Thursday, July 14, 2022

Interview with Queen Margherita

July 14, 1906

The Dowager Queen Margherita recently sat down with an English woman reporter, where the topics included sex, the proper way to bring up daughters, and being a wife, and a mother. The interview was published in the New York Times.

Margherita, the widow of the slain King Umberto I, is an accomplished woman, an "enlightened Shakespearean scholar, who has studied "the women of the Bard of Avon."

This gracious lady gives her views "on the all-important questions of family life."

"I am absolutely opposed to any extravagant theory of what is called the emancipation of women. In whatever condition of life a woman may be placed her first duty is the negative one of not giving up the qualities that distinguish her sex. Poor or rich, high or low, a woman should be so educated as to contribute to her own needs and requirements and to those of her family. She should not associate unreservedly with men, nor should she meddle in politics, as the word is broadly understood. Above all, she should guard against developing the traits of men. A blending of ancient reserve with modern independence would give us the ideal woman. Let her study, teach, work, shine in society, or stay at home, she should, nevertheless, look to her father, her brother, or her husband for counsel and support in difficulties. Why? Because a woman, as a rule, cannot have the wide experience of a man.

"In Latin countries, women have been kept in too much subjection to men. But this is gradually disappearing, and during the past twenty years the women of Italy have made great progress."

The Queen is a believer in large families.

"Yes," Queen Margherita said. "How is a nation to progress except through its people? A childless family is incomplete. There is poetry and pathos about childhood which appeal to every right-hearted woman. Most women, though they may not be able to put this idea into words, feel it. They have the maternal instinct. Hence the remoteness of race suicide.

"The woman to whom the blessing of motherhood is denied misses the best in life. I speak not of the necessary exceptions. They may have another mission in life. A holy call may claim their soul and senses all. Unmarried women need not a necessity to be unhappy or useless. They may have wide fields of useful activity, and they can make their lives beautiful as well as useful by working for the welfare of others. Altruism is but another name for the charity of Christ, or for the love of humanity, and the greatest thing on earth is love.

"Women show their intellectuality by rearing healthy and great children just as much as they do by writing books or painting pictures.

"The wife who deliberately refuses to bring children into the world must have something wrong with her moral shakeup. Her shirking of the obligation may even amount to a heinous crime. Her action may even be contrary to patriotism. I am very pleased to know that there is a movement in the United States in favor of large families and that the President has put himself upon the record as favoring them. European women have begun to look for light to their sisters of the United States.

"People are still influenced very much by the force of example. I have frequently heard that the good example of Queen Victoria of England has worked untold good for her people. I do think that the force of example is particularly effective for young girls. They are susceptive to the highest powers of imitation. Improve the condition of the women of the country and you elevate that whole section of the human race."

The Queen was also asked about her views on culture.
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"Religious instruction should be the basis of culture, particularly for those who have to make their way in life.

"Now they can enter the institutes of fine arts and the universities, and almost all walks of life suited to their sex are open to them. As a result, men, even in European countries, are beginning to consider and to respect women, and those who are called the weaker sex are commencing to exercise a stronger influence on society.

"In Italy, a quarter of a century ago women had only needlework and teaching between them which to choose so that they could scarcely earn a modest living."

Margherita debated the basis of family life.

"It is love. This is true regardless of social conditions. Society or the body politic, to be successful, must be founded on love. The body politic is formed from the families of the nation. If these be not individually cemented by love, society cannot hold together. A loveless marriage is a curse; a marriage based upon love is a blessing. From such marriages spring kind and capable people. The human family is blessed and cheered by the heard influence of brave spirits whose wellspring of love ever flows fresh, and is never checked by sorrow or disappointment.

"The teaching of woman would not only make her useful to herself and others, but should tend to make her good, kind, loving; should help her fill her life with sincere friendships, intellectual pursuits, charitable interests, and domestic affection, while always preserving that charm or reserve which is the crowning glory of her sex."

The Queen was also asked about the improvement in the tone of society.
"In Italy, at least, I am sure it is. It is more elevated to-day than it was thirty years ago. Then amusements, carnival, and dress were the foremost pleasures of women in position. Now, much of their time is given to useful social work, thus greatly ameliorating the condition of the less favored."

She said that the Italians appreciated the Anglo-Saxon women.

"In Italy, we appreciate them very much. An English nursery governess was engaged for the King when he was a child. The same has been done for the little Princesses and the baby Prince. English is a familiar language at the Court. Of course, we speak French and German also."

Margherita considered coquetry as "quite reprehensible. The coquette is usually cold-hearted and cold-blooded. She has no capacity for love. She seeks admiration, not affection. She lacks cheerfulness. She plays upon man's vanity."
A lady, she said, "is soft of speech and pleasant of manner. A lady always has perfect control of herself, keeps her engagements, and is not oblivious of her liabilities. She has the courage of her convictions. If there is an occasion for self-denial she is capable of it. She cannot help having nerves, but she should not make a display of them to the discomfort of others, A lady is the complement of the gentlemen as defined by the late Cardinal Newman."

A woman "should help others. The laws of nature and the common teachings of Christianity point to this. She should protect, befriend, and help such enterprises as are worthy of support. She should improve herself mentally and otherwise. A woman can, and ought, to make her conversation deeply interesting. She should read. Personally, I am fond of Shakespeare. A woman of culture should know the classics of her country and of other countries also.

"Should she have a talent for the music of the fine arts, why not cultivate it? She should set up lofty ideals. A woman's sunny smile promotes cheerfulness. Every woman has her domestic duties which should not be shirked. It is a most pleasing sight to see a refined woman helping children."

Queen Margherita does not consider marriage to be a hindrance. "The question scarcely admits discussion. For those who have a vocation to the married life, and they constitute a majority, it must be a great help. In fact, it could not be otherwise. A sympathetic woman can do much to encourage and to inspire a man in any work. The encouragement of a good woman can do much to encourage and inspire a man in any work. The encouragement of a good woman may prevent a man from losing faith in himself. Happiness helps. A suitable marriage brings happiness. Therefore, it helps. A tasteful and amiable wife is a most valuable aid to any man. She may also be an ornament."

Queen Margherita believes that a woman can be an influence. "Yes; she has always had enormous influence since the world began. It is either for good or evil. If some of the heinous crimes of history can be traced to women, so also can come of the most heroic virtues. Men owe their best qualities to their mothers. When society is correct and courteous it is because of the influence of a woman."
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