With Hoops of Steel
BEATRICE WEBB, OF UPPER MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY, THE POTTERS, WHO MOVED in aristocratic circles, independently came to the conclusion that, instead of "coming out" elaborately, for the purpose of making herself conspicuous in the "marriage mart," she would follow her own instincts and do social service work in the East End. She became interested in the drab life of the factory workers through conversations with her old nurse. At the time she became acquainted with leading Fabians, she had already made something of a name for herself as a student of working-class conditions under her relative, Charles Booth, who financed and directed a huge investigation of poverty in England, with the object of controverting Marx's shocking revelations.
Leaving the West End and the political plutocracy, she worked anonymously in sweaters' dens to discover the truth regarding the lives of the submerged tenth. She was neither expert needlewoman nor seamstress; but with her unassuming manner and eager interest, she won the hearts of the garment- workers. To such an extent, indeed, that her new-found friends insisted upon marrying her to one of their sons, Isaac or Moses, telescoped into Ikey Moe, the generic name for the rising male hopeful. Hastily escaping from this amusing but awkward predicament, she began another type of research, into the history of cooperation from the consumers' standpoint. She produced a small pioneering work, The Cooperative Movement, begun in November, 1889, of which Sidney Webb said that "it ought to have taken you six weeks to write, not seven months." A month earlier she had read Fabian Essays; and, probably understanding little of the other essays through ignorance of economics, was exhilarated by Sidney's because, as she said, "he has the historic sense" and wrote a language she understood.
Like Shaw's mother, Beatrice at first and for some years regarded the Fabian Society as a group of wild-eyed radicals, anarchistic ragamuffins, adolescent gas-bags, with a few of the middle-class intelligentsia thrown in to leaven the lump. Shaw records that Beatrice entered the Society late and "began with an intense contempt for us as a rabble of silly suburban faddists." Before Beatrice joined the Fabian Society one of the standing jokes among the Fabians who were Socialist "Souls," so to speak, was over the fascinated interest she displayed in the Society as a private "marriage mart" of her own. It seems