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Unveiling a Parallel

Unveiling a Parallel - Alice Ilgenfritz Jones

I found this book on a  website called sacred-texts.com while looking for translations of The Eddas. I was very fascinated once I started reading. A man, whose name the story doesn't reveal, travels to the planet Mars in his Aeroplane (a term coined in 1855 by a french inventor). The book Unveiling A Parallel was written in 1893 by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant. The narrator of the story, unlike the protagonists of other feminist works of that time, is male. He visits Mars and lands in a country called Paleveria, later on he visits the country Caskia. Both countries are similar to Earth, their technological and scientific progress is on the same level as Earth's for that time.

 

The major difference to Earth is that women and men are truly equal, a fact the narrator has a hard time grasping. For the most part of the book conversations revolve around this subject and the conversations are quite fascinating: 

 

"Well, a good many more women do not marry; what of those?"

"Severnius! I cannot believe you are in earnest. Women!—that is quite another matter. Women are differently constituted from men; their nature—"

"O, come!" he interrupted; "I thought we had settled that question—that their nature is of a piece with our own. It happens in your world, my friend, that your women were kept to a strict line of conduct, according to your account, by a severe discipline,—including even the death penalty,—until their virtue, from being long and persistently enforced, grew into a habit and finally became a question of honor."

"Yes, stronger than death, thank God!" I affirmed.

"Well, then, it seems to me that the only excuse men have to offer for their lack of chastity—I refer to the men on your planet—is that they have not been hedged about by the wholesome restraints that have developed self-government in women. I cannot admit your 'hygienic' argument in this matter; life is a principle that needs encouragement, and a man of family has more incentives to live, and usually his health is better cared for, than a single man, that is all."

 

a conversation between Severnius, our narrator's host in Paleveria, and our narrator on the subject of marriage. 

 

At some point they travel by Cupid's Park, a brothel so to speak, just that it offers male 'lovers' to women who pay them for sex. 

 

I think it is at that point that our narrator realizes how women are not only equal but have adapted the 'negative' traits of men - they drink, they participate in wrestling matches, they have affairs. 

 

The narrator falls in love with Severnius' sister, Elodia but is soon put off by her behavior, and the fact that she has an illegitimate child. 

 

The conversations between Elodia and Severnius are quite interesting as well: 

 

Elodia on the subject of marriage: 

 

"Why should I marry?"

"Because you are a woman," I answered promptly.

"Ah!" her lip curled with a faint smile, "your reason is very general, but why limit it at all, why not say because I am one of a pair which should be joined together?"

The question was not cynical, but serious; I scrutinized her face closely to make sure of that before answering.

"I know," I replied, "that here in Mars there is held to be no difference in the nature and requirements of the sexes, but it is a false hypothesis, there is a difference,—a vast difference! all my knowledge of humanity, my experience and observation, prove it."

"Prove it to you, no doubt," she returned, "but not to me, because my experience and observation have been the reverse of yours. Will you kindly tell me," she added, "why you think I should wish to marry any more than a man,—or what reasons can be urged upon a woman more than upon a man?"

 

[...]

 

Her eyes took a long leap from mine to the vague horizon line. "It is very strange," she said, "this distinction you make, I cannot understand it at all. It seems to me that this love we are talking about is simply one of the strong instincts implanted in our common nature. It is an essential of our being. Marriage is not, it is a social institution; and just why it is incumbent upon one sex more than upon the other, or why it is more desirable for one sex than the other, is inconceivable to me. If either a man, or a woman, desires the ties you speak of, or if one has the vanity to wish to found a respectable family, then, of course, marriage is a necessity,—made so by our social and political laws. It is a luxury we may have if we pay the price."

 

Elodia after she has revealed that she has an illegitimate child, and after our traveller has told her that men are forgiven their "bastards" while women are not: 

 

"Possibly society is to blame for that, by setting her at bay. If I have got the right idea about your society, it is as unrelenting to the one sex as it is indulgent to the other.

 

And later on when her narrator tells her that men and women are different because of their different traits that complement each other: 

 

"How charming to have the one nature dovetail into the other so neatly!" she exclaimed. "I seem to see a vision, shall I tell it to you,—a vision of your Earth? In the Beginning, you know that is the way in which all our traditions start out, there was a great heap of Qualities stacked in a pyramid upon the Earth. And the human creatures were requested to step up and help themselves to such as suited their tastes. There was a great scramble, and your sex, having some advantages in the way of muscle and limb,—and not having yet acquired the arts of courtesy and gallantry for which you are now so distinguished,—pressed forward and took first choice. Naturally you selected the things which were agreeable to possess in themselves, and the exercise of which would most redound to your glory; such virtues as chastity, temperance, patience, modesty, piety, and some minor graces, were thrust aside and eventually forced upon the weaker sex,—since it was necessary that all the Qualities should be used in order to make a complete Human Nature. Is not that a pretty fable?"

 

 

Personally, I found the narrator's time in Paleveria much more interesting than his later visit to Caskia where both sexes are gentle, kind and loving, and where he meets Ariadne, a woman more feminine and virtuous than Elodia. Of course, our narrator falls in love with her, and she - in return - with him. 

 

I am not sure if the authors intended to make one country on Mars more appealing than the other, or if they simply wanted to offer two versions of 'what would happen if ... women were equal' but I can I see clearly how Elodia's character is only appealing to anyone by her looks because her behaviour is too much that of a man and therefore not desirable. 

 

Compared to so-called scifi classics of the early 20th century, I sing high praise on the fact that men and women in the book were equal, and that the concept of oppression based on someone's gender is non-existent in Marsian society. 

 

This book can be read online on http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/uap/index.htm