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In Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, Captain Harville and Anne Elliot, surprised by a bereaved friend's intention to remarry, debate who loves longer, men or women, and how they weather loss of love.
... with a quivering lip [Captain Harville] wound up
the whole by adding, "Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!"
"No," replied Anne, in a low, feeling voice. "That I can easily believe."
"It was not in her nature. She doted on him."
"It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved."
Captain Harville smiled, as much as to say, "Do you claim that
for your sex?" and she answered the question, smiling also,
"Yes. We certainly do not forget you as soon as you forget us.
It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves.
We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.
You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits,
business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately,
and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions."
"Granting your assertion that the world does all this so soon for men
(which, however, I do not think I shall grant), it does not apply
to Benwick. He has not been forced upon any exertion. The peace
turned him on shore at the very moment, and he has been living with us,
in our little family circle, ever since."
"True," said Anne, "very true; I did not recollect; but what shall
we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from
outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature,
man's nature, which has done the business for Captain Benwick."
"No, no, it is not man's nature. I will not allow it to be more
man's nature than woman's to be inconstant and forget those they do love,
or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy
between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are
the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage,
and riding out the heaviest weather."
"Your feelings may be the strongest," replied Anne, "but the same spirit
of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender.
Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived;
which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments.
Nay, it would be too hard upon you, if it were otherwise.
You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with.
You are always labouring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship.
Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health,
nor life, to be called your own. It would be hard, indeed"
(with a faltering voice), "if woman's feelings were to be
added to all this."
"We shall never agree upon this question," Captain Harville
[said].... "No man and woman, would, probably.
But let me observe that all histories are against you--all stories,
prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you
fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think
I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say
upon woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk
of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all
written by men."
"Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples
in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story.
Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has
been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
"But how shall we prove anything?"
"We never shall. We never can expect to prove any thing upon such a point.
It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof.
We each begin, probably, with a little bias towards our own sex;
and upon that bias build every circumstance in favour of it
which has occurred within our own circle; many of which circumstances
(perhaps those very cases which strike us the most) may be precisely such
as cannot be brought forward without betraying a confidence,
or in some respect saying what should not be said."
"Ah!" cried Captain Harville, in a tone of strong feeling,
"if I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes
a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat
that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight,
and then turns away and says, `God knows whether we ever meet again!'
And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does
see them again; when, coming back after a twelvemonth's absence,
perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon
it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself,
and saying, `They cannot be here till such a day,' but all the while
hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last,
as if Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still!
If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do,
and glories to do, for the sake of these treasures of his existence!
I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!" pressing his own
"Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you,
and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue
the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures!
I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment
and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable
of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal
to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance,
so long as--if I may be allowed the expression--so long as you have
an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you.
All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one;
you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence
or when hope is gone."