There are many — and probably the greater portion of my readers will be among the number — who will declare to themselves that Paul Montague was a poor creature, in that he felt so great a repugnance to face this woman with the truth. His folly in falling at first under the battery of her charms will be forgiven him. His engagement, unwise as it was, and his subsequent determination to break his engagement, will be pardoned. Women, and perhaps some men also, will feel that it was natural that he should have been charmed, natural that he should have expressed his admiration in the form which unmarried ladies expect from unmarried men when any such expression is to be made at all; — natural also that he should endeavour to escape from the dilemma when he found the manifold dangers of the step which he had proposed to take. No woman, I think, will be hard upon him because of his breach of faith to Mrs. Hurtle. But they will be very hard on him on the score of his cowardice, — as, I think, unjustly. In social life we hardly stop to consider how much of that daring spirit which gives mastery comes from hardness of heart rather than from high purpose or true courage. The man who succumbs to his wife, the mother who succumbs to her daughter, the master who succumbs to his scrvant, is as often brought to servility by a continual aversion to the giving of pain, by a softness which causes the fretfulness of othen to be an agony to himself, as by any actual fear which the firmness of the imperious one may have produced. There is an inner softness, a thinness of the mind's skin, an incapability of seeing or even thinking of the troubles of others with equanimity, which produces a feeling akin to fear; but which is compatible not only with courage, but with absolute firrnness of purpose, when the demand for firmness arises so strongly as to assert itself.With this man it was not really that he feared the woman; — or at least such fear did not prevail upon him to be silent; but he shrank from subjecting her to the blank misery of utter desertion. After what had passed between them he could hardly bring himself to tell her that he wanted her no further and to bid her go. But that was what he had to do. [Chapter 47, "Mrs. Hurtle at Lowestoffe,"441-42 — location of passage in full text of the novel]


Victorian Web Overview The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope

Last modified 2000