Friday, March 02, 2007
The Self, the Other and Love
For Valentine's Day the Romance Divas held an e-book challenge. Some of the resulting works were published online in the authors' blogs, so if a link takes you to an author's main blog page you might have to search for the entry on or around the 14th of February in order to find the free story.
I'd like to take a closer look at four of the stories that, in their very different ways, made me think a bit more about how love for oneself relates to love for the other. Should the lover be different from the self? Similar? A bit of both? The Biblical injunction 'thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Leviticus 19:18) seems to imply that you should love yourself, because unless you do, you won't be able to love others as much as they need to be loved. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) explains who Jesus considered to be a 'neighbour' and it suggests that some differences are unimportant when it comes to loving others. Of course that's not precisely the sort of love described in these short stories, but the underlying insistence on the link between love for oneself and love for others, and the ways in which love helps to overcome initial impressions of difference are present in both the Bible and these texts.
It was Elisabeth Drake's In Dreams of Mine which really got me thinking about the theme of love for oneself. It's contains blasphemy, references to incest, frequent use of obscene language and some lesbian sex, so it may perhaps seem rather odd to juxtapose it with the Bible, but I think if one reads some aspects of it metaphorically then the thematic similarities become more apparent. Caryn has very low self-esteem and she doesn't love herself. She's been in an abusive relationship and she mourns the loss of her twin. Caryn's love for her twin, and what happen with the intruder are the parts I read metaphorically as being externalisations of her need to learn to love herself. And a metaphorical reading is textually justified, quite explicitly so in the case of the intruder.*
Set in Chicago in 1893, Eva Gale's The Seduction of Gabriel Stewart again deals with learning to love oneself in order to be able to fully love another, and this story includes explict descriptions of sex. In accordance with the Passionate Ink Chapter of RWA's definition of an erotic romance, which is the sub-genre that Gale writes, this is a story 'about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction'. As the characters learn to love themselves by accepting their bodies and their sexuality, they are able to admit their deep love for each other. It also involves a challenge to Gabriel Stewart's understanding of his religion.** I seem to have got into the habit of giving warnings about the content of the free online reads, so here are some regarding this story: it includes fairly explicit descriptions of sex and quite a few typos. I know the latter can upset some people, but in this case I think one shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
For reasons of space Grace Draven's Bathsheba's Lover has been split in two: Part 1 and Part 2. According to 'the Diva rating system, it's considered medium heat level and may not be appropriate for anyone under 18'. It's the story of how, 'On a sunny spring day Ann MacLeod celebrated her fiftieth birthday by getting divorced, going shopping and getting laid'. Again we have a character who doesn't believe that her body is attractive, certainly not to a younger man. But as the story develops we discover that they may have far, far more in common than she first thought. I've taken a quick look at ageism in romance in a previous post, so I won't repeat myself here, but I found it refreshing to come across this much older heroine. As in the story of King David and Bathsheba, David feels attraction at first sight; unlike the biblical Bathsheba, the newly-divorced Ann has no husband.
Imogen Howson's Meeting in Darkness is a paranormal, so the differences between hero and heroine go beyond even the social and economic. At first glance, they would appear to have nothing in common. Love, though, goes more than skin deep. And this story is chaste and won't even cause an adverse reaction in people who're allergic to felines.
* If I sound a little defensive about my metaphorical reading of this text it's because the last time I tried expounding on a metaphorical reading of sexual activities in romance novels both my husband and a friend of mine who'd come to visit looked at me incredulously, began to laugh, and variants on the phrase 'but if you look at it metaphorically' were forthcoming for the whole of the rest of the evening.
**The work is not anti-Christian. It is, however, against Gabriel's understanding of the role of sex within a Christian marriage. Nowadays there are Christian websites like this one, preachers like Jim Beam and a 'Vatican-sanctioned sex guide'. None of these were available to Gabriel. Portia, on the other hand, has reached the conclusion that 'she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was a woman who loved her husband, and was trying to find a way to make their marriage better'.