Thursday, July 20, 2006


Aspects of Love:

From Robertson Davies novel: "Murther and Walking Spirits":

“Listen to me. Every marriage involves not two, but four people. There are the two that are seen in the altar, or the city clerk, or whoever links them, but they are attended invisibly by two others, and those invisible ones may prove very soon to be of equal or even greater importance. There is the Woman who is concealed in the man, and there is the Man who is concealed in the woman. That’s the marriage quaternity, and anybody who fails to understand it must be very simple, or bound for trouble”

Gil’s best friend, Hugh, makes this observation. He is also one of the few men who actually recognize and embraces the woman in himself, so much so, that he has avoided marriage because he’s “never met a woman who would have me whom I felt I could trust in the same house and in the same bed with my own woman”.

This is wisdom. In my opinion, and I am disposed to be a little biased in favour of women in this matter, women are much more attuned and accepting of the man inside them. Gil’s wife, Esme, demonstrates how that is: she “had to call on powers that carried her over a rough patch, and gave her strength to bear what she thought she might not be able to endure”. She was an ambitious woman and had to resort at times to being “coarse and domineering” in order to get the successful career she craved.

Self-empowerment in women comes, I think, mainly, from recognizing and taking up those tough, traditionally male, qualities in them, that they have to utilize in order to get ahead in society.This recognition of the Man inside a woman has been suppressed for a long time. Western culture has encouraged women to be feminine, supine and pursued. This trend still lingers to some degree in our society.

We can cast this duality in sexual terms. Women, classically, in literature and culture, have been viewed as the object of desire. Men desire and pursue actively. Women are supposed to be merely reactive and desired. But women authors, even in the rather sexually repressive nineteenth century, wrote novels about heroines who were desiring subjects.

A famous example is, of course, Jane Eyre. In this novel, we get a full demonstration of the “quaternity” we encountered earlier. Mr. Rochester’s vulnerability and nurturing care for Jane are as feminine as Jane’s sturdy resistance to him is masculine. She desires him fiercely, so that she is no less the pursuer than the pursued in this relationship. It is hardly a wonder that the figure of Jane Eyre created such a dislike for her. She was described by contemporary women as coarse and unladylike. Even D.H. Lawrence hated both her and Charlotte Bronte for “emasculating Rochester”. D.H. Lawrence would not accept the “quaternity”. In “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, the heroine was a helpless, mainly hormonal creature. There was nothing masculine or even energetic about her behavior. Her lover is all male. I read the novel many years ago, so I may be reconstructing something here. I hope not.

Jane Austen created a desiring heroine in her novels. Anne Eliot from Persuasion is a perfect example. Her object of desire is Wentworth, and one of the first indication that Anne has a Man in her, is her recognizing this in herself. She becomes active in bringing about her own happiness. Such energy and conviction would have been insupportable in women in her own time.


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