The Purer and More Perfect Space of Women: Kierkegaard on the Aesthetic Validity of Marriage

by Christian Parreno

Further, it is said that the woman shall obey the man. Here you may say, ‘Yes that’s fine, and it has always appealed to me to see a woman who, in her husband, loves her master.’ But you find it shocking that it should be a consequence of sin, and you feel called upon to act as the woman’s knight. Whether you do her a service thereby I leave undecided, but I believe you have not grasped to the full the inner nature of woman, to which also belongs the fact that she is at once more perfect and more imperfect than the man. If you want to say what is purest and most perfect, you say ‘a woman’; if you want to say what is weakest, you say ‘a woman’; if you want to illustrate spiritual ascendancy over the sensual, you say ‘a woman’; if you want to illustrate the sensual, you say ‘a woman’; if you want to say what innocence is in all its inspiring greatness, you say ‘a woman’; when you want to say what the dispiriting feeling of guilt is, you say ‘a woman’. So the woman is in a certain sense more perfect than the man, and the Scriptures express this by saying she is more guilty. If you now recall that the Church only proclaims the lot of woman in general, then I do not see how there can be anything in this to cause first love disquiet, but only for the reflecting thought that does not know how to keep hold of her with this possibility in mind. Besides, the Church does not make the woman a mere slave, it says, ‘And God said, I will make for Adam a helpmeet for him’, an expression possessing as much aesthetic warmth as it has truth. Therefore the Church teaches that, ‘a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife’. One would almost have expected it to say, ‘The woman shall leave her father and her mother and cleave unto her husband’, for the woman is after all the weaker. In the Scriptures’ expression there lies an acknowledgement of the woman’s importance, and no knight could be more gallant towards her.

Kierkegaard, Søren (2004/1843) ‘The Aesthetic Validity of Marriage’ in Either/Or. London: Penguin Classics. 430-31