I have just been reading a remarkable book The English Spirit by Doris Eveline Faulkner Jones, an Anthroposophist and English teacher at the Manchester High School for Girls. I came across this book by a long and detailed review written by Owen Barfield and published back in 1935 just after the book was published -
There was enough in this review to induce me to read the English Spirit for myself - plus my intense and increasing interest in the subject matter. Barfield continued to be impressed by this book and forty-six years later wrote an Introduction when the English Spirit was re-published.
My impression is that this is an extremely impressive book - intense, passionate, and deeply intuitive in an unique way. It is, indeed, one of the most deeply original non-fiction books I have read by a woman.
One aspect is Faulkner Jones understanding of the spiritual nature of women and womens' role in the life of a nation - especially England, and since the time of Christ (she argues, following Rudolf Steiner, that Christ's work gave women an essential societal role that had previously been lacking.
Here is Barfield's summary of this aspect, from his review:
Before the coming of the Christ the Spiritual world worked through the (group) Ego directly into the physical (blood). Actually the human being has two intermediate principles, the astral and the etheric; but in pre-christian times these were not yet spiritualised; they were on a “natural” plane. Nevertheless the course taken by the Christ being in his incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth was not the old one, direct from Ego to physical. He passed through and filled the astral and etheric bodies first. Consequently the path of the divine impulse, and indeed of every concept, on its way down into the human will now lies from the Ego through the astral and etheric into the physical, the will-element in man.
This fact has completely altered the social significance of woman. Ego and physical are predominantly masculine principles, whereas astral and etheric (the “soul” element) are feminine. Thus there is a sense in which the women of any community are the soul of that community. A new social idea must pass through them before it can be realised properly in action. A new spiritual impulse would thus be grasped or conceived in the first place mainly by the men of a nation, it would then be welcomed by the “creative receptivity” of the women, entering in this way into the life of feeling (astral) and of habitual everyday thought (etheric) of the nation. Finally the nation’s will (expressed again mainly through its men) would seize on the impulse as elaborated and carry it into action. A terrible example of the disaster which is now inevitable if the intermediate stage is omitted, industrial England was built by the new ideas of mechanism and individualism before they had had time to be modified, corrected, humanised by the sense and sensibility of women. The idea was applied with fanatical enthusiasm regardless of its practical consequences and their resultant misery – which women would have been wise enough to foresee.
Faulkner Jones clarifies what is need from women - and which only women can provide - with two specific historical examples: Queen Elizabeth I and Florence Nightingale (Edited by me):
One might call the special gift of women 'creative receptivity', and it should be used in close co-operation with the 'creative activity' of men. There is no question of superiority or inferiority: both types of creative energy are equally necessary for the harmonious working of daily life.
An example of the harmonious working-together of the male and female principles in social life is medicine in the nineteenth century. New discoveries were revolutionising medical work when there emerged in Florence Nightingale a woman powerful enough to feel deeply, and comprehend fully, the importance of these discoveries and of medical work in general.
It was through her work in founding and organising nursing as a profession for women that the new medical ideas, generated through the male creative intellect, could be applied beneficently and systematically, on a wide basis, to all the classes of the community. Without the steady, loving, systematised, daily and hourly attention of trained nurses, the most brilliant surgical or medical treatment would fail.
The Elizabethan period is a remarkable example of a short, though highly important, epoch, marked by harmonious interplay between the male and female principles.
Neither Elizabeth, nor any other woman, herself initiated a single important idea in either the spiritual or material planes. But the Queen was creatively receptive to a degree hardly yet attained by any other woman; being able to grasp and hold, by means of her spiritualised soul-faculties, everything of importance that was happening in the civilised world of her day.
Her foreign policy was so involved that historians find the greatest difficulty in disentangling its subtle threads; but those threads were woven with ease by Elizabeth, and that their final result was something in the way of a consummate masterpiece of political skill is denied by few.
In England, no important thought could become action without passing through the filter of Elizabeth's great soul.
Her male subjects, powerful individualities though they were, were willing not to act until she was ready, until she gave the sign. There can be little doubt that, left entirely to their own will, they would have plunged the country into external strife, civil and religious conflicts.
Elizabeth's powerful mind was of the receptive, meditative, judging, discriminating, discerning type; eminently fitted to guide and control the fiery will-forces of the male. The men of her age felt in her a force equal in power to their own, but different in kind; and knew instinctively that by submitting their will to her guidance they were expressing their own Ego in the fullest, richest, most human manner.
And in Faulkner Jones's own words (edited by me):
All English Christians, and English women especially, bear a heavy weight of responsibility at this moment of time. They must feel and understand the Christ concept. Unless or until they do this, neither concept nor theory will be able to reach the will and pass directly into action.
The will of England is paralysed because the Soul of England is asleep - sunk in lethargy, dissipated in the pursuit of unimportant personal interests, blind to what is happening in the objective world.
Let English women once awaken to a sense of duty, to a knowledge of the lofty part they must play in the life of the nation, and this country will be saved from the creeping death that is now destroying it daily.
The concepts of salvation are here in the world: the men of the nation possess sufficient will-power to carry them onto the plane of external life. But these concepts have not been received with living warmth into the feelings: they have neither stirred the imagination nor the heart; for the majority of those who have accepted them have received them with a dry, abstract, logical intellect.
Considered collectively, the women of England stand for the Soul of England; and thoughts so vast in their import that they concern the whole nation must pass through that Soul, before they can be translated into action.
If England fails the world, at this crucial point in history, it will be through the intellectual sloth, the stultified imagination, the deadened hearts, of English women.
Written eighty years ago and looking back; we can now see with unambiguous clarity that England has thus far failed the world. But Faulkner Jones's inspired prophecies may help us to clarify the nature of that failure - and how, even now, albeit too late for optimal results - much might even yet be done by a renewed spiritual consciousness among English women, the Soul of the nation.