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Diana Victrix: "When people begin to call me conservative, I shall know that I have accomplished something."

A novel from 1897 about feminism and romantic friendship? I would like five tickets for that boat ride, please. So I can EXTRA-enjoy it.

My survey book -- which I'm still in the process of finishing -- about the history of romantic friendship mentions Diana Victrix as an exception to the rule of romantic friendship novels. That rule is that in these novels one or both of the ladies gets married. Always, always always. I mean, they have to! Women can't earn money. Ah, but Florence Converse, 26-year-old Wellesley grad from New Orleans in 1897 says yes, yes they can.

I'm a bit delighted by older books that haven't made the canon, because while we're swayed by The Dudes Who Decided Which Books Should Be Read, they didn't catch nearly everything. And I've got a 14-year-old girl crush on this book. Mainly because it is funny. And has an awesome heroine. And they go HIKING omg. I was not anticipating that, but all of a sudden, the six young people are like "Let's go into the New Hampshire mountains and watch the lunar eclipse and sleep in lean-tos!" and I was like "Propriety?" but apparently it was FINE so that's all okay.

The basic plot is there are two brothers in New Orleans, and they're taking care of their family (well, one of them is, as the other is a lazy dreamer type who's into the arts -- you know how they are) and these two "maiden ladies" from Boston come to stay with the family, as one is ill and they think New Orleans will help her. This seems to be a thing people did a lot in Times That Are Not Now. "Oh, you're sick? A week at the seaside will fix you right up." Why isn't my doctor telling me I require the fresh, wholesome air of the country? I call bullshit on this "medicine" they insist on giving out instead. I would like a parasol and a romantic cough as I walk by the shore, please.

Anyway, so these ladies are New Women, which was a thing at the turn of the century that basically means they thought ladies should be able to vote and maybe be like real people, to which most of the country was like "Whoa now, hold on there, little lady; who's going to be darning my truss if you're out busy voting ALL THE TIME? The maid? The maid doesn't know how I want things darned. So maybe think a little before you go getting all ridiculous. And by 'think' I mean 'be emotional' because thinking isn't how your brains work."

The two ladies (Enid and Sylvia) went to college together and are BFFs 4evs and maybe a little extra. Enid lectures on Socialism in NYC and Sylvia's main job seems to be being delicate, but she's ostensibly a writer too. They're matched up with the two guys -- Jacques, the hardworking one goes for strong Enid, and Jocelin, who sucks, goes for weak Sylvia. Sylvia also kind of goes for Jocelin, whereas Enid's like

Getting into major spoilers, Jacques gets all proposey to Enid, who gives THE BEST RESPONSE EVER, and then he goes a bit Mr Collinsy and is all "Well, I'll propose again later and you'll accept and it'll be awesome" and she's like "Yeah, no, I'm not changing my mind" and he's like "I'LL PROPOSE AGAIN LATER."

And then he does and she still says no and he's upset. And Jocelin proposes to Sylvia, who's kind of like "Whoa," but then he starts crying and she's SERIOUSLY (but internally) like "Oh, I didn't know you were a little girl. Sorry, little girl, I don't marry babies." And then they move back to NYC and Enid lectures more on how awesome Socialism is, and Sylvia writes a book and dedicates it to Enid and everyone's happy except maybe Jacques. And also Jocelin, 'cause he's dead. OH, and also their sister, who burns to death in a fire in a big WTF moment halfway through the book.

I knew I was going to like this book when Jacques as a kid says "I shall punch your head!" to Jocelin.

Enid reminds me of our beloved Marian, if only because the author is clearly in love with her:

Enid was tall and broad and strong; her skin was smooth; her flesh was firm; her eyes were brown and clear, with golden lights in them, like the lights in her hair.

The 1890s were so close to when we had our psyches screwed over by the psychoanalysts that I really can't tell if this book is subconsciously gay or just really Victorian BFFy. Sylvia would at the very least be labeled bi nowadays, but let me offer up some choice Enid scenes:

"The face of the young man who sang haunts me."
Enid gave a little gasp. "That I should live to hear you say you were haunted by the face of a man! " she gurgled indistinctly against her friend's knee; and then, lifting her head, "True! he did have the very largest nose I ever saw."
But Enid had her arms about her, and was saying a great many things very softly in the dark.
"So many pretty women! I was introduced to a lot of men, all more or less uninteresting, rather vapid creatures"
"Don't you think," faltered Sylvia, "that although you have the sorrows of humanity at heart, sometimes you are a little impatient of the sorrows of particular men?"
"Yes," answered Enid; "I do think so, but not of particular women."
She laughed as she said this, and, leaning over, kissed her friend.
"Your loving a woman and my loving a woman are entirely different matters," said Jacques.
"You do not understand," she persisted.
"You would have to come first. And you could not, for she is first."
"And this is all that separates us?" said Jacques, in a tone of entire amazement. "Only a woman?"
"The reason the woman separates us," said Enid, "is because the woman and I understand each other, sympathize with each other, are necessary to each other. And you and I are not. It is not simply her womanliness, it is her friendship. There might be a man who could give me the inspiration, the equalness of sympathy, I find in her, — there might be, — some women find such men. But there are not yet enough for all of us."

That latter quote is from the proposal scene on the side of a mountain, which is pretty damn awesome and you feel BAD for Jacques, because he is a stand-up guy who says things like "When the world and your people hurt you, I will not hurt you: I will believe in you" which just, OMG right? 

And he loves her SO MUCH and is all "Okay, so I don't get Socialism, but I WILL SUPPORT YOU" but she can't do it because she knows it would end her work and be untruthful regarding her friendship and feelings. AGH.

Oh, and, of course, one of my favorite lines (regarding Jacques and another lady):
"I wonder if he is in love with her," mused Enid; "he'd be a delightful person to go out and buy furniture with; he would always be able to get the proper per cent. off. He could drive nails and hang pictures beautifully, but I wonder if he can make love ? Dear me! what is happening to me that I sit up here in broad daylight, and gossip about love and matrimony like a sentimental girl of seventeen, when I ought to be reading Socialism?"

I found a Chicago Tribune book review from 1897 that says, among other things, "its central thought is distinctively new-womanish and Bostonese," "Miss Converse would have us believe that maiden friendship is a higher and more lasting thing than love," and "The story is founded upon false principles--or upon none at all. In either case it is unpleasant."

It's really hard to find an old copy of this book, but I'm going to try. I'm also going to try to work on this time travel thing, because it irritates me TO NO END that I can't have tea with Florence Converse. I did, however, contact the Wellesley library and now have in my possession a record of the courses she took there AS WELL AS a personal information form that she filled out herself. The possession of this caused me to giggle for a good five minutes. Thank you, Wellesley.

Oh, Diana Victrix. More people should read you.


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