Passion and Virtue

My friend and I were talking this morning, and she mentioned a quote from Jane Austen that said something about a marriage not lasting because of passion outstripping virtue.   I looked online and here’s the quote I think she was referring to.   I found it over at Jane Austen’s Quote of the Day.

Passion and Virtue

“How Wickham and Lydia were to be supported in tolerable independence, she could not imagine.  But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.”
Lizzy reflecting on Lydia and Wickham’s hasty marriage
Pride and Prejudice, volume 3, chapter 8

“Because their passions were stronger than their virtue.”

Passion and virtue.

Given a couple of assumptions, let’s ask a question to help us through today’s work.

  • Assumption #1: Passion and virtue are not the same thing.  They are not exclusively separate, may have a certain overlap, but that overlap needs to be defined.
  • Assumption #2: Passion in this Austen passage is primarily referring to romantic passions.
  • Assumption #3: Even so, our more general use of the word “passion” to refer to those things we care most about and “passionately serve” may still have meaning in the scope of Austen’s insight.

Here’s the question:  At the end of the day, what will you have done that will allow you to say that you have served your virtue at least as well as your passion?  And if there is a showdown between the two, to which are you more “passionately” committed; your passion or your virtue?


6 Replies to “Passion and Virtue”

  1. Jeff – Your blog is always so thought provoking, thank you!

    Good questions; in my own developing art-practice I seek a balance between passion & virtue. God is my source of both. As L’Engle says in her book “Walking On Water”, and I paraphrase, “For me to speak of my faith and my art, they are one in the same.”

    I see my art-life, my art-walk as a God-given passion. I see my faith-life, my Christian walk of discipleship as the virtue side of this equation. The result I strive for is balance, especially where excellence, authenticity, and transparency are concerned.

    So, If I’m hearing you correctly, I guess I’d have to say that I strive for the virtue first because it is my faith, in faith & art, which drives what meaning I make, how I make meaning, and why. Daily I am very aware of the wisdom of Solomon from which the Book of Ecclesiastes sprang.

    Lew ~

    1. Lew, thanks for being part of the conversation.

      I like the frame of “art-walk as passion” and “faith-walk as virtue.” Passion is such a charged word with connotations leading in both positive and perhaps destructive directions. How to balance that and lead with highest good is the ongoing discovery. Keep making the meaning…



  2. I think of passion as wanting something for myself or for someone I love. I think of virtue as submitting or surrendering that passion to God’s will. Fighting for what I understand to be true is a passion I have that can be very harmful to myself and others if not yielded to God’s Spirit. The greater the passion, the greater the consequence of good or evil, of virtue or sin. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, it profits me nothing.”

    1. Hi, Neita…

      So passion serves either virtue or evil. I like the way you say that. So whether or not passion is good depends on its object…thanks.


  3. thanks for sharing the quote– excellent! And thought provoking in itself!
    As for your assumptions– I agree with you, not sure that number 3 is as strong as 1 and 2, but let’s go with it as it is a good dialog. As I understand your question (“at the end of the day”…” if there is a showdown”) I would have to admit that it is the virtue that I passionately serve. It’s also a little weird to process/express. Am I being honest with myself, and you about it? Am I being proud or self-righteous by saying so? But honestly, (and you know me) I just have a sensitive nerve when it comes to “the right”, as imperfect as I am. Does that answer the question?

    1. Bruce, I tend to agree that virtue should be the guide that lets me know whether my passion is in the direction of life or not. But passion often seems like its own reward. Passion is not necessarily a clear thinker, and while that’s not always a bad thing, it is often a problem. To put it simply, passion almost always feels good and right, and virtue has the problem of sometimes feeling dull and wrong. Life is hard…


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