The Dangerous Age by Karin Michaëlis


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Page 2

Is not this an added reason for the curiosity which this book awakens?
The most sincere and complete, the humblest and most moving of feminine
confessions proceeds from one of those Northern women, whom we Latin
races are pleased to imagine as types of immaterial candour, sovereign
"intellectuality," and glacial temperament--souls in harmony with their
natural surroundings, the rigid pine forests and snow-draped heathlands
of Scandinavia.

A Scandinavian woman! Immediately the words evoke the chaste vision sung
by Leconte de Lisle, in his poem "l'Epiphanie":



Le sang rose et subtil qui dore son col fin
Est doux comme un rayon de l'aube sur la neige.

Quand un souffle furtif glisse en ses cheveux blonds,

Et, de leur transparence argentant leurs cils longs,


Et le gardien pensif du mystique oranger
Des balcons de l'Aurore eternelle se penche,

Dans les plis de sa robe immortellement blanche.

"Immortellement blanche!" Very white indeed!... Read the intimate
journal of Elsie Lindtner, written precisely by the side of one of these
fresh Northern lakes. Possibly at eighteen Elsie Lindtner may have
played at "Epiphanies" and filled "the pensive guardian of the mystic
orange tree" with admiration. But it is at forty-two that she begins to
edit her private diary, and her eyes that "match the hue of polar
nights" have seen a good deal in the course of those twenty years. And
if in the eyes of the law she has remained strictly faithful to her
marriage vows, she has judged herself in the secret depths of her heart.
She has also judged other women, her friends and confidants. The moment
of "the crisis" arrives, and, taking refuge in "a savage solitude," in
which even the sight of a male servant is hateful to her, she sets down
with disconcerting lucidity all she has observed in other women, and in
herself. These other women are also of the North: Lillie Rothe, Agatha
Ussing, Astrid Bagge, Margarethe Ernst, Magna Wellmann.... Her memory
invokes them all, and they reappear. We seem to take part in a strange,
painful revel; a witches' revel of ardent yet withered sorceresses; a
revel in which the modern demons of Neurasthenia and Hysteria sport and
sneer.

* * * * *

Let us not be mistaken, however. Elsie Lindtner's confession is not
merely to be weighed by its fierce physiological sincerity; it is the
feminine soul, and the feminine soul of all time, that is revealed in
this extraordinary document. I think nothing less would give out such a
pungent odour of truth. _The Dangerous Age_ contains pages dealing with
women's smiles and tears, with their love of dress and desire to please,
and with the social relations between themselves and the male sex, which
will certainly irritate some feminine readers. Let them try to unravel
the real cause of their annoyance: perhaps they will perceive that they
are actually vexed because a woman has betrayed the freemasonry that
exists among their own sex. We must add that we are dealing here with
another nation, and every Frenchwoman may, if she choose, decline to
recognise herself among these portraits from Northern Europe.

A sure diagnosis of the vital conditions under which woman exists, and
an acute observation of her complicated soul--these two things alone
would suffice, would they not, to recommend the novel in which they were
to be found? But _The Dangerous Age_ possesses another quality which, at
first sight, seems to have no connection with the foregoing: it is by no
means lacking in emotion. Notwithstanding that she has the eye of the
doctor and the psychologist, Elsie Lindtner, the heroine, has also the
nerves and sensibility of a woman. Her daring powers of analysis do not
save her from moments of mysterious terror, such as came over her, for
no particular reason, on a foggy evening; nor yet from the sense of
being utterly happy--equally without reason--on a certain autumn night;
nor from feeling an intense sensuous pleasure in letting the little
pebbles on the beach slide between her fingers. In a word, all the
harshness of her judgments and reflections do not save her from the
dreadful distress of growing old....

In vain she withdraws from the society of her fellow-creatures, in the
hope that old age will no longer have terrors for her when there is no
one at hand to watch her physical decay; the redoubtable phantom still
haunts her in her retreat; watches her, brushes past her, and mocks her
sincere effort to abandon all coquetry and cease "to count as a woman."
At the same time a cruel melancholia possesses her; she feels she has
become old without having profited by her youth. Not that she descends

"Ah! que je regrette!" Elsie Lindtner declares more than once that if
she had to start life over again she would be just as irreproachable.
But the nearer she gets to the crisis, the more painfully and lucidly
she perceives the antinomy between two feminine desires: the desire of
moral dignity and the desire of physical enjoyment. In a woman of her
temperament this need of moral dignity becomes increasingly imperious
the more men harass her with their desires--an admirable piece of
observation which I believe to be quite new. Moral resistance becomes
weaker in proportion as the insistent passion of men becomes rarer and
less active. She will end by yielding entirely when men cease to find
her desirable. Then, even the most honourable of women, finding herself
no longer desired, will perhaps lose the sense of her dignity so far as
to send out a despairing appeal to the companion who is fleeing from
her....

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 18th Aug 2019, 19:27