George Gissing

"The Tyrant's Apology"

WHAT the deuce do you mean? What right have you to meddle in 
my private affairs? It's confounded impertinence ----

How can that give you a right? For all I know, a dozen other men 
were in love with her. You had your chance, I suppose, and made 
what you could of it. That's an old story. It happens that I married 
her, and if any man has the astounding impudence to ----

Hang it all, Jameson! I've been put out; you're the second to-day - 
though the other was a woman, so she oughtn't to count. My 
temper's rather the worse for wear; I've gone through a good deal 
since you left England, old man. Of course you meant no harm; now 
you'll go about and say I've turned fire-eater. People are talking? 
Let them talk, and be hanged to them! On the whole, I had rather 
they did; one or two may reflect, and profit by my example. I don't 
care to use big words, but some men, if they had the pluck to take 
such a step, they would boast of starting a social reformation, and 
that kind of thing. It'll have to come; I should have thought you 
were just the fellow to understand and approve ----

Well, if you put it. in that way, I've no objection to explain. I won't 
be dictated to, that's all. I'm master in my own house, and if people 
come talking about "brutal behaviour," and taking my wife's part 
against me, I shall cut up tolerably rough. I'm well aware that 
Jenny wants people to pity her; whoever knew the woman that 
didn't? You don't like what I've got to say, but I can't help that; I 
didn't begin on the subject. I'm a man talking about his wife - that's 
to say, I see facts as facts, and not through a mist of sentiment. You 
still think of women as angels, do you? It's an amiable weakness; I 
never was given to it myself. I've played the fool about women, 
especially about Jenny; but something in my character has always 
pulled me up before I went plunging down a steep place, like - you 
Come now; in the old days, when we wasted so much time over at 
Norwood, did you really think Jenny the kind of girl that a sensible 
fellow with a small income would wish to marry? You can't have 
done so. Don't boggle over it; just say you were in love with her, and 
let that mean what it may. The honest truth is that to me she 
seemed about the last girl to make a good wife; but I, too, was in 
love with her - devilish hard hit, as I think you know. Just when I 
ought to have been fagging at my profession, I wallowed in idleness 
- all on account of Jenny. We see the result now; I'm one of the slow 
coaches; I can't make a large income and perhaps I never shall. No; 
I don't blame her for that. Wait a bit, and watch the course of 
I wonder a steady-going fellow like you could stand her ways. You 
remember her once calling out, "Oh, I have no character to lose?" It 
was perfectly true; we grinned and joked; but if we had grinned 
and gone away we should have acted more wisely. She did her
best to lose her character in the eyes of all rational people. She was 
having her fling, and she went just as far as was possible. I make all 
allowances for her: a silly mother, a rascal of a father, the flattery of 
a contemptible set of men and girls; but it doesn't alter the fact. Her 
cigarette-smoking, her night rambling, her talk about forbidden 
things - pah! She wished to be thought a fast girl, and it's rather 
wonderful, when one comes to think of it, that the limits of the 
possible weren't passed. She imagined herself a light of fashion over 
yonder. How on earth she got together such a menagerie of friends I 
never understood. To this day I have a suspicion that some of the 
men one met there on Sunday were shopwalkers; yet we know that 
some were not. The house might have been a decent house enough, 
of its kind; Jenny made it - well, no, vulgarity wasn't exactly the 
note after all. Her mother knew how to behave herself, and her 
scamp of a father could talk like a gentleman. One didn't feel 
exactly ashamed of being seen there. The fact is, society has got to 
be such a queer jumble nowadays. How is one to draw lines?
She was a handsome girl, a fine girl, and there's no gainsaying it. No 
one could find vulgarity in her face - or in her ways either, when 
she wasn't acting up to her ideas of fashionable freedom. She might 
have grown up a very creditable specimen of womanhood, with 
sensible parents and good schooling. As it is, her husband has to 
turn educator - well, wait a bit.
But for her father's smash, she wouldn't have dreamt of marrying 
me. Not for a moment! She might have married you, if you hadn't 
thrown up the game just too soon. She knew I had no money: I was 
honest enough to let that be understood from the first. She didn't 
particularly like me - I wasn't her style of man; of course, I could 
always see that. Very well, keep your own opinion; I say what I 
know, If I'm to tell this story at all, I must out with the blunt facts, 
never mind how they sound. Jenny married me because there 
seemed no hope of marrying anyone else of equally good social 
position. She was fastidious; she knew a gentleman from a gent, and 
only tolerated the sham when he helped to fill a room and applaud 
her comic songs.
I knew all about the smash before it came out; and I knew the old 
man had cut and run before his family did. I would have done a 
good deal to save Jenny from that; believe me or not, as you like. I 
had a bad lump in the throat when I thought of her, and I was as 
far as possible from calculating upon the change in her situation. 
The truth is, I went to the extreme, and said to myself that it would 
be impossible now to marry her, even if she would have me. My 
prospects had to be considered; I was feeling a bit anxious about 
things, and saw the necessity of keeping in with a certain class of 
people. No, I put Jenny out of my mind - or tried to. And I felt glad, 
old fellow, that you were far enough away, for I knew what you 
would have done. Sorry you didn't get the news till it was too late 
to do anything? I won't allow myself a coarse retort. Never mind; 
the past is past; and you, at all events, still have a future.
I, too? Heaven only knows. But I feel better this last week or two. I 
go to the office with an easier mind, that's certain.	

You don't want to hear how we came to be married, and I've no 
wish to tell you. Don't suppose I imply anything against Jenny. She 
was miserable, and no doubt I ought to have left her alone till she 
had got over the worst of it. An accident - it's always the same. My 
common-sense failed me at the critical moment.
It came out afterwards that things were not so black as they looked 
- for her, I mean. She talked about going for a lady's-maid, or a 
scullery-maid, or I don't know what. Heaven help the people who 
engaged her in such capacities. But she had relatives in the country 
who were able and willing to help her; that's to say, she might have 
lived with them till some rational arrangement could be made. Her 
mother, as I daresay you know, behaved very badly; she was 
frightened out of her wits, I suppose, and showed the primitive 
selfish instinct without disguise. Jenny - one of the things to her 
credit - never made claim to a share in what her mother had to live 
upon. Well, we won't talk about it. It was a squalid affair, and 
there's no outliving the memory. That's one reason why I hope 
never to have children; the ancestral history would be an awkward 
At first it really looked as if Jenny had profited by disaster - 
though, by the way, did you ever know anyone who did? I told her 
plainly that I had a very small income, and little hope of its 
increasing for some time to come; she professed herself quite 
content. Then I put it to her; wouldn't it be wise to establish 
ourselves in a very modest way, to spend just as little as possible 
on the house and furniture, and so on? Of course it would! She was 
willing to live in the merest cottage, with a deal table to eat upon, 
Windsor chairs, felt carpets. No one would ever come to see us - at 
all events, she hoped not. Her desire was to hide away, and to work 
hard from morning to night with the scrubbing-brush. No, I don't 
exaggerate. I can make allowance, of course, for her state of mind. 
But, putting aside burlesque, the fact was that she consented to 
begin housekeeping in a very simple way. We were to refuse 
invitations if any were offered, and to wait patiently for an 
improvement in our circumstances.
Yes, I knew it was a risk; even then just a glimmer of reason 
remained to me. I even suspected that I was acting not quite 
honourably. I was rushing the marriage; Jenny ought to have had 
time to recover herself and look round. And I didn't forget this 
afterwards, I assure you 1 didn't. It made me a deuced sight more 
patient than most men would have been. For all that, a girl of three-
and-twenty isn't a child, and a married woman has no more claim 
to indulgence if she behaves with idiotic selfishness than a married 
man. That's one of my points. There's a common idea that the wives 
of poor men are long-suffering angels, while their husbands have a 
comparatively easy time of it. Damned nonsense! As a rule, it's the 
other way about. 

Well, I hadn't the courage to take as cheap a house as I ought to 
have done. After all, I secretly hoped that a year or two would 
make a good deal of difference in my position. The rent in the 
meantime wouldn't matter much, provided other expenses were 
kept down. I was determined not to get into debt for furniture. We 
bought just the bare necessaries, at a trifling cost. Of course, Jenny 
had the choosing, and she managed sensibly enough - in fact, I had 
to insist on a few comforts she wished to dispense with.
I'm glad to see you smile. Just as well to keep that side in view. 
There's more comedy than tragedy in the whole affair, if only you 
see the truth of it. Thanks to rue, you know. If I had been a 
different sort of man ----

For a month or two things Went on pretty smoothly. Jenny wasn't 
contented; I knew it, but then I had expected it, and it seemed to 
me that the only thing I could do was to work like a nigger. From 
eight to six, and from nine to twelve - it's about as much as a man 
can get into the day, don't you think?
Jenny's hands didn't show much sign of domestic toil. Of course the 
servant wasn't worth much; of course, the house got dirty and 
disorderly; of course, the cooking was abominable. All that goes 
without saying. I put up with it - seemed not to notice it. I'm not 
the kind of fellow that's always thinking about his comfort. 
Certainly I object to the waste of good food - potatoes like soap and 
meat like leather; but it's what every man who can't afford a cook 
has to be content with. I kept Jenny supplied with the books from 
Mudie's, and I took care she should have decent things to go out in. 
She hadn't much of my society; that couldn't be helped. A woman 
must find resources in herself.
One evening when I came home to dinner - or tea, rather, for I 
pretended to have midday dinner in town - Jenny was prostrate. 
The sight of her alarmed me; I thought she was seriously ill. For a 
long time I could get nothing out of her but incoherent mutterings. 
No doubt she had been crying all day, and couldn't even pump up 
another tear. When I got over my alarm, I took the rational course 
and talked like a plain, blunt man. We came near to quarrelling, and 
I wasn't sorry for it; something of that kind was needed to clear the 
air. She had been paying visits to some of her old friends, and the 
sight of their houses, their talk of amusements, and so on, had been 
too much for her.
"I made a mistake," she said. "I didn't know what I was doing."
I grinned and bore it.
"You're expecting too much of me," came next. 
This tried my temper pretty severely. I began to reason with her - 
why don't you laugh? The reasoning lasted till two o'clock in the 
morning, and the outcome of it was that I got her a piano. With a 
piano she thought she might soothe her loneliness and keep away 
disagreeable thoughts. I might have suggested that a little study of 
the science and art of cookery would be just as efficacious and a 
good deal more appropriate; but I allowed myself only the gentlest 
hints at that kind of thing. I know as well as you do that the girl's 
life was a miserable change to her, and that it's hard for one of her 
breeding to learn anything womanly - to be of any use in the world 
- to see things reasonably, and act with courage. I grant all that, but 
I maintain that I was patient and forbearing. Life was before us, 
and had to be faced. Short of agreeing to part - which neither of us 
desired - there was nothing to be done but make the best of things 
as we found them. Jenny made the worst of them - as women so 
often do. Before long, I let her know my view of the matter; there 
was another all-night sitting and a vigorous debate. The piano, of 
course, hadn't answered its purpose.
"If I could only have someone to come and see me," said Jenny.
"Why not? Let people come."
"How canI? There isn't a chair for anyone to sit down on. How can I 
show people such a house as this?"
What should I have answered? I got into a rage, stamped about the 
place, and called on the gods to witness feminine imbecility. For a 
week we hardly spoke to each other. Then Jenny came to me when 
I was at work one night:
"To-morrow, I'm going away."
"I can't bear this life; it will drive me mad. You are the most 
unfeeling man I ever knew. I shall go and find some way of earning 
a living."
"My best wishes!"
She left the room and I worked on - or tried to work - for an hour. 
When I went upstairs Jenny was lying on the bedroom floor, her 
arms stretched out ----

All right, I won't go into details, but you must have the whole story. 
Next day was Sunday, we spent it in talking quietly, and the upshot 
of it was that in the course of the following week our house 
received a new supply of furniture; in fact, it was very decently 
furnished from top to bottom. Moreover, the incompetent "general" 
disappeared, and two young women, with flaring testimonials and 
large appetites, took her place. We had been married not quite 
three months.
I knew I was acting absurdly. I take much of the blame for what 
followed upon myself. There should have been a middle course. But 
is it my fault that women are congenitally incapable of anything but 
Then, the fact was I had begun to be rather more hopeful about my 
prospects. Tremendous work was telling; a little money began to 
come in; it seemed not impossible that a year might double my 
income, in which case the house wouldn't be difficult to support. 
And Jenny had altered so marvelously. I went about saying to 
myself that I had an admirable wife - all reason, all sweetness. She 
was in wonderful health and spirits. She sang, she laughed, she 
adorned the table, and made me feel proud when I walked with her 
along the streets.
A rule was laid down: no dinner-parties! We couldn't do it properly, 
so wouldn't try to do it at all. People might come at the approved 
hour, and tea would be offered them; there we drew the line.
This lasted for a month, then Jenny, in a very sweet way, asked me 
whether she might have a girl friend to lunch. Only Miss Parker, 
who played and sang so beautifully. Why not? So Miss Parker came. 
A week later - should I mind if Miss Parker and her sister came to 
spend the evening? Of course not; glad to see them. But - but would 
there be any harm in having a sort of very simple little dinner, at 
seven o'clock?"
"Jenny! Remember."
"Yes. You're quite right. Better not. I'll tell them to come at eight, 
and they can have something for supper."
Do you know that I have a good deal of generosity in my 
composition? You may doubt it, but it's there. When Jenny made 
that answer I was uncomfortable. I suffered discomfort for a day-
and-a-half, then I could stand it no longer.
"Look here, Jenny," I said, "I don't see why you shouldn't have those 
girls to dinner."
She flashed a delightful look at me.
"No, no. I've given up the thought. Of course it wouldn't have been 
like a real dinner; only a sort of high tea. But we won't talk of it."
The girls came. There was clear soup, turbot, a bit of veal, and 
sweets. There was wine. There was subsequent coffee in the 
drawing-room. A mere high tea.

You see, that's how it began. Why I didn't set my foot down I can't 
easily explain. Chiefly, perhaps, because I felt ashamed of perpetual 
wrangling, especially when Jenny seemed to be trying her best to 
keep on good terms with me - trying in every way but the 
essential, another trick of the long-suffering angels. Of course, I had 
yielded too much to stand out in smaller matters. And the truth was 
I found life a good deal pleasanter than before. I had decent meals 
and comfortable chairs. Jenny showed a bright face when I came 
home, and was recovering a good deal of her old liveliness in 
conversation. For all that, I had shown a fatal weakness, and it 
wasn't long before I began to curse my folly.
I dare say people have told you what sort of a life we led for the 
next two years. My income steadily improved, and expenses 
steadily kept pace with it. We lived like everyone else; had a swarm 
of acquaintances; gave dinners now and then; went to places of 
amusement because we were ashamed not to be seen there; dressed 
extravagantly; did everything that public opinion demands. Jenny 
had beaten me; she led me along like a pet dog with a collar round 
its neck. Yet there was one sense in which I had gained the upper 
hand of Jenny. She never fell back into the vagaries she was so 
proud of before her marriage. No more "fast" doings; no cigarettes, 
no doubtful talk, no disreputable company. I had told her what I 
thought of that kind of thing, and she was careful to please me. She 
had a new ambition - to be the leader of a highly respectable set. 
Respectable she was, with a vengeance. It often amazed me when I 
thought of the hideous dullness of the life she led. To me, her 
solitude of the first three months would have seemed infinitely 
preferable. Oh! the gaping fools we gathered about us! I have sat 
listening to their talk until my jaw dropped and my eyes grew fixed 
in an idiot stare. Happily, I had an excuse for keeping away from 
home as much as I liked. And yet, as time went on, that life 
exercised a strange influence on me. It was as though I had been 
hypnotised by the atmosphere of stupidity. I found myself 
beginning to talk like the men who came to us. I dropped the habit 
of reading. I grew really anxious about the cut of my waistcoat and 
the growth of my moustache. By Jove, I can tell you I fell pretty 
If I had had any relatives in London it would have been different. I 
had no friends of my own, either; at all events, no friends who were 
of any use socially. At home, I was Jenny's husband - nothing more; 
and a tolerably contemptible figure I must have cut.
I had an attack of influenza, and it left me in very low spirits. Just 
at that time, too, money difficulties began to trouble me; there was 
nothing for it but to borrow, and this necessity gave me a dig in the 
ribs - woke me up a little. Jenny and I had a conversation. I told 
her she must cut down expenses; to live as we were doing was 
simply insane. Why, I hadn't even insured my life. Bad enough to 
spend all one had, but now we were beginning to incur debts. I told 
Jenny that she must keep within a certain stipulated sum for the 
month's expenditure. She promised, but exceeded the limit. I got 
furious, and we began once more to quarrel. Impossible to alter our 
way of living, but by dint of working I kept the budget at my own 
figure - the last penny I could afford. Domestic peace was at an end, 
though. Jenny regarded me as an insolent rebel, I suppose. It was 
my place to supply her with. what she wanted, and to say nothing. 
If outlay increased - well, my duty was to make more money.
She began to pester me about having the furniture renewed. Our 
house was getting old-fashioned; people noticed it. Well, I said, they 
must notice; if the carpet fell into holes I had no money for a new 
one. Jenny tried the old dodge; shut herself up and moped; sat 
crying when I came home to dinner. I lost my temper, and there 
was the devil to pay. It gave me peace for a week or two.
The results of that influenza hung about me, and I didn't feel at all 
like myself. I couldn't do my work; things went wrong at the office; 
I began to foresee more trouble about money. Instead of going 
home at the usual time, I got into a habit of slinking about the 
streets, tormenting myself with fears and calculations. I once knew 
a man who went off his head in just this way, and it's easy enough 
to understand.
Things were ripe for a change, and Jenny took the best way to bring 
it off. One evening she said to me in a careless sort of way:
"I've ordered that new drawing-room suite."
I was struck dumb, and stared at her. She stared back, ready for 
fight. When I got my breath, I said quietly:
"Then you'll countermand the order."
It was a sharp engagement that followed. I was in a queer state, 
and didn't quite trust myself. In a few minutes I had somehow got 
out into the back garden, and stood there trembling. It was a 
splendid night - two months ago - full moon, and a brilliant sky, 
without a cloud. I shall always believe in inspiration. As sure as I'm 
a living man at that moment something spoke in me, and bade me 
act in a certain way - what's more, gave me the courage and the 
strength to do it. All of a sudden, I was as calm as the night. I felt 
my muscles rather tense, and a chill down the back; then it was just 
as if I had sauntered out to smoke a cigar. Even the last symptoms 
of my illness seemed to have come to an end; I was clearer-headed 
than for months.
I went in again. Jenny was sitting where I had left her.
"Just listen to me," I said. "I never understood till this moment what 
a consummate ass I have made of myself. Here am I, with such and 
such an income, on which I can count with certainty. This income is 
much more than enough for all the necessities of our life; there 
needn't be one moment's anxiety about money. Yet I've got into 
such a cursed coil that it has seemed to me now and then lately as if 
I should do best to cut my throat. What's the explanation of it?"
She was puzzled at my tone, and couldn't see what I was driving at.
"What sort of a life do I lead? Every penny I can earn by my 
hardest work goes to keep up certain appearances - that is to say, 
to imitate people for whom I don't care a damn. What pleasures 
have I? None, because I can't afford them. The social circle to which 
I belong won't allow me to spend a farthing on myself. I don't 
insure my life, though it's my duty to do so, because the premium 
goes in keeping up appearances. I never buy a book. I never take a 
journey to please myself. I never subscribe to a charity. I never 
lend or give to anyone. I'm the basest slave, and the most 
contemptible hypocrite that treads the earth!"

I spoke as never before, and Jenny couldn't choose but listen.
"What sort of people are they who impose this slavery on me? 
Wretched curs living a life like my own, slaves each of the other, 
secretly miserable because they spend beyond their means, and 
aping a social rank altogether above them. Out of regard for their 
opinion, I condemn myself to a squalid hell, of toil and sham 
pleasure. Does this strike you as reasonable?"
"You're talking nonsense," said Jenny. "We have to live a certain 
way ----"
I interrupted her.
"We have. A way that I'll explain to you. From this day forth I 
spend half my income on the necessaries of life, and not one penny 
more. The other half shall afford us ,a few rational satisfactions, 
with a considerable margin to lay aside. We leave this house and go 
into one of which the rent is not more than thirty pounds - a fair 
proportion. This furniture will be sold, and things of a very 
different kind procured instead - plain and serviceable. I won't 
have one object under my roof that is there merely for show. You 
shall have a girl to help you - a young girl, whom you'll have to 
teach and train yourself. If I work to support the house, you shall 
work to keep it in order. You shall wear plain dresses and eat 
simple food; in short, we are going to live as you consented to when 
you married me. If you don't agree to this we part. I give you the 
. . . Well, there it is. That's the long and short of it. You have been 
told that Jenny has suffered brutal usage at my hands; judge for 
She said at first that she would leave me, and asked in a business-
like way what her allowance was to be. I told her. She tried to 
renew the quarrel; I wouldn't take part in it.
I saw my way, and meant to pursue it. Before long I believe other 
men will go and do likewise. It needs pluck, but the end is worth a 
struggle. I have recovered self-respect, and I am master in my own 
house. It may take years of steady ruling before Jenny gives up all 
hope of a return to the fashionable life. At present she is trying 
sentimental hypocrisy; but it's no use.
Her rights as an individual? Humbug! She is not an individual; it's 
the rarest thing to meet a woman who is.
If the life becomes intolerable to her? The door is always open, and 
an allowance at her disposal.


Provided by Mitsuharu Matsuoka, Nagoya University, Japan,
on 18 July 2002.

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