Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune.
True love stories never have endings. —Richard Bach
What do you picture in your mind when you think of February? Grim skies? Cold winds? The lack of colors? No, let me take the colors back. Any store you walk into in February greets you with a red glow, from heart-shaped candy wrapped in red foil to bouquets of red roses or anything else that can be decorated with red in honor of Valentine’s Day.
Surprisingly, this day of love was named after an early Christian martyr, about whom nothing is known for sure besides his name; and it wasn’t until the era of Geoffrey Chaucer that Feb. 14 was first associated with romantic love. Also, on Valentine’s Day in the year 1400, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris. It dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women, and its judges were selected by women on the basis of poetry readings. One way or another, the tradition stuck, so today the mere mention of Feb. 14 makes our hearts melt.
The theme of love has been very important in literature, too. We know by heart the names of many real or fictitious couples: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Bonnie and Clyde. The list can go on and on, and new books about famous, infamous and imaginary lovers get published every year. “Cleopatra and Antony” (Walker, 2009) by historian Diana Preston puts the lives of history’s greatest lovers in the larger political and military contexts of their times. Preston claims, contrary to our beliefs, Cleopatra was less a seductress than a politically shrewd ruler, and Antony was not a hotheaded megalomaniac. Both Cleopatra and Antony were charismatic forces to be reckoned with, but together they proved to be almost, but not quite, invincible.
Bruce Chadwick portrays the union of George and Martha Washington in “The General and Mrs. Washington: The Untold Story of a Marriage & a Revolution” (Sourcebooks, 2007). He concludes their marriage, though rather practical—Martha was one of the richest Virginians and Washington a dashing military hero—was also compatible. Amiable and unpretentious, Martha was a confidante for her husband and George a good stepfather to her children from a previous marriage. As the Revolution approached, Martha became a supportive wife of a political figure. She joined George at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–78, and her simple helpfulness, such as organizing sewing circles to clothe soldiers, made her a role model.
Gill Gillian brings to life the romance of a “forerunner of today’s power couple” in “We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals” (Ballantine Books, 2010). According to Gillian, the lives of Victoria and Albert were far from perfect. Albert, a minor and highly ambitious German prince, was not well-received in Great Britain, and Victoria found herself caught between wifely and royal duties, including the much-dreaded duty to bear children. Still, Victoria was madly in love with her husband, who did have some accomplishment. His most important achievement was keeping Great Britain out of the American Civil War.
Now let’s take a look at the future king of the United Kingdom. Christopher Andersen provides a wealth of information about Prince William, the older son of Charles and the late Princess Diana, his bride, commoner Kate Middleton, and their eight-year-long romance in “William and Kate: A Royal Love Story” (Gallery Books, 2011). Those who like to keep up with lives of the rich and famous should not miss this title.
“Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage” by Hazel Rowley (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010) is a fresh take on the marriage of the most dynamic couple ever to occupy the White House. According to Rowley, Franklin and Eleanor had a vibrant partnership and a successful marriage that, despite its unconventional nature, fulfilled the ambitions and the temperaments of each partner. FDR based his career on Teddy Roosevelt, though he was ultimately much more successful. Eleanor, in turn, carved a bold new role for herself as first lady. Although the story might be familiar, this book is a page-turner.
How does love influence us? Does it make us better? Does it trigger our creativity? Francine Prose examines the role nine women played in the lives of male artists who loved them in “The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired” (HarperCollins, 2002). In nine biographical narratives, Prose analyzes the conflicts between romance and dependence, sacrifice and exploitation, and passion and genius that create chemistry between muse and artist.
What would you do for love? Martha Sandweiss explores this question in “Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line” (Penguin, 2009). For 17 years, famous geologist Clarence King lived a double life. He was a scientist and a friend of rich and powerful men, yet he was also a black Pullman porter with a black wife and mixed-race children. This is an extraordinary story of an influential white man who crossed the racial divide in the name of love.
“Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939” by Katie Roiphe (Dial Press, 2009) is a provocative and entertaining description of the era and some of its more eccentric characters, including H.G. and Jane Wells, Elizabeth von Arnim and John Francis Russell, and Clive and Vanessa Bell. Roiphe chronicles the evolution of their unions and poses age-old questions: Is marriage an arrangement that ought to produce human happiness? Is domesticity compatible with long-term passion? Should people settle for marriages that grow inevitably boring?
And, if you’re concerned about your own love life, or the lack of one, check out “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (Jeremy Tarcher, 2010). The authors say adult romantic partnerships have patterns similar to those children have with their parents, and our individual attachment styles are hardwired into our brains. The book then focuses on three main styles—secure, anxious and avoidant—and explains the biological facts behind our relationships and needs. At the end, Levine and Heller teach you how to identify your own attachment styles and those of your loved ones, as well as how to develop communication skills to breach these differences. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!