GERMAINE DE STAËL (ESSAY DATE 1810)
SOURCE: de Staël, Germaine. "Of the Women." In Germany, pp. 43-45. New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1859.
In the following excerpt from her nonfiction work Germany, originally published in 1810, de Staël offers an analysis of the character of the German woman, who she says is distinguished by her perfect loyalty.
Nature and society give to women a habit of endurance; and I think it can hardly be denied that, in our days, they are generally worthier of moral esteem than the men. At an epoch when selfishness is the prevailing evil, the men, to whom all positive interests are related, must necessarily have less generosity, less sensibility, than the women. These last are attached to life only by the ties of the heart; and even when they lose themselves, it is by sentiment that they are led away: their selfishness is extended to a double object, while that of man has himself only for its end. Homage is rendered to them according to the affections which they inspire; but those which they bestow are almost always sacrifices. The most beautiful of virtues, self-devotion, is their enjoyment and their destiny; no happiness can exist for them but by the reflection of another's glory and prosperity; in short, to live independently of self, whether by ideas or by sentiments, or, above all, by virtues, gives to the soul an habitual feeling of elevation.
In those countries where men are called upon by political institutions to the exercise of all the military and civil virtues which are inspired by patriotism, they recover the superiority which belongs to them; they reassume with dignity their rights, as masters of the world; but when they are condemned, in whatever measure, to idleness or to slavery, they fall so much the lower as they ought to rise more high. The destiny of women always remains the same; it is their soul alone which creates it; political circumstances have no influence upon it. When men are ignorant or unable to employ their lives worthily and nobly, Nature revenges herself upon them for the very gifts which they have received from her; the activity of the body contributes only to the sloth of the mind; the strength of soul degenerates into coarseness; the day is consumed in vulgar sports and exercises, horses, the chase, or entertainments which might be suitable enough in the way of relaxation, but brutalize as occupations. Women, the while, cultivate their understanding; and...
(The entire section is 1065 words.)