Secretive Women



I wrote recently about certain Secret Women -- the women valorized, glamorized in literature -- the women who lay down in front of a man, who sacrifice, who submit, who are more beautiful and stronger and greater and nobler for their submission. I wrote, earlier, that this rhetoric frightened me -- that it was too beautiful to be dismissed, too pervasive to be ignored, and too terrible to hold in my mind for very long.

But I've been thinking about this -- about this rhetoric -- wondering if it is in fact rhetoric, wondering if there is some truth to it, if there is truth, what that truth might be -- wondering whether or not it matters if it is true, for it may be so well-accepted that it has become instinctual -- woman submits, man controls, though with an entire spectrum of what that submission and control may look like. I'm also wondering whether this inequality is necessarily a 'bad' thing.

I picked up a slim, small volume from the library a few days ago -- Bachmann's Letters to Felician. These letters and poems, written by a woman, with a female speaker, they seem to echo the masculine picture of submission and control that I quoted earlier.

Some excerpts:

[May 17, 1945]

My only happiness is in loving you, my duty is to avoid you, but my virtue is nothing more and nothing less than remaining true to you for days, for years, for life, holding my head up high through the dust of life to a new purity that is greater than that of innocence. And all this for you, you who are the god of my life!

[May 25, 1945]

And I keep loving you, out beyond all consciousness, beyond all time, like an altar where I can plead with God on my behalf.

How merciful is the lord for letting me serve
I would lose all dignity, all purity, all faith, if my highest thoughts were not on you, who keeps me upright and strong year after year in the farthest and saddest distance.

[June 27, 1945]

You should come and cast your will over me. I will never be more ready to serve than now.

[July 6, 1945]

This longing, these sighs from soft pillows. I am happy, endlessly happy, to be so filled with this thought. Maybe you will come, maybe you will walk through the door and take from me. I am so ready to give.

I am waiting, no, I can't wait anymore ... I will stand up to things and act. A decision. A first decision! Now all that's missing is the happiness of fulfillment. -- What prayers God must hear today! And I call this stammer of expectation a prayer.


You smile. --Oh, if only you could. I'd like to kneel before you so that joy might come to me from your dear mouth. I would wrap my arms around you in the purest, abundant love. My kisses would be leaping springs with their own glee at the source. --Even the coolness lying outside my night window shivers into warmth within me. This courage is so divine, it's so uplifting to feel oneself 'Lord.'


I am young, rich, I am the world.

But oh, if only you would come. I would be even richer in the giving.

Everything, everything is yours.

Nothing should remain mine, if only you were present. Extravagance is freedom. And you cannot begrudge me this.

I love you and kiss you, I am enchanted, in every thought I am in your arms!


I don't much care who is speaking -- I don't care if it is Bachmann or not. What interests me is what this woman is saying -- what does she mean? Also, how different is this sentiment from the sentiment in those other passages, the ones written by men, spoken by men.

How can this be real? That's what I wonder most -- how is this love? How is this good? And there are more excerpts, there is more evidence --