A dispiriting way to bring girls up, Sarah thought; to make marriage the sole end of female existence, and yet deny that love between men and women was possible. Ada did deny it. In her world, men loved women as the fox loved the hare. And women loved men as a tapeworm loves the gut.

This quote is from Sarah's thoughts in Part Four, Chapter 17. Sarah reflects upon the way her mother, Ada, has brought her up. Ada has taught her daughters a hard realism learned from difficult personal experience. The similes of the fox and the hare, the tapeworm and the gut are meant to be bluntly unromantic. As Ada sees it, there is nothing romantic about marriage; marriage is merely a symbiotic relationship for mutual net gain. Ada wants her daughters to marry, but the ideal marriage would involve quickly becoming a widow and keeping a late husband's pension.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were few career opportunities for women, who were left virtually dependent on men for their support and subsistence. Ada encourages her daughters to make marriage an ultimate goal, ensuring their financial security. But Sarah does not so easily accept the lessons her mother teaches her. As a consequence of the war, Sarah has been able to work and make a good salary; consequently, she does not see herself as entirely reliant on any man. When she responds that she loves Prior in return, she rejects the harsh realism that says that love between men and women is impossible. Underlying this quotation is the idea that the war has improved women's lives and prospects. The war has, ironically, perhaps made romance possible by giving freedom to an entire generation of women.