Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - The Lady's Dressing Room, by Baroness Staff, trans. Lady Colin Campbell, 1893 - Preface

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[-11-] PREFACE.

 Woman's Sanctum.

THERE are in every house two or three rooms on which a woman stamps her special mark, which seem to reflect her both morally and physically.
    It may be her own sitting-room, where she lives her intellectual and artistic life, and where she receives her particular friends (those whom she loves and chooses above all others); it may be her bedroom, the centre of her family and conjugal affections; or it may be that holy of holies, her dressing-room, where no profane foot may enter, which is forbidden ground to her nearest and dearest-where some people imagine that she loses herself in admiration of her own perfections, like a Buddha of the [-12-] Hindoo heaven; others that she there practises all kinds of magic, in order to keep herself so astonishingly young and lovely- and where she assuredly does meditate how to captivate, or to retain the heart of, the man she loves, by cultivating the gifts that Nature has bestowed upon her.
    Whether she arms herself there for the triumphs of vanity, or struggles for happiness by defending her beauty against the attacks of time and the fatigues of life, it is there that she is her real self. It may be a luxurious room, and yet pure as the thoughts of a young girl; it may look simple, and yet contain the resources of diabolic coquetry. It is here that the occupant is a true woman, preparing for love or victory, according to her nature; and it is here that everything demonstrates how well she understands the importance of the care and attention required by the human body. It is here that we see how by strength of will she can get rid of the defects with which [-13-] she has been born, or at least succeed in diminishing them.
    I will not speak of women who desire to attract universal admiration, who dream of dragging at their chariot-wheels a crowd of those worthless adorers who are caught by one meaning glance; nor of such women who, led astray by a perverted desire to please, obtain their power by injurious means, and thus advance surely towards premature old age and ugliness. I will not defile the sanctum where a goddess reigns by the mention of tricks and falsehood.
    I recognise only the woman anxious to preserve the love of the man of her heart, the companion of her earthly pilgrimage; the woman whose wish it is to remain attractive only to the father of her children, whose desire it is to keep the head of the house by her side, and to learn by common- sense the means of retaining for him alone the charms which have been given to her. The one who understands that healthy - I [-14-] might almost say, sacred - coquetry; whose conscience tells her to adorn herself and to remain beautiful, so as to be the delight of the eyes and the joy of him who is the support of her womanly weakness; who requires that her mission should be to please and to charm, to be the ideal in the rough life of man, and to remain on the pedestal upon which she has been placed by him - the woman who knows these things, and who has listened to that inward voice, makes of her dressing-room a sanctuary where no one, not even her husband (above all, not her husband), may cross the threshold, where she gives herself up to the service of her beauty--a hard service at times. Not that she has anything to hide that she is ashamed of, nor that she is afraid of revealing secrets which would make her less respected, but moved first of all by a delicate sense of modesty, and also naturally by a certain instinct of vanity.
    How ever pretty or ideally graceful you [-15-] may be, you cannot escape a fatal absurdity at certain moments of your toilette. For instance, to take a small thing; a woman in the act of curling her hair, even if it is her own, will not appear to advantage, and may even look ridiculous. Such trivialities cause us to lose some of the halo with which we would always - be surrounded in the eyes of those who Jove us best. Let us wrap the prosy facts of life in some little mystery; if we display them all, we shall run the risk of lowering ourselves, even in the sight of those who hold us most dear. It is unnecessary to remind them that though we are goddesses at some times, we are but ordinary women at others.
    The husband should always find the wife fresh, beautiful, sweet as a flower; but he should believe her to be so adorned by Nature, like the lilies of the field. It is just as well that he should not know that her beauty is acquired or preserved at the cost of a thousand little attentions, that he should  [-16-] not suspect she possesses means of enhancing it-harmless means, I admit; but which he might think foolish and ridiculous.
    Some women may object that if all this care is necessary, marriage must be slavery. All I can say is, total disregard of appearances and too much familiarity wil1 make an inferno of it.
    What! shall we make a thousand efforts, and submit to privations and constraints to build up and establish a fortune, and shall we take no trouble whatever to secure our own happiness? Shall we command our smiles, hide our feelings, and put on good manners to please ordinary acquaintances and strangers, and hesitate to cultivate refined habits so as to retain for ever the heart of the man whom we adore-or the woman (for this concerns men, too), who holds their honour and their happiness in her frail hands?
    Face this question from my point of view, and you will find it light and easy to follow my advice, and to carry out [-17-] in detail the rules that I am about to give you.
    But let us go back for a moment. I cannot conceive how a stout woman can so far forget herself as to appear before her husband in a short petticoat while dressing. If she does so, how can she wonder when she sees him admiring the slim forms of more graceful and slender women? I have seen a young woman tying up her scanty locks with a greasy string, so that they looked like a little tail or a broom, and then complain of the admiration that her husband showed at the sight of long and abundant hair on other women. My dear lady, you should hide your imperfections ; this is not being false, but it is not necessary to display your defects. Perhaps at heart your husband was hurt by your indifference to please him, or to hide your little shortcomings from him, On such matters a man likes to be kept in the dark; and be is right. What is life, what is love, without some illusions?
I feel a great desire to tell the lords of creation that they can afford, even less than the fair sex, to lose the glamour with which the love of their fan cées has surrounded them, and that the inconsiderateness which men show under these circumstances is really culpable.
    [-18-] Everyone should do their utmost, and take as much, if not more, pains to preserve as to obtain love. This applies as much to the time after as before marriage, to the gifts of Nature as well as to those that have been acquired by art.
    I flatter myself that in this connection the book I have written may be useful to virtuous women who wish to be happy, and also to bring happiness to the being who is dearest to them.

March 21, 1891