Saturday, May 28, 2005

Alice von Hildebrand on Kierkegaard's view of women, love, and feminism

Alice von Hildebrand's magnificent article on Kierkegaard's view of women, "Beautiful Words About Women," has been published online at Philosophia Perennis (May 28, 2005). Based on a careful reading of Either/Or, The Woman Who Was a Sinner, and Training in Christianity, it is a remarkably profound piece of Christian philosophical reflection. Here is a brief excerpt from the introductory part of the essay:
... It is not my purpose here to discuss some of the contradictory interpretations of his thought that scholars have offered; such would call for a whole book. In the framework of this article, my modest concern is to shed some light on Kierkegaard's views on women. His position is ambiguous; he has written about them both beautifully and spitefully. Deal Hudson, in his book An American Conversion, tells us that he did not like Kierkegaard because the latter "did not like women -- a remark likely to attract the sympathies of the fair sex.

I am going to take to Kierkegaard's defense and show that the few regrettable things he wrote about women are largely compensated by the beautiful things he wrote about them, and that his insights into the female personality and role in human and religious life could only come from the pen of someone who has loved.

That Kierkegaard loved Regina Olsen is something no one can deny, for he says so explicitly and unambiguously. It is true that a German "scholar" by the name of Schrempf contested this fact. But Kierkegaard was in a privileged position to know his feelings for his fiancee; I find it wiser to trust him.

The Soren Kierkegaard-Regina Olsen love story is certainly one of the most tragic in the history of great love affairs. He fell in love with her; he conquered her; he got engaged to her and was hoping to marry her. Then, to his horror and despair, he realized that he could not achieve the universal, tread the common path, and marry the girl he loved. Kierkegaard was a penitent; he had received a special calling which was not compatible with marriage. He often refers to the tragedy of Abraham, who was called upon to sacrifice the son he loved. To read about how he broke off his engagement, about her despair, about the humiliation to which her proud father submitted himself by begging him not to abandon his daughter, and the qualms of conscience that Kierkegaard suffered make at times painful reading. To the end of his life, he makes reference to this drama. At times, he hoped he could, after all, make her his wife. All these hopes were dashed when he found out that she was engaged to a previous beau that his ardent courtship had eliminated from the picture. That this was a serious blow, that he probably had to fight against a certain bitterness and disappointment, is not unlikely. He left her his literary bequest -- this was rejected by Regina's husband, and it fell into the hands of Kierkegaard's older brother, Peter....

Read more here ...

[Alice von Hildebrand is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand ; The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapientia Press); and By Love Refined [Letters to a Young Bride] (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and appears frequently on Mother Agelica's EWTN. This article (published in full at Philosophia Perennis) is reprinted with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

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