Crompton On Christmas (A Review)
Dec 19, 2014Posted by on
Feigned deafness is the theme of ‘The Christmas Present’ by Richmal Crompton, a story that I came across in The Best Short Stories Of 1922. I doubt very much if even my children, and certainly not my grandchildren, could comprehend a society in which women could be so subservient to men that they found it convenient to feign deafness. Then a story from nearly one hundred years ago is from a time unknown to them and seen as having little relevance to their own lives. For me, it’s from an age known to my parents and reflects attitudes that I am familiar with in my own lifetime.
Crompton was active in the women’s suffragette movement and in 1922 when her story ‘The Christmas Present’ was first published, the 1918 Act of Parliament had only extended voting rights to a very small number of women. Universal suffrage for women did not occur until 1928. However, I don’t think that Crompton’s short story is a direct allusion to the suffragette movement, rather a reflection on the plight of women, especially married women, at the time. While the Married Women’s Property Acts had gone some way to improving a woman’s lot in society, it was still a society dominated by the wishes of men.
Certainly my children wouldn’t knowingly enter into a marriage contract where – as wives – they would become the chattel of a man, although there remain some legal instances where this is still the case. However, and especially in 1922, the role of a woman within a marriage was more to do with the ethos in a society, rather than the law. As Crompton recounts in her story, the woman was at the beck and call of the man. Economically and legally the wife was bound to her husband. The feigned deafness was a way of illustrating the extreme measures needed for a woman to alleviate her inextricable subservience to a man.
But see Machismo and the modern man