Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Subjugated Servitude of the Missionary's Missus

                          Sarah Stickney Ellis (born 1799) added greatly to the ‘improving’ literature of the Victorians – with a total of thirty-four books, of poetry, fiction and social anthropology. 

Sarah Stickney Ellis

Sarah Stickney had been a Quaker but converted to become a Congregationalist, and in 1837 she married the widower William Ellis, the Chief Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society. He was a prolific, and successful, writer and had travelled, on behalf of the Society, with his first wife, Mary, to Hawaii. After their return to England, Mary died in 1835; a mutual friend introduced William to Sarah and after a short courtship they were married. She shared his missionary zeal, his love of writing and both were keen members of the Temperance movement. William died in 1872, after thirty-five years marriage and Sarah died a mere seven days later. 

William Ellis
Her first work, The Negro Slave (1830) was published anonymously and was an abolitionist novel ‘addressed to the women of Great Britain’. She received acclaim for a later collection of essays The Poetry of Life but made her name with The Women of England (1839), which was followed by The Wives of England, The Daughters of England and The Mothers of England

Mrs Ellis - Family Secrets

She also wrote a number of moralistic novels, including The Minister’s Wife, Family Secrets and Temper and Temperament. The theme of her works is consistent throughout – the role of women in society. Her position was that women were inferior to men but they had an innate ‘sixth sense’ that could be used for good, by exercising a moral restraint on the excesses inherent in the natural male character. Wives, mothers and daughters could improve their husbands, sons and brothers by ‘natural kindness’, through support and maintaining the moral atmosphere of the home.

Female Influence

Here she is on the relationship between men and women.
In her intercourse with man, it is impossible but that woman should feel her own inferiority; and it is right that it should be so. (The Women of England)
Her concern is that women may exceed their limits.
I am perfectly aware that there are intricate questions brought before our senate, which it may require a masculine order of intellect fully to understand. (The Daughters of England)
If you are going to talk, it would be best to engage the brain prior to the mouth.
Do not suppose it would add any embellishment to your conversation, for you to discuss what are called politics, simply as such, especially when, as in nine cases out of ten, you do not really understand what you are talking about. (The Daughters of England)

Conversation in the Sick Chamber

Or maybe, do not engage the mouth at all.
Most kindly, however, has it been accorded by man to his feeble sister, that it should not be necessary for her to talk much, even on his favourite topics, in order to obtain his favour. (The Daughters of England)
And what might it be that so distracted the ladies of the nation?
One of the greatest drawbacks to the good influence of society is the almost unrivalled power of fashion upon the female mind. (The Daughters of England)
But things might well go too far in the opposite direction.
The possession of genius is, to a woman, a birthright of very questionable value. It is a remark, not always charitably made, but unfortunately too true, that the most talented women are not the most agreeable in their domestic capacity. (The Women of England)

The Favourite Child

Men, after all, don’t want to be involved with a woman who can’t keep the place neat and tidy.
No power of intellect, or display of learning, can compensate to men, for the want of nicety or neatness in the women with whom they associate in domestic life. (The Women of England)
After all, marriage is the goal of any woman in her right mind.
If there be one principle in woman's nature stronger than all others, it is that which prompts her to seek sympathy and protection from some being whom she may love, and by whom she may be loved in return. (The Wives of England)
The poor dears just can’t help themselves. But remember –
Woman's love may grow after marriage - man's, never. If therefore, he is indifferent or unfaithful as a lover, what must be expected of him as a husband! (The Wives of England)
And don’t go making decisions about where the family home is going to be.
He and his friends will be better judges than you can be of the general reasons for fixing your future residence. (The Wives of England)
It may be all the better if you stick to small, furry creatures.
There is, however, a sickly sensibility indulged in by some young ladies, which I should be the last to recommend. Many, for instance, will nurse and fondle animals, without ever taking the trouble to feed them. (The Daughters of England)

It is too late

But don’t give up, girls. Nature has the matter in hand.
It is unquestionably an honourable distinction to be the chosen companion of an enlightened and good man; but we must not forget, that nature never yet formed any woman too destitute of attractions, or sent her forth into the world too meanly endowed, for her to be chosen as a wife. (The Wives of England)
Mrs Ellis puts me in mind of this excellent skit by Mr Enfield and his chums.

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