Something she did when she introduced the romantic literature into France; and there are passages from her writings which seem worthy of preservation. For instance, we may quote her outburst with regard to unhappy marriages. “It was the subject,” says Mr. Gribble, “on which she had begun to think before she was married, and which continued to haunt her long after she was left a widow; though one suspects that the word ‘marriage’ became a form of speech employed to describe her relations, not with her husband, but with her lovers.” The passage to which I refer is as follows:
In an unhappy marriage, there is a violence of distress surpassing all other sufferings in the world. A woman’s whole soul depends upon the conjugal tie. To struggle against fate alone, to journey to the grave without a friend to support you or to regret you, is an isolation of which the deserts of Arabia give but a faint and feeble idea. When all the treasure of your youth has been given in vain, when you can no longer hope that the reflection of these first rays will shine upon the end of your life, when there is nothing in the dusk to remind you of the dawn, and when the twilight is pale and colorless as a livid specter that precedes the night, your heart revolts, and you feel that you have been robbed of the gifts of God upon earth.
Equally striking is another prose passage of hers, which seems less the careful thought of a philosopher than the screeching of a termagant. It is odd that the first two sentences recall two famous lines of Byron:
Man’s love is of man’s
life a thing apart;
’Tis woman’s whole existence.
The passage by Mme. de Stael is longer and less piquant:
Love is woman’s whole existence. It is only an episode in the lives of men. Reputation, honor, esteem, everything depends upon how a woman conducts herself in this regard; whereas, according to the rules of an unjust world, the laws of morality itself are suspended in men’s relations with women. They may pass as good men, though they have caused women the most terrible suffering which it is in the power of one human being to inflict upon another. They may be regarded as loyal, though they have betrayed them. They may have received from a woman marks of a devotion which would so link two friends, two fellow soldiers, that either would feel dishonored if he forgot them, and they may consider themselves free of all obligations by attributing the services to love—as if this additional gift of love detracted from the value of the rest!
One cannot help noticing how lacking in neatness of expression is this woman who wrote so much. It is because she wrote so much that she wrote in such a muffled manner. It is because she thought so much that her reflections were either not her own, or were never clear. It is because she loved so much, and had so many lovers— Benjamin Constant; Vincenzo Monti, the Italian poet; M. de Narbonne, and others, as well as young Rocca—that she found both love and lovers tedious.