Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Romance And Eyeglasses - Twice Told Tuesday


Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

Recently I wrote an article commenting on how photographs of women wearing glasses were difficult to find. In researching the subject I have found that it was the attitude of society that accounted for few women showing up at the photographer's studio wearing their glasses. Woman were around for their beauty, nothing more, and glasses often interfered with the common definition of beauty. Young unmarried woman in particular were encouraged not to wear glasses. God forbid you could see who you were engaged to marry!

The following Twice Told Tuesday article, written by a woman, discusses the conventions of the time as they related to romance, glasses, and literature! Aren't we glad times have changed.


ROMANCE AND EYEGLASSES
By
Anna Eichbert Lane
The Champagne Standard
1905


It is curious to observe that even the greatest realists do not venture to bestow eyeglasses on their heroines. It is rather odd too, seeing how many charming women do in real life wear them, nor are they debarred by them from the most dramatic careers and the most poignant emotions. But while the modern novelist has bestowed eyeglasses on everybody else he has not yet had the hardihood to put them on the nose of his heroine. Why?

It is a problem which again shows the unquestionably undeserved and superior position of man, for a novelist does not hesitate to put him behind any kind of glasses, and leave him just as fascinating and dangerous as he was before. Eyeglasses are so much the common lot of humanity these degenerate days that babies are nearly born with them, to judge at least from the tender age of the bespectacled infants one sees trundled past in their perambulators.

And there is no doubt that the time will come, if the strain on the hearing increases from the diabolic noises in the streets, that the next generation’s hearing will be as much affected as our eyes are now. The result will be that all the world will be using ear-trumpets, and the novelist of the future, the accredited historian of manners, will be obliged, if he is at all accurate, to have his love-sick hero whisper his passion to the heroine through an ear-trumpet. However it is a comfort not to be obliged to solve the riddles of the future.

Still if it is inevitable that the future deaf hero will have to fall in love with a deaf heroine, why should not the present astigmatic hero in novels be permitted to fall in love with a beautiful creature in glasses? He certainly does it often enough in real life. Of course it would not do for a heroine to have a wooden leg, I grant, and yet I have met a hero with a wooden leg, and I am quite sure I know several who have lost an arm; why then should it be required of us poor women to be so perfect?

If a man can wear spectacles without forfeiting his position as a hero of romance, I demand the same right for a woman. Why, a man can even be bald and she will love him all the same! Now I ask would the hero love her under the same circumstances? There is no use arguing, for that very fact proves that there are laws for men and laws for women.

The truth is she will love him under every objectionable kind of circumstance, both in real life and in novels. Has not a thrilling romance of recent years produced a hero without legs, and made im all the more hideously captivating to the patron of the circulating library? Now what novel reader would, even under the auspices of so gifted a novelist, take any stock in a heroine similarly afflicted? Yes I fear, though it is neither here nor there, that men also have it their own way in literature.

To be sure there are instances of blind heroines inspiring a passion, and also, I believe, of lame heroines limping poetically through the pages of a novel, as well as burdened with other disabilities which apparently never take away from their charms; but I know of no heroine whom the novelist has endowed with a pince-nez.

Now why are glasses in literature so incompatible with romance in a woman while they never damage a man?

Why can a man look at the object of his passionate adoration through all the known varieties of glasses and yet not lose for an instant the breathless interest of the most gushing of novel readers? His eyeglasses may even grow dim with manly tears, and the lady readers’ own eyes will be blurred with sympathetic moisture. But let the heroine weep behind her glasses and the most inveterate devourer of novels will close the book in revolt. It is no use to describe how the heroine’s great brown eyes looked yearningly at the hero behind her glasses, nor how they swam in tears behind those same useful articles, the reader refuses to read, and even if the heroine is only nineteen and bewitchingly beautiful, she is at once divested of any romance.

What a mercy for the novelist in this age of perpetual repetition, of twice told tales, if he might give his heroine a new attribute! One feels sure that if eyeglasses and their variations were permitted they would produce quite a new kind of heroine, to the immense advantage and relief of literature. Of course the novelist has to keep up with the times; it is as imperative for him as for the fashion-books, for it is from him alone that future generations will learn how we lived, dresses and looked, and what were our favourite sufferings.

So the novelist cannot of course ignore what is so common as eyeglasses and he has in turn bestowed them on all his characters except his heroines. One can understand his hesitation when one tries oneself to put glasses on the noses of one’s own literary pets, and then realizes how they war with romance. Put a pair on the nose of the loveliest Rosalind who ever wandered through the enchanted forest of Arden, or let the most pathetic Ophelia look through them at Hamlet with grief-stricken eyes, and I am quite sure that even Shakespeare’s poetry would not survive the shock.

But if eyeglasses are tabooed by novelists, what shall we say of spectacles? What gallery would accept a Juliet with spectacles? For a woman in literature to wear spectacles is to put her out of the pale of romance at once. Even in real life spectacles are a problem, but to the heroine of a novel they are impossible. No novelist with any regard for his publisher or his sales would venture to give his heroine gold spectacles.

The only ones I remember as the property of a heroine of fiction belonged to the heroine when she repented, and they more than anything else proved the sincerity of her remorse, and these were the famous blue spectacles in “East Lynne” that worked such an amazing transformation upon that erring and repentant lady.

Yes, a heroine can be repentant behind spectacles, but I defy her to be alluring. I was struck by their sobering effect on studying the head of the Venus de Medici decorated with a pair in the window of an inspired optician. They so changed her expression that she might have successfully applied for a position in a board-school.

Perhaps the only thing in glasses on which a rash novelist might venture is the monocle. I have not yet met a feminine monocle in fiction, but we all know its entrancing effect when worn by a man. We even realize its power in real life. It gives a man a kind of moral support and even changes his character. I have seen meek and rather ordinary men stick in a monocle, and it at once gave them that fictitious fascination, that, so to speak, go-to-the-devil impudence which is so irresistible. It is the aid to sight essentially of the upper classes, or of the best imitation, and as such it naturally inspires the confidence of society.

Of course the feminine monocle is not adapted to all costumes, but there is about it a rakishness, a coquetry particularly suited to a riding-habit. The suggestion is quite at the ervice of any harassed novelist. It may be quite as much a help to sight as spectacles, but, O, the difference! A woman buries her youth behind spectacles, but she can coquette to the very end behind a monocle.

. . . The other day I called on the loveliest woman I know, and who has always seemed to me the picture of exquisite and immortal youth. She looked up from the corner of a couch sumptuous with brilliant cushions. She had been reading, and she laid aside her book and something else. I followed her hand and felt as guilty as if I had been caught eavesdropping. There lay a pair of gold spectacles and I saw a red line across the bridge of her lovely nose. Those wicked spectacles! How they took away the bloom of her youth. To me she will never seem young again only well-preserved alas!

How tragic to think that even beauty comes to spectacles at last! Now how different it is with men. If they do have to wear spectacles they do it boldly, and not on the sly, and yet they always find some one to love them, so the novelists prove, and they ought to know.

But a heroine with spectacles, that is a different thing. What novelist has the courage for such an innovation? Even realism, which we know usually stops at nothing, does draw the line there.

Now I do ask in all seriousness, are eyeglasses in fiction really so incompatible with romance?

Note:


An example of eyeglasses.
(Also referred to as pince-nez)

An example of spectacles.

Sources:

Books:

Lane, Anna Eichbert. The Champagne Standard. New York: John Lane Company, 1905.

Photographs:


Child Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Card Mount). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Cabinet Card). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Woman Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Cabinet Card). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Young Woman Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (Card Mount). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Mature Woman Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

3 Comments:

Blogger Chery said...

This article is such a great find! Thank goodness times have changed (a little) because if I had to hide my glasses from the world I would certainly stay at home... not being able to see anything, of course. But, who said a woman with glasses can't be alluring: remember the illustrious footnoteMaven on the cover of Vogue in her evening gown?

June 24, 2008 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Chery:

Yes, I do remember. And I also remember a heroine in your family wearing glasses!

My research has given me such an interesting "glimpse" of the past, through the spectacles of some amazing ordinary women.

I would almost bet this author wore glasses herself.

fM

June 24, 2008 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I am sure that the author wore glasses!

I had forgot the blue spectacles in East Lynne - I am a huge fan of the truly underrated Mrs. Henry Wood and dream of writing her bio some day.

June 25, 2008 at 2:12 PM  

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