The Plain Man and His Wife
by Arnold Bennett
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Mr. Omicron, your imagination, now feverishly active, will thus demonstrate to you that your wife's earthly lot is not the velvet couch that you had unimaginatively assumed it to be, and that, indeed, you would not change places with her for a hundred thousand a year. Your attitude towards her human limitations will be modified, and the general mass of misunderstanding between sex and sex will tend to diminish.

(And if even yet your attitude is not modified, let your imagination dwell for a few instants on the extraordinary number of bad and expensive hotels with which you are acquainted—managed, not by amateurish women, but by professional men. And on the obstinate mismanagement of the commissariat of your own club—of which you are continually complaining to members of the house-committee.)


I pass to another aspect of Mr. Omicron's private reflections consequent upon Mrs. Omicron's dreadful failure of tact in asking him about the ring after the mutton had proved to be underdone and the coffee to be inadequate. "She only thinks of spending," reflected Mr. Omicron, resentfully. A more or less true reflection, no doubt, but there would have been a different colour to it if Mr. Omicron had exercised the greatest of his faculties. Suppose you were to unscale your eyes, Mr. Omicron—that is to say, use your imagination—and try to see that so far as finance is concerned your wife's chief and proper occupation in life is to spend. Conceive what you would say if she announced one morning: "Henry, I am sick of spending. I am going out into the world to earn." Can you not hear yourself employing a classic phrase about "the woman's sphere"? In brief, there would occur an altercation and a shindy.

Your imagination, once set in motion, will show you that your conjugal existence is divided into two great departments—the getting and the spending departments. Wordsworth chanted that in getting and spending we lay waste our powers. We could not lay waste our powers in a more satisfying manner. The two departments, mutually indispensable, balance each other. You organized them. You made yourself the head of one and your wife the head of the other. You might, of course, have organized them otherwise. It was open to you in the Hottentot style to decree that your wife should do the earning while you did the spending. But for some mysterious reason this arrangement did not appeal to you, and you accordingly go forth daily to the office and return therefrom with money. The theory of your daily excursion is firmly based in the inherent nature of things. The theory is the fundamental cosmic one that money is made in order that money may be spent—either at once or later. Even the miser conforms to this theory, for he only saves in obedience to the argument that the need of spending in the future may be more imperious than is the need of spending at the moment.

The whole of your own personal activity is a mere preliminary to the activity of Mrs. Omicron. Without hers, yours would be absurd, ridiculous, futile, supremely silly. By spending she completes and justifies your labour; she crowns your life by spending. You married her so that she might spend. You wanted some one to spend, and it was understood that she should fill the situation. She was brought up to spend, and you knew that she was brought up to spend. Spending is her vocation. And yet you turn round on her and complain, "She only thinks of spending."

"Yes," you say, "but there is such a thing as moderation." There is; I admit it. The word "extravagance" is no idle word in the English language. It describes a quality which exists. Let it be an axiom that Mrs. Omicron is human. Just as the tendency to get may grow on you, until you become a rapacious and stingy money-grubber, so the tendency to spend may grow on her. One has known instances. A check-action must be occasionally employed. Agreed! But, Mr. Omicron, you should choose a time and a tone for employing it other than you chose on this evening that I have described. A man who mixes up jewelled rings with undertone mutton and feeble coffee is a clumsy man.

Exercise your imagination to put yourself in the place of Mrs. Omicron, and you will perceive that she is constantly in the highly delicate difficulty of having to ask for money, or at any rate of having to suggest or insinuate that money should be given to her. It is her right and even her duty to ask for money, but the foolish, illogical creature—like most women, even those with generous and polite husbands—regards the process as a little humiliating for herself. You, Mr. Omicron, have perhaps never asked for money. But your imagination will probably be able to make you feel how it feels to ask for money. A woman whose business in life it is to spend money which she does not and cannot earn may sometimes have to face a refusal when she asks for money. But there is one thing from which she ought to be absolutely and eternally safe—and that is a snub.


And finally, in his reflections as an ill-used man tied for life to a woman who knows not tact, Mr. Omicron asserted further that Mrs. Omicron only thought of spending and titivating herself. To assert that she only thought of spending did not satisfy his spleen; he must add "titivating herself." He would admit, of course, that she did as a fact sometimes think of other matters, but still he would uphold the gravamen of his charge. And yet—excellent Omicron!—you have but to look the truth in the face—as a plain common-sense man will—and to use your imagination, in order to perceive that there really is no gravamen in the charge.

Why did you insist on marrying Mrs. Omicron? She had the reputation of being a good housekeeper (as girls go); she was a serious girl, kind-hearted, of irreproachable family, having agreeable financial expectations, clever, well-educated, good-tempered, pretty. But the truth is that you married her for none of these attributes. You married her because you were attracted to her; and what attracted you was a mysterious, never-to-be-defined quality about her—an effluence, an emanation, a lurking radiance, an entirely enigmatic charm. In the end "charm" is the one word that even roughly indicates that element in her personality which caused you to lose your head about her. A similar phenomenon is to be observed in all marriages of inclination. A similar phenomenon is at the bottom of most social movements. Why, the Men's League for Women's Suffrage itself certainly came into being through the strange workings of that same phenomenon! You married Mrs. Omicron doubtless because she was "suitable," but her "suitability," for you, consisted in the way she breathed, the way she crossed a room, a transient gesture, a vibration in her voice, a blush, a glance, the curve of an arm—nothing, nothing—and yet everything!

You may condescend towards this quality of hers, Mr. Omicron—you may try to dismiss it as "feminine charm," and have done with it. But you cannot have done with it. And the fact will ever remain that you are incapable of supplying it yourself, with all your talents and your divine common sense. You are an extremely wise and good man, but you cannot ravish the senses of a roomful of people by merely walking downstairs, by merely throwing a shawl over your shoulders, by a curious depression in the corner of one cheek. This gift of grace is not yours. Wise as you are, you will be still wiser if you do not treat it disdainfully. It is among the supreme things in the world. It has made a mighty lot of history, and not improbably will make some more—even yours.

You were not the only person aware of the formidable power (for formidable it was) which she possessed over you. She, too, was aware of it, and is still. She knows that when she exists in a particular way, she will produce in your existence a sensation which, though fleeting, you prefer to all other sensations—a sensation unique. And this quality by which she disturbs and enchants you is her main resource in the adventure of life. Shall she not cherish this quality, adorn it, intensify it? On the contrary, you well know that you would be very upset and amazed if Mrs. Omicron were to show signs of neglecting this quality of hers which yearns for rings. And, if you have ever entered a necktie-shop and been dazzled by the spectacle of a fine necktie into "hanging expense"—if you have been through this wondrous experience, your imagination, duly prodded, will enable you to put yourself into Mrs. Omicron's place when she mentions the subject of rings. "Titivating herself?" Good heavens, she is helping the very earth to revolve! And you smote the defenceless creature with a lethal word—because the butcher's boy dallied at a street-corner!

You insinuate that one frail hand may carry too many rings. You reproduce your favourite word "moderation." Mr. Omicron, I take you. I agree as to the danger. But if Mrs. Omicron is human, let us also bear in mind the profound truth that not one of us is more human than another.


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