"'Arthur’s Education Fund' is Virginia Woolf’s euphemism for the oppression of women over the centuries, representing in its generic title the habit of salting away every ounce of energy and money for a boy’s future without the merest scrap of concern about that of his sister. Arthur, at least will be taken care of. Arthur, it seems, will be safe.
He will end up being a soldier and the army will take care of him; or a clergyman, and the church will oblige; or a professor, wherein the university will claim him, and he will spend a good many hours of his life in the company of his fellows, unaware or unconcerned about the responsibilities, activities and burdens of his spouse if he has one. He may not have to become anything other than older, in which case it is highly likely that some estate or land has been entailed to him, and will keep him occupied in an even smaller environment.
And he will almost certainly be married to someone else’s deprived sister, so that the cycle is perpetuated. She will already have been trained by her brothers to expect nothing. Arthur will have been saved from the responsibility for her needs. She will have none.
There is, in Three Guineas (which I urgently recommend) a passage that might have been written by any of Pym’s heroines, although it belongs, in expression at least, to Virginia Woolf. It is long and we are fast approaching another year, but it is worth some of the few remaining moments of this dying year to read this again:
How many, how splendid, how extremely ornate they are—the clothes worn by the educated man in his public capacity! Now you dress in violet; a jewelled crucifix swings on your breast; now your shoulders are covered with lace; now furred with ermine; now slung with many linked chains set with precious stones.
Now you wear wigs on your heads; rows of graduated curls descend to your necks. Now your hats are boat shaped, or cocked; now they mount in cones of black fur; now they are made of brass and scuttle shaped; now plumes of red, now of blue hair surmount them. Sometimes gowns cover your legs; sometimes gaiters.
Tabards embroidered with lions and unicorns swing from your shoulders; metal objects cut in star shapes or in circles glitter and twinkle upon your breasts. Ribbons of all colours—blue, purple, crimson—cross from shoulder to shoulder... every button, rosette and stripe seems to have some symbolic meaning. Some have the right to wear plain buttons only; others, rosettes; some may wear a single stripe; others three, four, five or six.
And each curl or stripe is sewn on at precisely the right distance apart; it may be one inch for one man, one inch and a quarter for another. Rules again regulate the gold wire on the shoulders, the braid on the trousers, the cockades on the hats—but no single pair of eyes can observe all these distinctions, let alone account for them accurately...
...A woman who advertised her motherhood by a tuft of horsehair on the left shoulder would scarcely, you will agree, be a venerable object. (Pg. 24-25 ― The Penguin edition.)
These are some of the men that Barbara Pym knew, and I know, and whom, if you do not know them now, you will almost certainly meet. They are not yet extinct... And if you think that the above quotation refers to a small percentage of the English population, you are right. But the attitude does not ― some cultural habits extend beyond class or economic lines. All over England, even in the poorest of families, the law of precedence has been historically and to a surprising extent has remained until very recently, ‘males first’..."
~ A passage from Felicity & Barbara Pym @Harrison Solow, 1995-2010
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance