Friday, February 17, 2012

Tall Tales: Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling? (Part Two)

I thought I would start this post with the back of a book, but after Googling "Top Ten Christian Romance Novels" it was just too...risky. I think I'll start with a little theory first. After reading my last post, did you think that I was endorsing that shelf of romance novels? I hope not. I never meant to give that impression. But I am trying to explain the difference between a godly marriage and an emotional pick-me-up. Want a fast and sure way to tell the difference? Read on, and you'll find two definitions that will never leave you guessing.

Myth # 3: If It Says 'Love', That Must Be What It Is
So, what is love after all? Is it a fancy, or a feeling...or a Ferrars? Let's compare a couple of answers.

"Some people say that it's a fancy, others say it's a feeling, and some say it's neither. But really love is both, a feeling and a fancy. The meaning of "fancy" is a mental image or an illusion. And that is exactly what love is, an image in the head that you make yourself so you can match it to something that would make you feel loved. Since love is a fancy you make it a feeling for yourself. It is all in your head."

That was from WikiAnswers, and I don't know about you, but I almost started talking to the computer screen on that one.

How about this definition of love from Noah Webster:

LOVE, n.
1. An affection of the mind excited by beauty and worth of any kind, or by the qualities of an object
which communicate pleasure, sensual or intellectual. It is opposed to hatred. Love between the sexes, is a compound affection, consisting of esteem, benevolence, and animal desire. Love is excited by pleasing qualities of any kind, as by kindness, benevolence, charity, and by the qualities which render social intercourse agreeable. In the latter case, love is ardent friendship, or a strong attachment springing from good will and esteem, and the pleasure derived from the company, civilities and kindness of others.

Much better. But let's tweak it just a little more.

How about this definition of love:

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
-1 John 3: 16,18 (emphasis mine)

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Obviously, the Bible talks about another kind of love, specifically marital love. But the definitions you'll find above, I think, are the ones that are good to be reading about as a contented single. If you find a story with a man and a woman that love 'in actions and in truth' and that demonstrate the qualities of love found in 1 Corinthans 13, then that is real life. That is everyday commitment to loving one another. That's a story that, if you say "I want to be like those characters" that will build you up in your faith. Those are good stories to read.

But unfortunately, much of the literature we see in Christian circles today promotes an entirely different kind of love. And with the last bit of my post, I'd like to talk about that.

Contrast, if you will, two love stories:

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter
When Phillip Comstock shows up in the pages of this book, it's already half-way over. Elnora's main fight isn't to find a husband, but to educate herself and re-establish her relationship with her mother. When Phillip first sees Elnora, he likes her for what he sees in her character. She's a beautiful young woman, yes, but they don't spend time holding hands on the porch. She puts on her old dress to hunt moths to sell, and after they form an acquaintance, she allows Phillip to help her. As you read their story, the pages aren't screaming ELIGIBLE YOUNG MAN meets ELIGIBLE YOUNG WOMAN. No, they spend their time working together in the muck, along with the companionship of her mother. I might add that her mother is keeping an eye on them, but she isn't portrayed as a spoilsport chaperone. She's their good friend, and Elnora's protector.
Is there emotion involved? Of course there is! Phillip grows to love Elnora, and Elnora grows to love Phillip. Life isn't always easy, conversations aren't always natural. And when Elnora refuses Phillip's proposal, she loves him in action and in truth, by giving him a chance to get his bearings. With the full knowledge and help of her mother, I might add.

Now take the next book:

The Book of Hours, by T. Davis Bunn
Brian Blackstone shows up at his English country estate already sick in mind and body. And who does he meet when he first comes in to town? A hot-headed, young, pretty, and eligible female doctor. They pretty much hate each other at first sight--or at least she does. He probably would too, if he cared at all. But when Cecilia Lyons finds out that he's not selling his estate for money, but losing it because of inheritance taxes, she doesn't hate him so much after all...and throughout the rest of the story, they team up to fight for his late wife's estate. But you know where it has to go. She's a doctor, so she helps him treat his physical illness. She's a woman, so naturally, she helps him through his emotional grief. And throughout the second half of the book, Bunn weaves emotionally on-edge scenes where he-wants-to-kiss-her, she-wants-to-hold-his-hand.

Now read the following definition. Which does it match up with?
1. An emotion or excitement of the mind, directed to the attainment or possession of an object from which pleasure, sensual, intellectual or spiritual, is expected; a passion excited by the love of an object, or uneasiness at the want of it, and directed to its attainment or possession. Desire is a wish to possess some gratification or source of happiness which is supposed to be obtainable. A wish may exist for something that is or is not obtainable. Desire, when directed solely to sensual enjoyment, differs little from appetite. In other languages, desire is expressed by longing or reaching toward, and when it is ardent or intense, it approaches to longing, but the word in English usually expresses less than longing.

Before I continue, let me clarify just one thing. By using the above examples, I'm not trying to put down The Book of Hours. I like some of Bunn's works, and I dislike others. But I'm not trying to point to a specific title here. I'm simply drawing a parallel between two stories. In the first story, Elnora and Phillip show their love in actions--in helping one another in real-life situations, and not fulfilling each other's emotional needs. And in the second, Brian and Cecilia do both. The actions they do are good, but the fact is, Cecilia is filling the role of Brian's wife emotionally, when she's not married to him.

And that, I think, is the root matter of these love stories we are so confused over. To sum up completely, love and marriage are real-life things, and good to read about. The thing we want to avoid, however, is immersing ourselves in certain types of love. As singles, we want to focus on stories where couples love each other in actions and in truth, and leave the emotional pick-me-ups for later.  And that is for you to judge amongst your stories: which one is which.

On that thought, I will close. Wishing you a very fruitful day of reading...

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Wow! Really nice post. It was very well written.

  2. I'm enjoying this series.

    Love the distinction you draw between love and desire. In "The Four Loves" CS Lewis actually draws distinctions between sturge/affection (growing out of familiarity), philos/friendship (growing out of likemindedness), eros/romantic love (which as Webster pointed out, includes but is not limited to desire), and caritas/charity (the Divine Love of I Corinthians, which must imbue and inform all other kinds of love). I don't suppose you can classify love as though it were a beetle...but I find it interesting to think about the interplay of the different kinds of love. Many newer "Christian romance" novels would probably focus solely on romantic love, specifically the desire component. But in the great books of Christendom (Austen's, for example) such love is suspect; it needs a foundation of philos and caritas to begin with, and only moves into eros around the time that the characters decide to marry.

  3. I'm intrigued by The Four Loves Susannah; I think I'm going to have to look it up! To be honest, I've never read any Lewis except Narnia. I'm glad you're enjoying the series. :) I think this blog helps me to put concepts that I've formulated into words--to myself as well as to other people! I have to confess, though, that occasionally I'll read one of the novels I encouraged avoiding. :) I would probably say all in all that it's like know how much you can eat before you get a stomach ache.

    I must say, in return, that your book blog is also like a breath of fresh air: I haven't found one in a while that is a good mix of critique and enjoyment. Yours quite fit the bill. :) II really enjoy stopping by.



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