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Entering into an awesome responsibility: The author on the day of her own wedding (photo courtesy Catherine Brown)

In spite of all, last summer I married. The all was not the man, who is my soulmate and my mighty tower. It was the institution, of which I had long been sceptical.

Literature, with its centuries-old fixation on marriage either as anticipated, or as experienced (the latter especially in works of last 150 years), helped me to think this through. The century-old but startlingly modern conversation at the opening of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love struck a particular chord:

“Ursula,” said Gudrun, “don’t you really want to get married?” . . .

“I don’t know,” she replied. “It depends how you mean.” . . .

“Well,” she said, ironically, “it usually means one thing! But don’t you think anyhow, you’d be . . . in a better position than you are in now.”

A shadow came over Ursula’s face.

“I might,” she said. “But I’m not sure.”  [. . .]

“You don’t think one needs the experience of having been married?” she asked.

“Do you think it need be an experience?” replied Ursula.

“Bound to be, in some way or other,” said Gudrun, coolly. “Possibly undesirable, but bound to be an experience of some sort.”

“Not really,” said Ursula. “More likely to be the end of experience.” [. . .]

“Of course,” she said, “there’s that to consider. [. . .] You wouldn't consider a good offer?” [. . .]

“I think I’ve rejected several,” said Ursula. [. . .]

“Really! But weren't you fearfully tempted?”

“In the abstract but not in the concrete,” said Ursula. “When it comes to the point, one isn’t even tempted — oh, if I were tempted, I’d marry like a shot. I’m only tempted not to.” The faces of both sisters suddenly lit up with amusement.

“Isn’t it an amazing thing,” cried Gudrun, “how strong the temptation is, not to!”

Even in 1915, these women feel that they have a choice. Ursula has already had a disastrous affair. Now she can take marriage or leave it. Even when she meets her true mate and match, she prevaricates at length about marrying him.

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