In “Either/Or,” Kierkegaard talks about the idea that against God we are always in the wrong. He means that God’s love is always greater than anything we can offer Him, and this, combined with our sinfulness, means that we are always in error in relation to God. This is a good thing, Kierkegaard says—we should desire that edifying wrongness. Harrower’s female characters have something of this Protestant masochism. It isn’t quite that these women mistake abuse for devotion, though perhaps they do. It is that they mistake themselves for the people they live with. The pity they feel is really self-pity, and the suffering they feel “connected to” is really their own. It is not Felix who has been “hurt into this shape” but Laura who has been “hurt into this shape” by Felix. Laura is describing herself when she tries to describe Felix.
James Wood, Rediscovering Elizabeth Harrower, The New Yorker October 20th 2014
“Laura wandered into the dining-room set with real silver, soft-looking silver, for the luncheon party. The walls and ceiling reflected the harbour’s trembling surface. Today of all days, because Felix was so amiable before the Blaines came, she had plucked up the will to ask him for a new dress. She had dragged herself to the idea of this as easily as she might have urged herself to the rim of an active volcano: it was against nature. But—it wasn’t even that the shabbiness of her few clothes made her vulnerable to the snubs of the expense-account tycoon she had to bargain with daily. It was, rather, that she had to make a gesture from herself to herself, do something to assuage, make amends to — Really, she was foolish. He had told her ages ago, ‘Ask for anything you want.’ ‘Then — could I have some pocket-money every week? Not a lot. Only to save up with.’ ‘What? Isn’t that like a woman? You go and spoil it straight away. What do you want money for? I know what to do with money. I said when you want some thing. Aren’t you fed and driven about in a new car? The only thing women can do with money is spend it or put it in a savings bank. No. Come to me and say, “Felix, I want a — whatever it is—please.” And if sales are looking up, we’ll see what we can do.’ ”
Elizabeth Harrower The Watch Tower, Text Classics 2012 p 159- 160