". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Portrait of a Lady

I have always liked this painting, Song of the Lark (1884), by Jules Breton. My first memory of seeing it was some years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was reminded of it again today while reading a post at the Concordian Sisters blog. Rebekah writes about what makes a Lady and concludes that she is not one: "I don't feel like a Lady. I feel like a peasant. Ladies live in manors, and I'm just not running a tea-and-crumpets operation here. More like, we're out of napkins; wipe it on your sock. Most days I hope to pass for 'windblown' rather than 'unwashed.' If there's a Ladylike way to dig up turnips or deal with an abominable diaper, I haven't found it."

I have never met Rebekah in person. For all I know she could be Roseanne Barr's twin sister. But having read her ponderings, corresponded with her off and on over the last few years, and listened to her reflections on motherhood on Issues, Etc., all I can say is she sure talks and writes like a lady. As I wrote in the comments section on Rebekah's post, I think that ladylikeness is not so much a matter of class or lifestyle--of getting manicures and having tea with your macaroons and turning on the air conditioning so as not to faint from the heat--but rather a question of temperament. My comment:

"It's about gentleness. And you don't have to be beautiful or particularly feminine or wear make-up or dresses or have smooth heels and elbows and no dirt under your fingers to be gentle. What is it they say about gentleness? You can't really have it unless there is strength there--a strength that is being reined in so as not to cause harm. I think ladylikeness is about humility and grace and subtlety. A Lady doesn't barge into a room; you just suddenly notice that she's there and you wonder where she came from. She doesn't call attention to herself by speaking loudly, but more often by speaking softly. She listens. She is not in too much of a hurry. She is kind and considerate of the feelings of others. She does not intentionally draw attention to herself.

"You can do all of those things without smelling good or getting a salon haircut or having a clean house. I'm betting a lot of CSPP gals who pooh-pooh the lady title are really closet ladies and just don't want to admit it. Come on, girls, embrace your Inner Lady! She's nothing to be ashamed of!"

I might add that I think a Lady is modest, not flashy. And she appreciates beauty. That is what I see in the painting: a young farm woman who has gone to the field to work in the early morning hours but who is distracted from her work by the song of a bird and who takes time to listen to and appreciate that song for a few moments.

So maybe I am all mixed up. And maybe the culture at large would disagree. But I think Ladies are strong when they need to be and gentle when they need to be. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They don't think they are too good to serve others. But in their strength and hardiness there is still softness. And they go about their vocation in quietness, without a lot of fanfare.

Here in my opinion is another painting of a Lady, this one by Camille Pissaro, 1881:

Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Café Au Lait

Taking a few moments out of her day to have a cup of coffee by the window? That is not just a lady. That is One Smart Lady.

(And by the way, most of my friends and I have both our Ladyish and our Un-Ladyish moments. Just ask our families.)


Rebekah said...

Ah, Cheryl. Thank you for your words of wisdom, and your vast charity toward a veritably grubby, clumsy, and noisy peasant.

Elephantschild said...

I'm reminded of a quote from Disney's Aristocats movie, the second-to-last decent Disney movie.

"Ladies do not start fights, but they can finish them."


Cheryl said...

Rebekah, as they say up here in Chicago: fuhgedaboutid.

EC: WOOT! (What does WOOT mean, anyway?)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts- you said it perfectly!

Quick question - I saw the post on Concordia Sisters to me..... I am really sorry but I cannot remember when or where we chanced to meet? Your face is so familiar and I showed my hubby this site and he thought you and your husband both looked familiar. Can you enlighten me? I am sorry that I can't place our meeting. I'm not being very "lady like" ladies should always remember acquaintances : ) Thanks for the compliment! Debbie S.

Cheryl said...

You know what, Debbie? I may have confused you with another Lutheran Debbie S.! It's such a small little Lutheran world that I saw "Debbie S." and thought of one of my acquaintance but now I'm thinking you're a different "Debbie S." and I think I know which one you are. I was thinking of Debbie Sc. and I bet you are Debbie St. Am I right? If I am, then I think you are right that we have not met but simply "know" each other through homeschooling connections.

At any rate, you strike me as a total lady, as I define it anyway!!!

Reb. Mary said...

Hi Cheryl,
Just thought I'd say it over here too: the way you define "Lady," makes me wanna try really hard to be one :D

EC, :D!