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Merrick's Women Post by :mr_ragg Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :2471

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Merrick's Women

The novels of Leonard Merrick go a long way in reconciling us to the constitutional establishment of the single standard of morals proposed by William Jennings Bryan. Merrick's world is a hard one for women. His men starve romantically in a pretty poverty. Their dingy haunts are of the gayest. Bad luck only adds to their merriment. So it is, too, with the Kikis and Mignons, but Merrick's good women are of much more fragile stuff. Although invariably English, they grow pale and woebegone just as easily in London as in Paris. The author never gives them any fun at all. A harsh word makes them tremble, but they fear kindness even more. When they are not starving they are fluttering confoundedly because somebody has spoken to them.

With half of When Love Flies Out o' the Window behind us, we are entirely out of patience with Meenie Weston. There is no denying, of course, that Meenie had a hard time. Well-paid singing teachers told her that she possessed a great voice, but when her father died she found that the best she could do was an engagement in the chorus, and not always that.

After months without work she signed a contract to sing in what she supposed was a Parisian concert hall, but it turned out to be a dingy cabaret. Worse than that, Miss Weston found that between songs she was supposed to sit at a table and let chance patrons buy her food and drink. It was not much of a job and Miss Weston refused to mingle with the audience. Then one night the villainous proprietor locked her out of her dressing room and she was forced to venture down among the customers.

Up to this point our sympathies were generally with the heroine, except at the point, back in London, where the author recorded, "Miss Joyce proposed that they should 'drink luck' to the undertaking and have 'a glass of port wine.' The girl (our heroine) had been in the chorus too long to be startled by the suggestion--"

It seemed to us that there was nothing particularly horrifying in the suggestion, even if it had been made to a young lady who had never been on the stage. Despite this clue to Miss Weston's character, we were disappointed and surprised at her conduct in the Paris cabaret. She sat first with her one friend in the establishment, who was a kindly but hardened cabaret singer. She did her best for Meenie, but she did not understand her. "That any girl could tremble at the idea of talking to strangers across a table and imbibing beer at their expense was beyond her comprehension."

Our sympathy lay with the cabaret veteran rather than with Meenie. Of course, we did not expect Miss Weston to enjoy her predicament, but when a man asked her, "Are you going to sing 'As Once in May' to-night?" we could not quite see why Mr. Merrick found it necessary to report the fact that:

"She started, and the man told himself that he had really stumbled on a singular study.

"'Yes,' she faltered."

To us it seemed a simple question simply put. After all, it was fortunate that the young man did not begin with "Will you have a drink?" Brutal and insulting language of that sort would certainly have sent Meenie straight into hysterics. Even when the young man dropped in the next night there seemed to be nothing in his conversation to alarm our heroine excessively, but Merrick is wedded to the notion that virtue in a woman is a sort of panic. A good name, he seems to believe, is something which a woman carries tightly clasped in both arms like a bowl of goldfish. To stumble would be almost as fatal as to fall.

"I came to talk to you again, if you'll let me," said the young man.

"You know very well that I can't help it," our heroine answered. This was not polite, but at least it had a more engaging quality of boldness than anything she had said before. But soon she was fluttering again. "Oh, you have only to say I'm a nuisance! I assure you that if you'd rather I left you alone I won't speak another word," continued the young man. This seemed reassuring enough, but it has a devastating effect upon our heroine, for we find that "Her mouth twitched, and she looked at the ground."

Eventually she and the young man were married. He had spoken to her without an introduction, and he was enough of a gentleman to realize that he must right the wrong and make an honest woman of her.

Although we have not yet finished the book, we rather suspect that they will not be very happy. Merrick's good women never are. They all suffer terrifically just because they lack the ability to bulwark their virtue behind a couple of snappy comebacks, such as, "Where do you get that stuff?" or, "How do you get that way?"

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Merrick's Women

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