Sunday, March 27, 2011

April 2, 1861 --- A Rejection Letter

The editor of The Cornhill Magazine, no less than the great Thackeray himself, after lengthy deliberation, rejects a poem submitted by Elizabeth Browning. Writing to "My dear kind Mrs. Browning," Thackeray compares  himself to a man with an aching tooth who "never had the courage to undergo the pull." The proffered poem is "Lord Walter's Wife," a tale of the mutual attraction between a young married woman and her husband's best friend.

But why do you go?" said the lady, while both sat under the yew...

When flirtatious banter follows, the young gentleman declares his respect for Lord Walter:
"Oh, that," she said "is no reason. You smell a rose through a fence:
If two should smell it, what matter? Who grumbles and where's the pretense?"

The response, several couplets later:
At which he rose up in his anger, Why, now, you no longer are fair?
Why, now, you no longer are fatal, but ugly and hateful, I swear."

Lord Walter's wife, understanding that she was never more than a sexual fantasy to her admirer, dismisses him:
I determined to prove to yourself that, whate'er you might dream or avow
By illusion, you wanted precisely no more of me than you have now.
Thackeray confesses that Mrs. Browning's "account of an unlawful passion, though you write pure doctrine" would offend "my squeamish public." Privately, Mrs. Browning professed amusement. She wrote a friend, with a hint of pride, "Thackeray has turned me out of the Cornhill for indecency." To Thackeray, however, after thanking him for  his "gracious and conciliatory manner", she argues:  "I am deeply convinced that the corruption of our society requires not shut doors and windows, but light and air; and that it is exactly because pure and prosperous women chose to ignore vice, that miserable women suffer wrong by it everywhere."

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