This is a story about a man named Tony Kytes who is engaged to a woman named Milly, however Tony is extremely fickle, and quickly decided he wishes for another wife as he sees a more attractive woman he knows walking by. While this story is mainly intended to be humorous, there are certainly some features of the story that throw rather a striking light on the position of women in society at the time at which it is set. The most revealing aspect to a modern reader is the implications the story carries with regard to the relationship of the sexes and the social status of men and women.
There is a prominent standing by which the males are the controllers, the ones with the initiative, and women simply meekly accept what is handed out, with little or no choice. The very idea of a ‘proposal of marriage’ made by a man to a woman represents a significant denial of freedom to the woman. This lack of freedom was of course only one aspect of a situation that had many aspects: for example, women had no vote (and therefore no political power), could not enter the professions, had very limited opportunities of education (especially higher education).
The implication of such a situation is that a woman will be (or should be) grateful for the chance to marry, and behind this implication is the stark truth that the social status and economic prospects of a woman who either received no such proposals or rejected them would quite likely be dismal. In the story, Milly, who has been described at the beginning as a ‘tender little thing’, meekly accepts Tony’s not very flattering decision to marry her (”what must be must be, I suppose”) – but who can blame her, when one considers what the alternative to marriage would have been?
Tony proposes to three different women, and this might be regarded as a potentially serious theme, since two of them are bound to be disappointed. In the event, though, the situation is handled lightly and nobody is much the worse for what has happened. Behind this situation are the social and economic facts of life: Tony is a working man and is offering a home and subsistence to the woman he marries, in return for the performance of her duties as homemaker and the mother of his children.
There is no real alternative for a woman of this class in this period: the woman who does not marry will have a very hard time of it, and will risk being despised or pitied by the community. At one point In the story, all 3 women are hidden in the cart at the same time, totally oblivious to the other two women’s presence. They do of course, discover the others presence eventually, and find it most insulting and embarrassing.
What is interesting however is that prior to this, is Milly’s acceptance to Tony’s second proposal, after he had just proposed to both of the other two. Milly accepted Tony’s offer once again, despite his obvious preference for the other two. Another interesting point is that although the other two women refuse him at first, they secretly hope that he will show some other sign of persuasion, and try further to convince them. Both other women refuse only at first to keep some pride and dignity, while they’re real preference lies with marriage.
Another reference to the way in which women were treated in this period lies within the dialogue. The women constantly refer to Tony as “Dear”, and “Dearest Tony” and other such flattering terms as to show Tony’s worth among the women. He also refers to them as “Darling” and speaks softly to them, as if something to be looked after with great care. It seems as though the women appear to Tony like they are antique prizes to be won, and must be treated with great care if he would be to win one.
It also seems as though Tony appears to the women as the figure of power. This links nicely to the notion that men in society almost decide the future of the women, by marrying them or not marrying them. Marrying a woman would mean everything for the woman, it would mean they are made or complete, as it seem that the main thing a woman strives for while still young and attractive is to marry the most wealthy handsome man, which decides how they will live for a long time.