"You have been in love with me all through our married life; you have not loved me," says Nora, in Ibsen's "Doll's House," that wonderful play in which the reader, or, better still, the audience, actually sees the growth of a soul in the doll-wife. "But you have been happy, Nora?" asks the husband. She says: " No, I have been merry." Without a soul she had no need for happiness. But when trouble comes she ceases to live on the surface and sees things in their true light. She then knows her husband to be a vain egoist, a man of no depth of principle, and she discovers that they have never really known each other.
To how many thousands of women has this revelation come? Sometimes it takes an opposite direction. A wife may find in her husband splendid qualities with which she had never credited him, high aspirations of which he had never given her a glimpse. If she be worthy of such a mate, she will do her utmost to climb towards his height, that mental stature which she regards with admiration that is almost awe. But should she be of baser clay she makes no effort to rise and almost resents his superiority.
But there are cases, like that of Ibsen's Nora, where the wife discovers that the manliness which had delighted her in her husband is but superficial, that his aims are low, his motives degraded. What is she to do? She cannot leave him, as Nora did. She has vowed to be constant to him
"for better, for worse." This is the real question that lies behind all the ferment about marriage that is going on to-day.
In a new play produced in Paris, "Mariages d'aujourdhui," the author, M. Valabreque, indicates that the whole subject of marriage is passing through a transition period, that the wife claims the right to "respirer et aspirer" as a being apart from the identity of her husband, as a separate human soul. In the new play, one of the characters says: "I do not reproach women for rising. What I do reproach them for is failing to rise higher." He thinks that marriage should be founded upon the mutual respect and friendship of two human beings who feel themselves on equal terms with each other. Obedience is slavery, he thinks. Few men exact obedience nowadays, except in the uneducated classes who have not marched with the times, who know little of what legislation has done for wives during the last twenty years.
Carmen Sylva, in her "Reminiscences," tells a story of her grandmother as the young bride of the Duke of Nassau. The wedding was no sooner over and the newly married couple alone in their travelling carriage than the duke (who had been married before) closed both windows, and, determined to show his bride that she was to be in submission to him, lit his pipe and smoked hard in her face for some hours. She did not dare to remonstrate, having been brought up under the roof of her father, the notoriously evil-tempered Prince Paul of Wurtemberg.
"Unfortunately," writes the Queen of Roumania, in this interesting book, "the custom still prevails of trying to keep women in subjection. A foolish notion survives among us that women ought to keep silence, and that they should be content to listen in silent admiration, needle in hand, while the husbands hold forth on any subject they please." Carmen Sylva attributes to this the present revolt of women, attended by exaggeration in the opposite direction.
A Reconstructed Marriage
Things are not so bad with us, but marriages would have much greater chance of happiness if it were understood that the two partners were equals, not one in subjection to the other. This is the root of bitterness. But our laws are rapidly eliminating it. St. Paul used the word " obey " in a limited sense, and failure to recognise this is responsible for its introduction into our Marriage Service.
In "A Reconstructed Marriage" the authoress, Amelia E. Barr, tells the story of a man who, under the influence of love, is so transformed that he wins the affections of a splendid woman. He takes her to his mother's home and makes her miserable. She, with her child, leaves him and goes to California with her parents. Her father gives her reasons for doing this. Here they are: "Robert is under wrong influences while you are present to provoke them. Day by day he is learning to be more cruel. Your mother-in-law is growing constantly in all malice, cruelty, and sin. Be no longer an occasion for her wickedness. You yourself are wasting your life in Doubting Castle. You are doing nothing, learning nothing, losing everything. Make a change."
This advice showed the young wife that to leave her husband, who was daily growing more peremptory and dictatorial, was a remedial and necessary thing to do. Remedial it proved, and the reconstructed marriage became a new existence for the husband. He had recognised at last his selfishness, his cruelty, his injustice. Without his intense love for his splendid wife he would never have done so. So many jests are cast at love; it is the object of so many witticisms that the world is in danger of forgetting or ignoring what a force it is. Every human soul needs not only to receive but to bestow it. It is the Great Education. Without it there can be no married happiness. The two are strangers if love has not united them, strangers in the sense of being unable to express to each other the things that matter most, the intimate affairs of soul and spirit, the experiences that make for growth of character. When there is real union there is but little need for the spoken word, for self-analysis or lengthy introspection. Each divines the other in mutual swift comprehension. A phrase is enough. "I know exactly what you mean" is often heard between two who have had the happiness of attaining real marriage, the triple union.
La Rochefoucauld said that no one likes to be divined. But he was not referring to the delight and joy of discovering in another a perfect understanding and sympathy. There are many couples who go on contentedly enough without it. It may be as "caviare to the general," but only because the world at large knows nothing of what the ideal marriage may be.