Warning: Long text ahead!
I recently began watching silent films and developed an interest in Rudolph Valentino, one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols. I came across an article he’d written for Photoplay in March 1922 and found it an interesting read with RP nuggets, so I thought I’d share.
(I picked out the most relevant parts. If you would like to read it in its entirety I could link the text here.)
All women are divided into two classes in the mind of a man. Often they are so mixed up that you do not know which is which until you go down very deep. Then it does not matter, for in an affair of amour a counterfeit is often better than the real thing.
In my poor English, let me say that there are what I would call joy-women and duty-women. Now understand, the joy woman may be very good and the duty woman might even be bad. That is just their relation to man. The first kind are the kind that you want to take with you on your joyful carefree wanderings into life’s highways and byways. The other are the women who are possibilities to share the principal things of life - home, family, and children.
For a wife, a man should pick out a woman who is pretty, has a good disposition, and is domestically inclined. They are very rare now, I admit. One is too apt to be deceived by their easy method of comradeship. Let her be your inferior, if possible. Then she will be happy with you. It is much more essential to marriage that a woman be happy in it than a man. I do not mean a butterfly that flits from beauty parlor to beauty parlor. But a good woman who has the old-fashioned virtues.
We Europeans do not expect too much of one woman. The difficulty with love and marriage in this country is that the man has let the game get out of his hand. A woman can never have a happy love affair with a man unless he is her superior. It just can’t be done. The love affair where the woman is the stronger in mind and knowledge is always a tragedy or a farce.
I do not like women who know too much. Remember, it was from the serpent that Eve was given that apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Just so I would make the Tree of Knowledge of Life today - forbidden to women. If they must eat of it, let them do so in secret and burn the core.
Do not misunderstand this that I say. I do not mean this in regards to intelligence, to education, even to position. The more cultured and accomplished a woman is, the more exquisite she is to love, the more like gold that is soft to touch and handle. With her, all is delicate and attractive, all is beautiful and fine, her mind is attuned to beauty - and beauty is of itself a religion.
No, when I speak thus of an inferior - a superior - I mean in experience of life, in power to do, in ways to love. The man may be a digger in the ditch, and the woman a teacher in the school, but he is the master of her if he knows more of the world than she does. It is not becoming that a woman should know the world. It is not proper that a lady should of to places or to things where she acquires this knowledge.
If she knows these things, she must be clever enough to conceal her knowledge, like the girl who can swim a mile, yet with much grace and helplessness she allows me to teach her swimming.
How completely the modern woman in America tries to destroy romance. How ugly and cut-and-dry is has become - love. Either it must be marriage or it must be ugly scandal. The brilliant, absorbing, delightful, dangerous, innocent - sometimes - sport of life, how it goes. She knows too much about life and too little about emotion. She knows all of the bad and none of the good about passion. She has seen everything, felt nothing. She arouses in me disgust.
Sometimes a man may feel that he would rather a woman had done many, many bad things - read bad things - and yet been delicate, and quiet and dignified, than to see her common. If the bloom has been rubbed from the peach, let her paint it back on with an artistic hand.
Should I try again to find me a wife, I say, let me find one who wishes to have children and who when she has had them, wishes to take care of them. That is the proper test for a good woman who is to share the side of your life. No other woman can ever mean to a man what his children’s mother means to him - if she does not lot herself get fat and ugly and old. No man can love a woman who lets herself get fat, and careless and unpleasant. He must constantly make comparisons of her with the beautiful young girls about. A wife’s first duty is to keep her husband from making comparisons.
Of all the women I have known, the Frenchwomen are the most nearly perfect. No matter what their age or class may be, they have that touch of domesticity, that sweet and gentle something that lends a delicacy even to the wildness of the senses. Thy know how to amuse, how to touch the heart, they have the sixth sense of pleasing a man with their perfection. And they are so very well dressed. All of them.
American women are terribly pretty. Even when they are quite ugly, they are pretty. They are always rather well dressed. And they always behave as though they were beautiful. Which gives them great poise. But they lack softness, they lack feminine charm and sweetness. You cannot imagine them doing their bits of sewing, washing, mending, and what not. They dazzle but they do not warm. They are magnificent when they are dressed up, but I never have seen one who was likewise at ease and delicious and feminine in the kitchen or the nursery.
They are so restless, too. Nothing interferes with romance like restlessness. It destroys those subtle shadings that are the very breath of its life.
I do not blame the women for all this. I blame the American man. He cannot hold a woman, dominate and rule her. Naturally things have come to a pretty pass. He is impossible as a lover. He cares nothing for pleasing the woman. He is not master in his own house. He picks and nags about little things, and then falls down in big ones.
I love the dainty, little woman, who plays seriously at being domestic. She fascinates me. Everything womanly, distinctly feminine, in a woman, appeals to me. I adore her bird-like ways, her sweet pretenses, her delicious prettiness. I love her almost as one loves a cunning child, and when to this is added the filipe of sex, she becomes perfect. I do not like in her flippant, cold-blooded little tricks, but those soft, lovable ways of a little woman, those melting, helpless little ways of hers — that bring tears to your eyes and fire to your lips.
Then there is the silent, mysterious woman who fences divinely. Who knows silently and secretly the secrets of the couquette — that last art of woman, in always leaving herself an opportunity to retreat. Who has always at hand that last weapon of woman — surrender.
The greatest asset to a woman is dignity. It is her shield. With it, she may commit indiscretions that a vulgar puritan could never attempt. Dignity in a woman always puzzles a man. He likes it. He admires it. He feels confidence in the woman who displays it. He knows that she will never make a fool of herself or of him.
An interesting piece of writing, and not one I was expecting to read from Valentino. To be honest, I don’t completely understand what he says about women who "know" too much. But I was surprised to hear that even in the 1920’s, people were already talking negatively about modern women, particularly Americans!
Anyone else enjoy silent film? :)