închipuia acum, cerinți îndreptățite ce ea, din modestie sau discreție, nu îndrăznea să le formuleze.

Deși însurat, el, bizuindu-se pe înălțimea deosebită a caracterului femeii sale legitime, merse la amanta sa și-i propuse s-o ia în căsătorie, fiind sigur că legitima are să accedeze la propunerea unei despărțiri de bună voie.

Amanta se-mpăcă sub impresia acestor promisiuni solemne și făgădui să cheme telegrafic pe mama sa din provincie, pentru a-i căpăta binecuvântarea.

La ediția a treia vom vedea încheierea acestui roman.
*

Până să sosească mama din provincie, Odobescu se și înțelesese cu femeia sa legitimă despre o despărțire de bună voie Aci apare în acest roman atât de necurat, o figură sublimă, o figură de sfântă-martiră — este doamna Odobescu. Câtă înălțare de suflet a arătat această nobilă creatură se va vedea îndată.

Doamna Odobescu s-a dus de bunăvoie la o întâlnire cu mama tinerei sale rivale. Era așteptată.

Intrând, doamna Odobescu începu:

— Doamnă, știi că bărbatul meu iubește pe fiica d-tale și că fără dânsa nu mai poate trăi? Recunosc că fiica d-tale are dreptul să pretinză o reparație manifestă de la bărbatul meu, căruia, dintr-o slăbiciune femeiască, ușor de explicat și foarte naturală, i-a cedat. Știu că piedeca pentru aceasta sunt eu, căci d. Odobescu vrea din toată inima să fie bărbatul legitim al fiicei d-tale. Eu îl ador pe bărbatul meu și n-aș fi în stare să mă refuz a-i face fericirea. De aceea viu să vă declar că sunt hotărâtă a intra îndată în călugărie și să vă rog totodată să nu puneți d-voastră vreo piedecă la fericirea acestui om și a fiicei d-voastră.
*

Să nu uităm a spune că Odobescu era ascuns în odaia de alături fără să știe nimeni și asculta tot, așteptând cu inima încordată rezultatul acestei întrevederi.

Mama din provincie, la sublima tiradă a d-nei Odobescu, răspunse pe un ton cu totul contrariu.

Fiica sa fusese înșelată, batjocorită, compromisă de un bătrân berbant, care ar trebui pedepsit pentru infamiile sale; ca mamă, nu poate aproba căsătoria fiicei sale așa de tânără cu un om stricat, o căzătură.

În fine, cele mai brutale imputări și cele mai absurde pretențiuni.
*

Mama recalcitrantă fu întreruptă brusc de Odobescu, care apăru pe prag vânăt de indignare, cu pumnii încleștați:

— Așa? izbucni el. Sunt un om stricat, o căzătură? Mă azvârliți acum, după ce pentru voi am făcut atâtea, după ce m-ați exploatat, m-ați torturat, m-ați împins la ultima mizerie, nu mai sunt decât o otreapă de aruncat. Sunteți niște infame, infame... Știu ce-mi rămâne de făcut!

Odobescu, în culmea nebuniei, plecă urmat de d-na Odobescu, care nu știa cum să-l mai mângâie.

Now in English :

The woman hadn't originated the "condition", it came from the misfortunate's own mind. He decided to meet putative demands, which'd have been legitimate coming from an honestiii woman, but which the woman in question forewent -- through modesty, he presumed, or discretion. As the case stood, however, any legitimacy or honesty involved were simply figments of his own imagination.

Although already married, he, relying on the excellence of the character of his legitimate woman, proposed marriage to his side woman -- so very certain was he that the legitimate will yield to his proposal of wilful separation! The mistress "made peace" under the impression of these solemn promises, and proposed to telegraph her mother to come over from the countryside, and give her blessing.

In the interim, Odobescu talked with his wife, and she agreed to an uncontested divorce. Here makes her entrance in this filthy story a most sublime figure, a true saint and martyr -- Mme. Odobescu. What ideal transports this noble creature displayed will be plain momentarily.

Mme Odobescu went of her own to a meeting with the mother of her young rival. She was expected. As she came in, she started :

- Madam, you know my man loves your daughter, and without her he can no longer live ? I admit your daugther is in her right to demand concrete reparationsiv from my my man, to whom, for cause of easily explained and quite natural womanly weakness she yielded.v I adore my man, and could never refuse his happiness. That is why I come to declare to you that for myself I am decided to join a nunnery, and to ask you to not impede the joint happiness of this man and your daguther.

Let us not forget to mention that Odobescu was hidden in another room, unknown to anyone, and was listening invi, awaiting with his heart still the result of this meeting.

The provincial mother, confronted with the sublime tirade of Mme Odobescu, retorted in a most contrary tone. Her daughter was tricked and betrayed, made sport of, compromised by an old rake, who should indeed be published publicly for his infamy ; as a mother she can not acquiesce to a marriage between her daughter so young and a rotten, fallen man. In a word, the most brutish imputations and the most absurd pretentions.

The recalcitrant mother was suddenly interrupted by Odobescu, who came to the threshold purple with indignation, and shaking fists.

- So it is ? he exploded. I am a rotten, a fallen man ? You throw me away now, after I've done so much for you, after you've exploited and tortured me, after you pushed me to the bottom limit of felony, now I am a rag to be discarded ? You're despicable, despicable... I know what's left for me to do!

Odobescu, boiling, went out followed by Mme. Odobescu, who didn't know how best to console him.

As you can no doubt notice, two contrary and irreconcilable views on men (and by consequence women) confront each other in this 1890s piecevii.

On one hand, the avowed view of the author, and rather obviously of his social milieu and more generally of the political, social, cultural and economic leadershipviii : patriarchy. Patriarchy, whereby woman has no intrinsic value, being a mere object, about as capable as any given chair or car of being valuableix. Patriarchy, wherein the man is valuable through his history, viewed as an accumulation of experience, knowledge, social distinction, property and so following, and thereby entitled to the use of woman as to the use of any other plot of land. Patriarchy, what.

On the other hand, the minority view of practically speaking nobody, or more examinedly of the provincial mother of the young lover (which is to say -- just about everybody). In this view, it's men that are incapable of intrinsic value, and only important through substance-adequacy to purpose (such as being young, for one thing, or being sexually naive, for another thing) ; whereas women are intrinsically valuable, but strictly for being women, and thereby equally valuable, and not particularly valuable in any manner beyond the (readily admitted) unprincipled exception of filiation. In this view all men are equally "entitled" to exactly one single woman : that one which choses them, and none other (and in her "choosing" she also sets the limits of what that entitlement's to mean) while all women should aim to "marry well", but only for as long as the ideal system of tomorrow's not yet realisedx and there's still something like distinction among men, still capable to provide a differential of benefit.

In other words : the will to deathxi, the chthonic impulse are always there. Always were -- and thus conceivably always will be. What can you do ?

———
  1. Also informally known as my prophet.

    The relationship is complex -- he arguably wrote the software platform on which modern as well as contemporary Romania is simulated (and not just Romania), but he certainly provided the seed for what later became Triumful Talentului sau Despre Bunatate (recently also available in English, as Talent Triumphant, or : On Empathy) -- and quite visible to the tiny group of remaining Romanian intellectuals (irrespective of their headcount, we're not about to concern ourselves -- here as anywhere else -- with the pompously if pointlessly bleating nullities).

    There's a lot of overlap, what can I tell you. []

  2. As recounted, most likely, by Anghel Demetriate. []
  3. Honest here means rather something like "proper". []
  4. That's right, in the ideal economy of the period you offend men principally by slapping them and women principally by kissing them, and you repair this slight by killing or marrying them respectively. It's a property-driven, law-centered worldview, what, problems ? []
  5. Right ?

    Right. []

  6. How the hell is this supposed to work, his wife visits the wench's mother and he's there, hidden in his own house ? Or wasn't it his own house, and wherefore does a man not find himself in his own house ?

    Consider the operetta quality of the whole thing, the "adored man" listening around doorknobs like the full faith and credit of the united states government or any gypsy slave. Can you believe this so-called country ? []

  7. On the night of November 8th, 1895 Alexandru Odobescu killed himself (morphine overdose). The woman married a colleague that same year (some fellow named Buzoianu). For historical accuracy, let's summarily supplant some details absent from Caragiale's text, but present in Odobescu's life :

    • The nameless girl actually had (unsurprisingly, I suppose, but unsurprisingly for the feminist viewpoint only) a name : she was Hortensia Racovita. The name does not come from Emil Racovita, the naturalist, but Teodor Racovita, Titu Maiorescu's secretary. The woman's father's mother's born in Iasi, in the house of a Bohemian doctor and his Bolognese wife (Charlotte Benvenuti) ; the father in question is made spatar, and therefore is part of the local nobility, serves as Interior Minister and so following. Her mother's Maria Constantinidi, issue of a wealthy Eastern commercial family. In a word, she's not exactly the obscure daughter of fresh mud -- her godfather's prince Ghica for chrissakes.
    • While indeed young, at the time she met Odobescu she had already been married twice (including to well known writer and diplomat Alexandru Davila), it is not the case of some sort of naivite here ;
    • While indeed living as women at the time lived, from male handouts, nevertheless she also had a profession (geography teacher) and did better than average at it (being, for instance, selected to speak publicly at professional events ; and receiving prestigious awards) ;
    • While not strictly speaking repugnant, she could not possibly pass for anything even remotely close to "pretty" or "sexually attractive" today.
    • The man is not exactly inexperiencedly naive : full four decades prior, disenchanted of Anica Barcanescu, he pontificates (in letters to Grigore Creteanu) as to how men, of some intelligence and a little ambition, must never take love seriously, nor are females worth sacrifices in general, and the wasting of time in particular.
    • At the time of his suicide, he had long been separated from his wife (and his daguther with her, about Hortensia's age), and had for many years entertained a laudanum habit.
    • Odobescu was never very able commercially, but always very ready to spend money he didn't have (occasionally, even public funds) ; as characteristic for him, at the moment of his demise he was insolvent (and the unhappy recipient of demands from the Archeology Society with regards to monies missing from their coffers).

    I'm guessing that much should suffice. []

  8. Witness that Petru Poni, education minister at the time, sends the woman off to the local equivalent of Siberia in a very superficially similar (but very ideally identical) rendition of exile, the traditional punishment for treason. []
  9. Specifically : through the form given her by men ; and through the quality (viz. rarity, and purpose-adequacy) of her substance. []
  10. And for just as long she should preoccupy herself with the welfare of her biological daughters, although properly speaking she should just concern herself with the problems of womanhood as a group -- the only possible group. []
  11. The realisation of eventual "equality", quite transparently in the sense lord Kelvin gave it, is not "a fundamental desire of all the people" (in the sense of people where the term reduces to the poor) anymore than it is "a fundamental desire of all women" (in the sense of women where the term reduces to the dumbos), nor is "universal peace" anything else, or anything in any way differentiable from that "equality". Death is death, you understand me, by whatever words designated or in whatever manner explained, the ceasing of vital function's the ceasing of vital function, what!

    Socialism is always going to be the same thing -- the desire for silence of they for whom the world's an imposition. []

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