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This article is taken from PN Review 119, Volume 24 Number 3, January - February 1998.

Sexism and Spain Alan Munton

Edgell Rickword was a misogynist. Or: Edgell Rickword's poetry is misogynist. These alternatives arise from remarks in Janet Montefiore's 1996 book Men and Women Writers of the 1930s. In what amounts to a denunciation, Montefiore tells her readers three times in seventeen lines that Rickword - or is it his poetry? - is misogynist. The cause of this attack is 'To the Wife of a Non-Interventionist Statesman', published in Left Review in 1938, and widely regarded as one of the great satirical poems of this century.

In the poem, Rickword sets up a fiction in which its speaker enters the bedroom of the wife of a politician who supported the Non-Intervention Treaty of 1936, and addresses her. (Non-Intervention prevented the Spanish Republicans receiving the arms with which to fight Franco.) In a monologue, the speaker argues that the politician's wife should withdraw from his bed in order to persuade him to change a policy causing deaths in Spain at that moment, and a possible European war in the future. Aristophanes' Lysistrata lies behind this, as do the four-stress rhyming couplets of Swift:

Think what should be a wife's reaction
If he turned out the tool of faction,
Who put across the crooked schemes
Of statesmen sunk in backward dreams; ...

Would she not have its sponsor outlawed
From power, position, bed and board?

The poem's vitality, and its political intelligence, have assured its survival long ...


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