Letters of Olive Shreiner


10th Jan., 1895

I am writing in haste. I don't see how the relations of married life can be well and nobly, in any way ideally, arranged when there is not perfect and profound union of aims; and when it is not, in the case of intellectual and mentally active people, I should say the marriage was a failure. When there is such complete unity there never arises the least difficulty with regard to friendships with third persons of opposite sex. In my own case marriage has not touched one of my friendships, and there is something almost comical in the idea that it might. When a man and woman marry without this as the ground-work of their union, in many cases the sooner they part from each other for ever the better. Marriage, perfect marriage of mind and body, is such a lovely and holy thing, that rather than an imperfect travesty of it, I should say none was better. To me it appears that in highly developed and intellectual people, the mental and spiritual union is more important, more truly the marriage, than the physical. I should feel it (and I think any person who has reached a certain stage of growth) a much more right and important reason for terminating a union, that the person to whom I was united had a fuller, deeper and more useful mental union with another than that there should be a physical relation. Just the mental union, "for the begetting of great works" to me constitutes marriage. Of course there are millions, even in the most civilised communities, for whom physical attraction, affection and fidelity must constitute marriage. But for natures more highly developed I believe such a union to be wrong. Continuance of the physical relation when the higher mental relation is not possible, and when the affection is given elsewhere, seems to me a more terrible because a more permanent prostitution than that of the streets.