Monday, March 12, 2012

Quick Quotes: Faith, Hope and Love

When writing her 2010 article for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, Catherine Roach took as her
jumping off point [...] Robert Polhemus’s powerful study of nineteenth-century British novels of love and romance, Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence (1990). In his analysis of these novels that stand as high literary precursors to twentieth-century popular romance fiction, his key concept of “erotic faith” provides a reading of the emotional dynamic that the romance narrative then turns into story. Erotic faith, he writes, is “an emotional conviction, ultimately religious in nature, that meaning, value, hope, and even transcendence can be found through love—erotically focused love” (1). Erotic faith is the belief “that people complete themselves and fulfill their destinies only with another … that in the quest for lasting love and the experience of being in love men and women find their real worth and character” (27). John Keats, for example, in a recent movie dramatization, proclaims, “There is a holiness to the heart’s affection” (Bright Star 2009). Polhemus’s point is that we have faith in love, a reverence for it. Starting in the late eighteenth century with the growth of secularism springing from the Enlightenment, in the art and in the marriages of  western Europe and North America, people increasingly fell in love with the idea of being in love. This faith in love has become a new form of faith, to “augment or substitute for orthodox religious visions” (4), but with such close psychological functionality between the two forms of faith that “religious feeling and eroticism run close together” (10) and “love and theology may be surrogates for each other” (19).
I was reminded of this while reading Jo Beverley's The Stanforth Secrets:
"Do you know how dreadful it is, my darling, to lie in my bed at night and know you are so close? A few steps to heaven. It is sacrilegious to ignore what we have here."
[...] "That is a highly irreligious statement."
He kissed the tip of her nose. "You are my religion, my goddess."
Chloe used all her willpower. "Profanity too," she said, moving out of his arms.
[...] "Not in my religion," he said lightly [...]. "There, the only sin is denial of love." (255-56)


  1. Laura, thanks for digging out that quotation. I think there are a number of similar expressions in my early books and fewer later, which interests me.

    My early days of writing romance were an exciting exploration of the very matter of erotic love, whereas now I take the erotic faith in myself and the reader for granted. I wonder if that's a good thing.

    I hadn't thought of "erotic faith" but it's a powerful concept. I do believe in the reality and power of the human mating bond. It's obvious some don't, and that some of them see it as a fallacious or even wicked belief. That's why they get so agitated about romance novels.


  2. "This faith in love has become a new form of faith."

    I am struck by this -- is it really new?

    Sempronio: ¿Tú no eres christiano? (You are not Christian?)
    Calisto: ¿Yo? Melibeo só, y a Melibea adoro, y en Melibea creo, y a Melibea amo. (I? I am Melibean, and I adore Melibea, and believe in Melibea, and love Melibea)

    Laura will certainly know more about this text than I will. But I remember reading that line, highlighting it, and thinking what a powerful line. There is, of course, a lot more context in the background to this question. But it is, in many ways, a declaration of (erotic) faith.

  3. Sorry. The text is "La Celestina" by Fernando de Rojas (1499).

  4. My early days of writing romance were an exciting exploration of the very matter of erotic love

    One other aspect of the exploration of erotic love which I noticed in the novel was the seemingly inexplicable nature of sexual attraction: Chloe married one "Dashing Delamere" but feels a "special awareness" (109) of the other.

    Given the similarities between the two Delameres, Justin and Stephen, this seems quite akin to the situation where one protagonist is a twin, and the other protagonist's ability to discern the difference between the twins is proof of compatibility. I wonder if it's the non-paranormal equivalent of the "fated mate" bond.

    I am struck by this -- is it really new?

    There's certainly a long tradition, as in courtly love, of religious language being used to describe the human beloved (and, conversely, in mystic poetry, for example, of the language of human love being used to describe love of God). What I think Roach is describing as new is what happens when faith in love exists in the context of a "growth of secularism."

    Calisto, by contrast, is a character written at a time when Christianity was a major force in social and political life and although opinions of him vary, I don't think either he or his Melibeanism are presented as admirable. He is, in my opinion, a selfish fool, easily duped by his servants and willing to use a notorious witch and bawd as a go-between. I'd agree with June Hall Martin that

    His words lack the sincerity essential to the ideal courtly lover. His love lacks the power to ennoble him. And desire, rather than being refined as it grows stronger, tends to become coarser. As though attempting to conceal the base nature of his desire for Melibea, he relies heavily on the love religion. His worship appears almost from the beginning excessive. [...] But in in spite of his enthusiastic "Melibeanism" and his implicit renunciation of Christianity because of it, there is a curious inversion in his words. The problem with Calisto's "worship" of his lady is that he seems given to worship a bit too facilely. (101)

    Hall Martin, June. Love's Fools: Aucassin, Troilus, Calisto and the Parody of the Courtly Lover. London: Tamesis, 1972.