Friday, 6 April 2012

24 March, 1888 - 'On Impulsiveness' by Lily Watson - Introduction

This is the first "OH GIRLS THESE DAYS!!" article I believe I've posted here. Others are probably available at the old Tumblr and when the 'Read More' button failed to work were probably the bane of everybody's dashboards. Oh well, that's why I moved to Blogspot. Big blocks of text are more the done thing over here.

But yes. Mrs Watson on the unfortunate phenomenon of the impulsive girl. Impulsiveness is bad. No manic pixie dream girls or toxic frenemies here, thank you very much.

"Sensible and cold-hearted!" exclaims Molly Gibson's stepmother, the former Mrs Kirkpatrick, in Mrs Gaskell's delightful story of "Wives and Daughters". "Now, that's a kind of character which may be very valuable, but which revolts me. Give me warmth of heart, even with a little of that extravagance of feeling which misleads the judgment and conducts into romance. Poor Mr Kirkpatrick! That was just his character. I used to tell him that his love for me was quite romantic. I think I have told you about his walking five miles in the rain to get me a muffin once when I was ill?"

"Yes," said Molly. "It was very kind of him."

"So imprudent too! Just what one of your sensible, cold-hearted, commonplace people would never have thought of doing. With his cough and all."

"I hope he didn't suffer for it?" replied Molly.

"Yes, indeed he did. I odn't think he ever got over the cold he caught that day."

Men that share the amiable weakness of the late Mr Kirkpatrick, who would risk making his wife a widow to gratify her passing whim, are not very numerous! But Mrs Gibson does not stand alone in her impression that to act upon impulse rather than judgment, is a very charming and delightful thing. And girls especially, whose emotional nature is vehement, and whose reason, for one cause or another, is not fully disciplined, are apt to fall into the snare of regarding the feeling of the moment, and that alone, as a sufficient motive for action. They have a horror, and rightly, or cold calculationg motives, and therefore fly to the opposite extreme of not having any reasonable motives at all.

These impulsive girls have, generally speaking, many delightful qualities. They are frank, affectionate, and generous, and one is apt to contrast them with the cold, selfish and undemonstrative, very much to their own advantage. Then comes the deduction "It is better to be impulsive than to act on judgment." A moment's thought of course would show that this comparison is by no means fair. The impulsive girl with her good qualities should be placed side by side with one who is also frank, affectionate and generous, but who has a sufficient share of judgment to guide her behaviour. Then the infinite advantage would be seen to lie with the latter.

Just because this "impulsiveness" which is a real danger presents a charming aspect when vaugely and indefinitely considered, it is worth while to look at it closely and see if its various manifestations are really to be admired. Since illustration is much more interesting than abstract lecturing, we will picture the "impulsive girl" in two or three characters; and if some of my readers have not met her in real life I should be very much surprised.

After the cut: The Impulsive Girl as a Friend

The Impulsive Girl as a Friend

In this character she is - there is no denying it - very attractive at first. There is none of the repellant English reserve and stiffness on a first acquaintance; no balancing as to whether she likes you or whether she does not. You are surprised and charmed by the bright greeting of her eye, the cordial grasp of her hand, the warmth of her opening remarks. A day or two after this first introduction she calls on you, kisses you, and rushes at once into the midst of her subject. She feels drawn to you so much'; there is no one at home who can understand her (impulsive girls usually belong to the ranks of the misunderstood); may she, oh may she, have you for a friend? No one could resist such an appeal; you feel only flattered by her preference, and sit in pleasure mingled with surprise while she pours forth on the most private details of her home life, the lack of sympathy of her father and mother, brothers and sisters, as the case may be, together with particulars of any little romance of her own, or her interests in life generally. You feel slightly surprised that she should confide all this to so recent an acquaintance, but it is easy and agreeable to account for it by the fact of your own superior attractiveness and sympathetic nature. So you try to respond to her gushing outbursts in a suitable manner, and see her depart, after repeated embraces, with the pleased conviction that you have won a friend.

Day by day her friendship increases - nay, it is scarcely friendship, it is homage. She comes to see you constantly, writes letters to you with the most ardent headings, and lavishes presents on you out of her store of pocket-money, for to do her justice the Impulsive Girl is invariably generous. It is all most delightful, and the occasional fits of jealousy she shows of your liking for other people only add to your convictoin of the reality of her friendship.

Can it be? you ask yourself, when after a period, long or short, as circumstances decree, the impulsive one seems to slacken in her adoration. You have done nothing to alter her feeling; but certainly there is a change. Letters begin "My dear-" instead of "My own darling -" and she signs her name in full instead of putting some pet abbreviation. You do not like to recognise the truth, patent to all observers, that she is getting tired of you. You are at your wits' end to know what you can have done. Perhaps you ask her and then there is a "scene" and an "explanation" for these are things in which the Impulsive Girl delights, and if you give her a chance she will drag one in, to your own pain and distress. You are very fortunate if the hot brief friendship does not end like a tropical day, in thunder and lightning; for once the adoration has cooled she will be very ready to pick a quarrel with you. Perhaps she feels the need, without accounting for it to herself, or showing some sort of cause for her desertion.

When it is all over and you are plantee la after a long course of neglect or a terrible quarrel you are informed by other friends that it is Miss -----'s way and they always knew how it would be! Meanwhile you suffer much pain, in which wounded affection, as well as wounded vanity, has its part; for the Impulsive Girl is really a lovable creature. For your consolation you can watch her attaching herself to someone else, and mark the rapid progress of another friendship, which doubtless will have, in due time, its decline and fall. You ruefully think of the savage, first worshipping a fetish, then thumping it on the head if it fails to answer his expectatons. But the wooden deity cannot feel, and unfortunately you can! Friends of the Impulsive Girl out to make themselves as much like the wooden deity as possible.

Next time: the Impulsive Girl in her domestic relations and the Impulsive Girl as Travel-Companion

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