She can enjoy a good dinner as well as her brother could do; but she can go without her dinner with a courageous persistence of which her brother knows nothing. She never pays through the nose in order that people indifferent to her may think her great or generous, though she pays always sufficient to escape unsatisfactory noises and to prevent unpleasant demands. Her dress is quiet and yet attractive; her clothes fit her well; and if, as one is prone to suspect, they are in great part the work of her own hand, she must be an industrious woman, able to go to her needle at night after the heat and dust of the day are over. Her gloves are never worn at the finger-ends; her hat is never shapeless, nor are her ribbons ever soiled; the folds of her not too redundant drapery are never misarranged, confused, or angular. She never indulges in bright colors, and is always the same, and always neat; and they who know her best believe that if she were called out of her room by fire in the middle of the night, she would come forth calm, in becoming apparel, and ready to take an active part in the emergency without any infringement on feminine propriety.
She is never forward, nor is she ever bashful. A bashful woman could not play her game, and a forward woman immediately encounters sorrow when she attempts to play it. She can decline all overtures of acquaintanceship without giving offense, and she can glide into intimacies without any apparent effort. She can speak French with fluency and with much more than average accuracy, and probably knows something of German and Italian. Without such accomplishments as these let no woman undertake the part of an unprotected female tourist. She can converse on almost any subject; and, if called on to do so, can converse without any subject. As she becomes experienced in her vocation she learns and remembers all the routes of traveling. She is acquainted with and can explain all galleries, cathedrals, and palaces. She knows the genealogies of the reigning kings, and hardly loses herself among German dukes. She understands politics, and has her opinion about the Emperor, the King of Prussia, and the Pope. And she can live with people who know much more than herself, or much less, without betraying the difference between herself and them. She can be gay with the gay, and enjoy that; or dull with the dull, and seem to enjoy that. What man as he travels learns so much, works so hard, uses so much mental power, takes so much trouble in all things, as she does? She is never impatient, never exacting, never cross, never conquered, never triumphant, never humble, never boastful, never ill, never in want of assistance. If she fall into difficulties she escapes from them without a complaint. If she be ill-used she bears it without a murmur; if disappointed,—as must so often be the case with her,—she endures her cross and begins again with admirable assiduity. Yet she is only an unprotected female, and they who meet her on her travels are too apt to declare that she is an old soldier.
Unprotected female tourists, such as I have described, are not very numerous; but there are enough of them to form a class by themselves. From year to year, as we make our autumn excursions, we see perhaps one of them, and perhaps a second. We meet the same lady two or three times, making with her a pleasant acquaintance, and then passing on. The farther we go afield the more likely we are to encounter her. She is always to be met with on the Nile; she is quite at home at Constantinople; she goes frequently to Spain; you will probably find her in Central America; but her head-quarters are perhaps at Jerusalem. She prefers the saddle to any other mode of travelling, and can sit on horseback for any number of hours without flinching. For myself, I have always liked the company of the unprotected female, and have generally felt something like the disruption of a tender friendship when circumstances have torn me from her.
But why is she what she is? As to the people that one ordinarily meets when travelling, no one stops to inquire why they are what they are. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson have come together, naturally enough; and, naturally enough, there are three or four Miss Thompsons. And when young Mr. Thompson turns up alone, no one thinks very much about him. But one is driven to think why Miss Thompson is there at Cairo all by herself. You go to the Pyramids with her, and you find her to be very pleasant. She sits upon her donkey as though she had been born sitting on a donkey; and through dust and heat and fleas and Arabs she makes herself agreeable as though nothing were amiss with her. You find yourself talking to her of your mother, your sister, or your friend,—but not of your wife or sweetheart. But of herself, excepting as regards her life at Cairo, she says nothing to you. You ask yourself many questions about her.
But you may take it for granted that she has not; or if she has, that he is no better than he should be;—that his nature is such as to have driven her to think solitude better than his company. Love of independence has probably made the unprotected female tourist what she is;—that and the early acquired knowledge that such independence in a woman requires very special training. She has probably said to herself that she would rise above the weakness of her sex,—driven, perhaps, to that resolve by some special grief which, as a woman, she has incurred. She is something of a Bohemian, but a Bohemian with a regret that Bohemianism should be necessary to her. She will not be hindered by her petticoats from seeing what men see, and from enjoying that which Nature seems to bring within a man's reach so easily, but which is so difficult to a woman. That there might be something more blessed than that independence she is ready enough to admit to herself. Where is the woman that does not admit it? But she will not admit that a woman should live for that hope alone; and therefore she is riding with you to the Pyramids,—others of course accompanying you,—and talking to you with that studied ease which is intended to show that, though she is an unprotected female, she knows what she is about, and can enjoy herself without any fear of you, or of Mrs. Grundy. You find her to be very clever, and then think her to be very pretty; and if,—which may probably be the case,—you are in such matters a fool, you say a word or two more than you ought to do, and the unprotected female shows you that she can protect herself.
But Miss Thompson is wrong for all this, and I think it will be admitted that I have made the best of Miss Thompson's case. The line which she has taken up is one which it is impossible that a woman should follow with ultimate satisfaction. She cannot unsex herself or rid herself of the feeling that admiration is accorded to her as a pretty woman. She has probably intended,—honestly intended,—to be quit of that feeling, and to move about the world as though, for her, men and women were all the same, as though no more flirting were possible, and love-making were a thing simply good to be read of in novels. But if so, why has she been so careful with her gloves, and her hat, and all her little feminine belongings? It has been impossible to her not to be a woman. The idea and remembrance of her womanly charms have always been there, always present to her mind. Unmarried men are to her possible lovers and possible husbands,—as she is also a possible wife to any unmarried man,—and also a possible love. Though she may have devoted herself to celibacy with her hand on the altar, she cannot banish from her bosom the idea which, despite herself, almost forms itself into a hope. We will not ask as to her past life; but for the future she will be what she is,—only till the chance comes to her of being something better. It is that free life which she leads,—which she leads in all innocency,—which makes it impossible for her to be true to the resolution she has made for herself. Such a woman cannot talk to men without a consciousness that intimacy may lead to love, or the pretence of love, or the dangers of love. Nor, it may be said, can any unmarried woman do so. And therefore it is that they do not go about the world unprotected, either at home or abroad. Therefore it is that the retreat behind mamma's ample folds or beneath papa's umbrella is considered to be so salutary.
And so the unprotected female goes on wandering still farther afield, increasing in cleverness every year, and ever acquiring new knowledge; but increasing also in hardness, and in that glaze of which I have spoken, till at last one is almost driven to confess, when one's wife and daughters declare her to be an old soldier, that one's wife and daughters are not in justice liable to contradiction.
An Essay by Anthony Trollope
Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915