Critical Editions Produced by Students at Rider University
Amber Lohnes and Kimberly Rodriguez
By December 1st of 1914, The New Freewoman had officially been changed to The Egoist for just about a year. Marsden had decided to shift the perspectives of the magazine to match her newfound interest in the individual. She separated from labels, embracing individual choice and freedom that inspired the newest version of The New Freewoman. The newly established name brought new stories, discussions, and audiences. This issue in particular had a multitude of different texts within it. For example, it contained a story on morality written by Dora Marsden, a piece on Chinese Egoism by William Loftus Hare, a one-page discussion on Parochialism in Art by Richard Aldington, and an excerpt from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Aside from stories, the article also contains poems. Five are written by William Carlos Williams, there is a short one stanza poem by Richard Aldington at the end of Parochialism in Art, and one war poem written by Herbert Blenheim. The issue then closes with reviews and correspondences between the editor and people who chose to write to her.
1914. Only about five months since the commencement of World War I. At this time, women were yet to be considered equals to men, and attempted, violently, to liberate themselves from oppression, to no avail until years later. Women were continuously objectified, as portrayed in William Carlos Williams’ poem “Woman Walking” and other works published in the many articles of The Egoist. This previously feminist magazine was turned into a literary magazine that published profound and powerful early modernist pieces to bring forth attention to critical issues, specifically those in relation to women through its five-year publishing period. The WSPU, lead by the Pankhursts, aimed to effectively and efficiently reach suffrage. Marsden did not feel their methods were as effective as they thought they would be because of their inability to act. Along with this distaste for the Pankhursts’ approach, Marsden felt the label of “woman” was only keeping them farther back, with no room to grow or be taken seriously. She felt that to be understood by men, they must move forward as individuals working for the same cause, rather than under one label that would never be heard as a clump. Dora Marsden left the WSPU and shortly after created Freewoman. This magazine fought for women’s suffrage in a way that the WSPU did not. She spoke out with no fear of retribution. As Marsden become more closely tied to modernists like Ezra Pound, her views on individualism because more concrete. After a change from Freewoman to The New Freewoman, the magazine came to be known as the The Egoist, and with these periodicals she impacted the world from a different approach.
We chose to examine issue 23 from Volume 1 of The Egoist since it was one of the last issues of the first volume of the new magazine. Considering it had been about a year, we felt it appropriate to choose one of the last issues to see Marsden’s progress. This issue in particular contains an array of different topics written by various famous authors from the time. Many of the texts in the issue discuss war; songs, poems, and correspondence to the newspaper discuss loyalty to one’s country and support of the troops. Marsden’s own piece titled “Why Are We Moral” discusses man’s morality and how it becomes customary to continue to be moral, which is the reason behind Moralists’ constant need to maintain it. This issue also includes Chinese egoism which goes in hand in hand with her interest in individualism and the newest title of the magazine. It is expected that Marsden would pay close attention to eliminate labels like woman, but she does not. William Carlos Williams’ poems are published in this issue; two include the word “woman” and one clearly speaks about them in a negative light. Why would Marsden include works that place women under a bad light rather than eliminating the word entirely from her magazine? Instead of lacking gender, the issue often mentions men and only mentions women when men desire to include her. This highlights Marsden’s transition from aiding the “Women’s Movement” to using individualism to aid the suffrage movement, and how her views seem to come across unclearly. Since we didn’t think it was appropriate to only focus on one of William Carlos Williams’ poems, we decided that one of our two critical editions would focus on the five poems that are published within this issue of The Egoist. By analyzing the five poems, we were able to see how they related to the other pieces that are also found within this issue.
William Carlos Williams
In 1883, the famous American poet William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. While receiving his degree at University of Pennsylvania, Williams’ befriended Ezra Pound who later became an important influence on his writings. According to sources such as James Breslin in his novel William Carlos Williams, an American Artist, Williams was severely affected by the “rigid idealism and moral perfectionism his parents tried to instill in him.” These concrete views implemented into his head shaped his views and ideas of the societal world, even if some of them contradicted what his parents initially attempted to teach him. His beliefs were expressed through his poetry and other published works. In December of 1914, five pieces of Williams’ writings were published in The Egoist. Although it is nowhere stated exactly why his poems were published in the periodical, it can be assumed that one reason is because of the writing style that he uses. As a modernist writer, Williams’ became very fond of using language of the common tongue and ear—meaning that most literate audiences would be able to understand his poems because they were written with common, everyday speech. This was quite profound, as no other poet had really done this before. Just because the words were not complex, however, does not mean that the meanings were just as simple. Within the five published poems of the December first article, opinions about gender, social barriers, and war were exposed and left for the public to interpret.
The first poem seen in the article is “Woman Walking,” a poem in which a man depicts a woman to be nothing but a figure to be looked at, clearly not being recognized for the work that she is doing. Before the woman is introduced, Barry Ahearn author of William Carlos Williams and Alterity: The Early Poetry notes that the day is bleak and grey. The poem then takes a quick turn when the male speaker of the poem exclaims, “what a blessing it is to see you in the street again, powerful woman, coming with swinging haunches, breasts straight forward…” (Egoist 444). This woman is delivering eggs to this man’s home, and yet he cannot help but comment on her hips and breasts as he hopes for more than just receiving the produce that she is bringing. Another interesting point to question is the fact that she is bringing eggs, a possible reference to a woman who carries fertile eggs that a man needs to inseminate so she can bear children. He also claims that he “might well see her oftener! And for a different reason” (Egoist 444). Without even consulting this, note, unnamed woman, he creates a plan in his head to spend time with her outside of the weekly meeting for exchanging of goods. Naturally, this is not something that the magazine was trying to promote. However it was important that occurrences and perceptions such as this fictional, but realistic, poem were brought into the light of day.
The other works of Williams’ that were published in this edition were not mainly focused on women necessarily. However, this does not mean that there were not underlying women’s issues hidden between the lines of these other poems and short writings. The free verse piece “Transitional,” which is found after “Woman Walking,” discusses the interrelationship between men and women. The poem has profound statements declaring that men would not be men without women, and this needs to be acknowledged. With the realization that both genders are necessary, “we can speak and be conscious (O’ the two sides)” (Egoist 444). Williams’ is proclaiming the possibilities that are available for men and women if it can be understood that the two need to work together. This is exactly what Marsden was looking for. She no longer wanted a division between the men and the women, and this desire to create unity can be felt when reading “Transitional.”
Aside from issues between the social roles of men and women, Williams’ “Invitation” and “Aux Imagistes” discuss barriers and stigmas between social classes. Both are written for the “townspeople,” as stated by Williams within his poem, and so he writes them as if they were a conversation (Egoist 444). Williams wanted to ensure that his points were being understood, and hopefully absorbed and taken forth, by those who read these two pieces and therefore used the conversational tone and structure. The first of the two, “Invitation,” can be analyzed as a cry for help. The speaker of the poem describes the seemingly-mundane world that he and his fellow townspeople live in, yet questions why they have never thought to stretch out any further than where the horizon meets. He utters, “let us be conscious and talk of these things” (Egoist 444). Williams portrays his hopes through the words of the speaker, and hopes that people will understand that those who study and have careers in art should be let alone. An artist should be allowed to be an artist, and do as he or she pleases, just as anyone else. This relates back to how Marsden feels; people, no matter what gender, should be allowed to do what one pleases, without constraint or restriction. Similarly to Marsden’s desire to separate the label of women from the women, the speaker of the poem “Aux Imagistes” is addressing an issue about being restrained by someone or something. Some sources say that the speaker of this poem is Williams describing the emotions he felt in his distancing from the other Imagists. Imagists were poets who advocated free verse and the expression of ideas and emotions through clear precise images and words, which Williams was still doing, however he used language of the common man more so than intricate metaphors that may not be as easily interpreted. Even if it is not directly about Williams, the poem warns the reader being conspired against. Though he or she may not realize it, it is happening to everyone— if only he or she would open his or her ears and eyes to see the blasphemy that was occurring. Luckily, for the reader, the speaker claims that “they shall not endure for ever,” and that with time, it is possible to break the things that are binding the individuals so that they can be free without label or restriction (Egoist 444). Williams wants the reader to understand that there is hope, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but getting there is not always so easy. It may take one, two, or even three tries, but eventually the suffering and struggling that is occurring will dwindle, and success will find its way.
Williams’ did understand, however, that fighting for rights and individuality could cause war, even if it was not necessarily on the battlefield. James Guimond, author of The Art of William Carlos Williams, states that “Williams blamed the inadequacies of American culture for both the emotional and economic plight.” Williams was frustrated, and took that frustration and put it into his poetry. In “Peace,” the final poem in the periodical, Williams’ claims in that peace is attainable; however society needs to remove war from its present and future. The first line of the poem strongly proclaims, “I grant you: peace is desirable” and the last line powerfully wraps it up with, “[Peace] is a rare and high thing—it is not subsidized—it also has its courage” (Egoist 444). Peace, although it may seem like a cowardly answer to the problems of the world, declaring it actually has the most courage of all. War, he states, is the antithesis to peace, and therefore is not the answer to all the world’s problems. During the time in which this editorial was published, World War I was in the works, and there were hopes that on Christmas Eve, a temporary truce would take place in honor of the holiday. Many wished of peace during this time, but it seemed like an unobtainable goal. Williams knew that with a continuation of war, there was no hope for peace.
A most interesting point when analyzing the poems in context of this magazine is that the only time that Dora Marsden has the word “woman” or “women” appear in this article is within the poems “Woman Walking” and “Transitional.” According to our research, Marsden preferred to keep the female nouns out of her pieces because she believed that the label of being a woman was holding women back. Marsden preferred to focus on the individual; however Williams’ poems were fitting for the piece, and gave a perspective on how women were perceived. Not only did the poems give perspectives on women and men, but they also shed light on other important topics. Using simple language that the average newspaper-reader would understand, Williams hoped that he could bring attention to readers about the power that the individual has as an individual, and in society. Humans, he claims, have the wisdom to be conscious of the issues that they create and the power to solve these issues. World War I was still occurring in December of 1914, and Williams’ poem “Peace” was not only relevant for the average reader, but was hoped to advocate for peace, and not war. All five of the poems in this issue of The Egoist were influential during a time filled with social, cultural, and gender barriers as well as other underlying societal issues and misunderstandings.
Dora Marsden and The Egoist
Dora Marsden’s affiliation with feminism began with her WSPU membership. Eventually, though, Dora Marsden had developed firm beliefs about the label of ‘woman’ and an overall opinion about labels. She disagreed with the fact that labels existed at all, and she no longer wished to stand with an organization that worked for people using this label. She felt that the movement was not gaining any strength or doing anything productive. The label of ‘woman’ felt retroactive to Dora; being called a woman only limited them from being treated as equals because they were considered outsiders and another group on its own. She denied the “Woman’s” Movement, as she called suffrage, altogether.
The leaders of the WSPU, the Pankhursts, “saw that only a government measure could enfranchise women and only through the (male) electorate could the government be pressurized” (Crawford). Once she decided on this new ideology, she left the WSPU because it no longer stood for what she believed in (Smith 112). Her departure from the WSPU also opened doors for her; at this time she decided to begin publishing a journal for all people working for the women’s movement to be heard and recognized. The first journal, the Freewoman, was created in 1911, but did not last very long. She then changed it to the New Freewoman with the same intentions, but this is when her ideology of the empowered individual truly came out in the open and began to affect her new career.
She became a firm believer of the individual, and she wanted people to be heard and recognized as such and nothing less or more. She wanted “non-gender specific, non-race specific, non-class specific, because none of these groupings really matter” (Smith 114). Marsden enjoyed the idea of the individual because she felt there was more freedom that come with individuality. A label would only limit the individual to certain situations and circumstances, but while fighting as an individual for the empowered individual, less limitations existed. Her focus shifted to political and individual liberation pieces to display on her journal. Ezra Pound was a great influence on her during this time which inspired her to learn and understand more about individuality and liberation. These aspirations and beliefs changed the New Freewoman so she quickly changed the title of her journal to The Egoist.
The magazine’s new title of The Egoist corresponded better with Marsden’s beliefs. Although as contradictory as it is to her previous beliefs, the label of “egoist” fit properly to her standards and new ideology, and so did the writings published in the magazine’s six volumes. In the first volume of the magazine, it is important to recognize the shift in Marsden’s writings and perspectives and how they transmitted into her magazine. Since she was shifting from feminism by eliminating the label of woman, her opinions and ideals changed along with the change of the magazine names. Egoism was valuable to Marsden’s transmission to her message; she wanted to focus on individuality while also still assisting the suffrage movement. She did so through literature and through the writings published in her first two magazines, but the focus seems to shift when The Egoist is published.
To understand this, a closer look at the 23rd issue of volume one demonstrates how different Marsden’s new magazine was compared to her two previous ones. The 23rd issue may seem random, but since it is one of the last issues of the first volume, it is a good choice to judge how much Marsden’s views have truly affected her new magazine, if they have at all. The most clear change is from The New Freewoman to The Egoist. She eliminated “woman” from the magazine all together and demonstrated this shift clearly by changing the title of the magazine. The word egoist plays hand in hand with individualism. Egoism means that a person is excessively concerned for oneself. Marsden’s decision to use this word as the new title should come into play when looking at the works published in its pages.
Another clear difference in the pages of The Egoist is the presence of political and individualistic pieces. In Issue 23, all of the works discuss morality, egoism or the war. These themes were, of course, present in her previous magazines, but more so in this magazine because of her desire to focus on the individual. It is understandable that Marsden eliminated the use of “she” pronouns because she, as previously stated, had a distaste for labels, but taking a closer look at this issue, there is a lack of any gendered pronouns. And when gendered pronouns are used, “she” has a negative representation, and the “he” is mentioned in the arts and war. Since Marsden did work with the WSPU and still had an interest in the suffrage movement, why would she allow women to be represented in a poor light?
One of the works that mentions women is titled “Woman Walking” by the famous poet William Carlos Williams. Readers can assume that the narrator of the poem is a man. He talks about how dreary his days seem to be, and that life seems boring and dull until he sees that “powerful woman” who is bringing him eggs. She lights up his day, and as she steps closer to him he describes her. He goes about doing so by talking about her legs, thighs, breasts and shoulders to name a few. By the end, the narrator hopes to see her again, “And for different reason than the fresh eggs” (The Egoist 444). Women are sexualized in this poem and serve no use other than to satisfy the narrator of the poem who is assumed to be a man. This disagrees with Marsden’s previous views that tied with feminism and the suffrage movement. Rather than allowing women to be free of labels and become individuals, they rely on a man to bring them into their worlds and give them importance.
The other work is also written by William Carlos Williams. It speaks and focuses less on women, but does include them just to empower the man. This poem titled “Transitional” only briefly mentions a woman by saying “It is the woman in us That makes us write” (The Egoist 444). At first read, the quote can be read as Williams’ approach to Marsden’s ideology of eliminating labels and uniting genders to exist solely as individuals. When reading to understand what the author meant by “the woman in us,” a different meaning arises. When speaking of a deeper or inner being of woman in man to make them write, this brings up the stereotypes of women being talented at the arts. The bias that comes with the female gender and the arts is preyed upon by these words in this poem. The man explains that he can be talented in the arts because he has a little bit of “woman” in him. Again, women are brought into the light only because men bring them into it.
Other than these poems, women are not mentioned. The issue’s focus is on current political topics and most importantly, the war efforts and anything relating to the war. The encouragement of the soldiers and the war battles are evident in Marsden’s 23rd issue. Songs are created like “In War-Time” are dedicated to the cause. There is also Marsden’s work in this issue is about morality and how it becomes customary to keep morality. In this, she does mention the YWCA, but just for a brief moment when listing other clubs like men’s clubs and the YMCA. When arriving at the topic of individualism, it is evidently shown through the correspondence included in the issue. The correspondence discusses freedom and honor while also mentioning more concern for the war issues.
If Dora Marsden were to avoid the use of any gendered pronouns throughout her issues, it would support entirely her beliefs that individualism is more valuable than labels, and that these separations would be valuable to the suffrage movement. But in this issue is it evident that she has included male gendered pronouns only included female gendered pronouns in negative contexts. Her motives may have been to aid the suffrage movement, but they have shifted by the end of this volume. She has veered from discussing women’s issues at all and focused on the expression of men in her new newspaper. It is also important to acknowledge that Marsden did not include the WSPU at all in her issues. Although she did have different opinions from the organization and its leaders, she had previously worked with them and believed in them. She could have included their efforts and, if she felt necessary, discussed their approaches at least, to call attention to their actions and spark interest in her readers to learn more and become more involved in the suffrage movement. Marsden could speak about women without using the word woman. The power to the individual can come with just their names, not the label “woman” to group everyone together since she felt this was already weakening the movement by the time she had parted ways with the WSPU. This overall lack of attention paid to the woman may disempower the suffrage movement, without Marsden realizing the consequences of her actions.
Egoist: An individual that believes individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions (The Egoist 433)
December 1914: Known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, Pope Benedict XV successfully suggested and established a temporary hiatus of the war in celebration of the national holiday. History.com states that there was no country officially cease-fired, but the soldiers declared it unofficially. (The Egoist 433)
Altruism: A synonym to selflessness. In many cultures it is a traditional virtue to be able to practice concern for the welfare of others. Originating from the French philosopher Auguste Comte, altruism is essentially an antonym for egoism. (The Egoist 434)
Moralist: A person who has or shows strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong. (The Egoist 435)
“The New Statesman” : Founded in April of 1913, “The New Statesman” was a British cultural and political magazine that often reviewed politics and literature. According to the magazine itself, it held a “left-of-centre political position.” Many members of the magazine were linked to socialist Fabian society. The magazine still exists today. (The Egoist 436)
Bernard Shaw: An Irish playwright who was also a strong polemicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature even though he was self-educated. During World War I he denounced both sides of the fight, making his unpopular opinion a common discussion of the time. (The Egoist 436)
James Joyce: Irish novelist and poet who greatly contributed to the Modernist era. One of his most famous works, Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man was originally published in The Egoist. (The Egoist 438)
Inter ubera mea commorabitur: This Latin term translates to “He shall lie (or linger) between my breasts.” This is from “Song of Solomon.” (The Egoist 439)
Taoism: (Also called Daoism) A spiritual, philosophical and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. The Tao means the “way” “path” or “principle.” (The Egoist 439)
Tao-te-king: written around 6th century BC by the sage Lao Tzu, it is a classic Chinese text. (The Egoist 439)
Yang-Chu: also known as Yang Zi or Yangzi, was a Chinese philosopher during the Warring States period whose philosophies clashed with Taoistic beliefs. (The Egoist 439)
Richard Aldington: An English writer and poet known best for his poetry on World War I. Similar to William Carlos Williams, he too partook in the imagist movement. Between the years of 1914 and 1916 he was the literary editor of The Egoist. (The Egoist 443)
Haunches: As defined by the dictionary, a haunch is “the fleshy part of the body about the hip.” (The Egoist 444)
Imagistes (Imagists): According to poets.org, poets advocating free verse and the expression of ideas and emotions through clear precise images were considered imagists. This movement against the abstractness of Georgian romanticism included both English and American poets during the early twentieth century. (The Egoist 444)
Tommy: an informal name for a British Private Soldier (The Egoist 446)
A photo of middle-aged poet William Carlos Williams.
A photo of the Washington Post newspaper sent out five months before this periodical which officially declared the beginning of World War I.
A photo of Dora Marsden, an English suffragette and editor of The Egoist.
An artist’s interpretation of what The Christmas Truce of 1914 may have looked like on the battlefield.
A moving image of a sign that women held up during the suffragette movement.
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