Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Question of the Week

In Wish With the Candles, Justin discusses the love that made the most recent beneficiary of his surgical expertise jump off a bridge and crush his chest in:
Emma: He must have loved her very much.
Justin: Men do--most men. A woman--their own particular woman--is so woven into the tapestry of their lives that she can't be cut out.

Let's leave for a minute the doubtful assertion that the depth of love the young bridge jumper had for his lady love was greater than the average. (I'm merely (and prosaically) determined to think that he was unbalanced.) And let us pick up Justin's position about men. It tickled my memory of a passage in Jane Austen's Persuasion:

And with a quivering lip he 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.'

Okay, so there it is. Captain Benwick and Justin on one side of the coin and Anne on the other. Let's hash it out. Who loves more deeply?--Men or women?


  1. Oh, great. I get to go first. Yay, me.

    I generally tend to believe that men & women are equal in many respects (legally, morally, ethically) but not psychologically. When it comes to love, though, I can't say definitively that men are more or less loving than women.

    I see it in terms of personal psychology. All the people I tend to be close to have had some version of the Bad Childhood, so the first thing they have to learn is how to love themselves. After that, loving another (and being loved in return) is much easier and more fun.

    But before that -- well, there's your jumper. If you can't fulfill basic emotional needs on your own, then the object of your devotion (obsession) may never seem to love you enough -- it's the unfillable hole.

    For those of us who have mastered the art of loving ourselves first (where love, incidentally, is not at all synonymous with self-regard), I don't think there's any substantive difference between men and women and how capable they are of forming a lasting connection.

    Women are just better at some of the more favored ways of showing how much they love another: understanding what the beloved really wants & needs, buying presents, caring for the beloved when he has the flu, etc. Which is what makes the RDDs so delicious: they're good at all that stuff too!

  2. I'm amazed at how timeless the argument is. Persuasion was written in about 1816, but I could imagine the same arguments being postulated today.

    I like this part of the discussion (when she's talking to Captain Harville):
    Captain Harvile: I won't allow it to be any more man's nature than women's to be inconstant or to forget those they love or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe... Let me just observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose, and verse. I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which did not have something to say on women's fickleness.
    Anne Elliot: But they were all written by men.

    As for who loves more deeply. I'm going to, neither. I stand firmly on the side of individual nature - not sweeping generalization. I'm not sure I can really take a side here, except to say that I do think men and women love differently. But there are as many different ways as there are people. In general, I think that men have it a little simpler than women. Women often have a lot of multi-tasking required of their love (insert children here).

  3. If we're talking about merely the superficial manifestations of love (poem writing, flower sharing, suicide by bridge-jumping...) then I think I give men the edge. They also seem to inhabit the other extreme--taciturn to the point of uncommunicative on the subject of their tender feelings.

    Perhaps women are scattered less broadly across the spectrum?

  4. Betty Keira, you broke Betty Barbara's brain!

    Thank you Betty Magdalen for going first and for summing up my poor thoughts. And Betty Debbie, too.
    It all depends on the individual lover and the object of his/her devotion. Best, I think, if the two people involved are equally involved. It doesn't matter how the love is demonstrated. What matters is that neither partner feels that they are putting more into the relationship than the other one is.

  5. via email from Betty Mary:

    All lot depends on how well the person has bonded to the lover. This can be affected by the chemical bond created between two people in the marriage act. So, first time lovers and long time lovers tend to have a harder time recovering from a loved lost. Faithful young men and old lovers will suffer the loss more than those guys in their prime who are 'players'.
    Some women are better lovers because they tend to be faithful and their natures cause them to be pleasers. But we also tend to recover sooner, because we tend to live for others. Self centered women who have affairs may be less affected by the loss of a lover.
    I think there's some validity to the male/female argument, but cultural, generational, and moral values would probably have more influences.

  6. Re jumping off the bridge because of a faithless (perhaps in more ways than one) lover: in the introduction to the reprinted edition of Alexander Harkavy's Yiddish-English-Hebrew dictionary, the story of his meeting and wooing his wife, Bella Segalowski, is given, in a version that the editor states that he heard from Harkavy's cousin.
    [Some time in the late 1880s,] "Harkavy strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge, saw a young lady jump off, watched her rescue by a passing tugboat, followed her to the hospital, and asked her, when she came to, why she had jumped. It was the old story of the fiance' back in Europe writing to say that he was marrying someone else. At which point Alexander said, 'Nu? So what's the problem, my dear child? *I* will marry you!' [He did,] and they lived in idyllic harmony. Her death in 1930 left him brokenhearted, and he died a lonely man in New York's Broadway Central Hotel. The pictorial pamphlet he issued in her memory (1934) is one of his last publications."
    Perhaps that is where Betty got the inspiration for Making Sure of Sarah's Litrik falling deeply in love at first sight with the wet, malodorous girl sleeping in the emergency room?

    B. Baersma