ROMANCE

It’s St Valentines Day so a few words on the subject of Love, which I take to be (in the case of love between two humans) the condition resulting when a cocktail of respect, compatible skin texture, pheromone attraction and a strong dose of sexual desire are present. When all these are mutual and reciprocated you have the ingredients for a life-long partnership; if you toss in Romance you have the possibility of an eternal love affair. Romance is the icing on the cake of love. Love is foregoing Sunday golf to carry out the attic conversion your Lady has always wanted. Romance is when your Honeybee hangs from a chandelier wearing nothing but a bin-liner while you sip Moet from her Manolo Blahniks. Love is sharing the same bank account; romance is sharing a midnight gondola on the Grand Canal. Providing both parties haven’t flopped into a life of track-suits and thongs, romance can last a lifetime, even after that hip replacement or removal of a prostate. Romance requires effort and imagination, while a shared interest in poetry, music or the fine arts can place the whole thing on a higher plane. Once settled into marriage some men no longer wish to discuss the romantic sentiments that first brought about the union. Ella Kellog, after staring at the back of her husband’s newspaper at the breakfast table, asks him if he loves her. Unenthusiastically but firmly lowering his paper Dr Kellog says ‘My dear, I love you, I have always loved you, I will always love you. And I never wish to discuss the subject again’ [1]. Declarations of passion must not be out of context. A shared sense of humour can assist a lasting marriage but an erotic imagination will prolong the romance. Romance is the intellectualization of love; the very word referring to that period of medieval history when love became a religion amongst certain sections of French and Sicilian nobility, its codified rules known as ‘courtly love’ – a term coined in the late 19th century. Broadly, the rules are based upon the theory that true love is incompatible with and irrelevant to marriage, quite the opposite of Frank Sinatra’s position [2]. Unconsummated and even unrequited love for a married (and therefore unmarriageable) woman was calculated to produce a better courtier, a knight keen to distinguish himself in battle, a distant and adoring suitor with clean fingernails and polished boots. Andreas Capellanus, who in 1184 wrote an explicit guide to courtly love, was quite clear on the issue. ‘Love’, he claimed ‘can endow a man of even the humblest birth with nobility of character’ [3]. 19th century English poet A E Houseman was of the same opinion:

Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well I did behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again.

And, finally, who can forget Jack Nicholson’s line to Helen Hunt in the 1997 movie ‘As Good as it Gets’ – ‘You make me want to be a better man’.

It’s not known to what extent the rules of courtly love were actually put into practice (considering adultery was a crime at the time as opposed to its contemporary position in Western society as a casual pastime). Perhaps courtly love was more a topic for discussion in that period of highly ritualized behaviour, a tasty theme for the songs and lays of the itinerant troubadours and the growing swag of legends kicked off by Chretien de Troyes in the latter part of the 12th century. This was the gentleman who spawned countless romance novels, poems and films based upon Arthurian legend. The affair between Sir Lancelot du Lac, the preux chevalier and Arthur’s Queen, Guinevere, is pure courtly love. Capellanus drew heavily on Ovid’s treatise on love ‘Ars Amatoria’ (The Art of Love), which is not a Roman version of the Kama Sutra but a series of maxims:

 ‘Wine gives courage and makes men more apt for passion’

‘To be loved, be lovable’

‘Let love steal in disguised as friendship’

‘Darkness makes any woman fair’ (deeply inappropriate, but you can’t deny the logic)

Is romance dead? Opening a door for a woman or helping seat a lady at table once upon a time would have scored a man a scented scarf to wear on his lance at the next tournament or even a file to remove a chastity belt. Now a chap risks abuse for sexist behavior. Am I alone in thinking that grunge is anti-romantic? How would Lancelot or the Duke of Windsor (Duke of Womaniser?) have fared in board shorts, thongs and a Tee shirt emblazoned with ITALIANS DO IT BEST?

Here are a few of the great love stories:

Adam & Eve
They hold the marriage longevity record at 930 years. Adam fathered a son at the age of 130, another world record. And they began the begetting.

Odysseus and Penelope
10 years to sail from the Hellespont (Dardanelles) to the Ionian island of Ithaca? Come on! And such an outrageous list of excuses for getting home so late! Still, she stuck by him and he did tie himself to the mast when he sailed past the Sirens, which separates Odysseus from a lot of married men.

Robin Hood & Maid Marion
Some people have tried to relate the legends to historical characters but there’s nothing to support the love affair. A lot of the romance we associate with this couple is based upon the scene from the 1938 film ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ when Errol Flynn climbs the castle wall and declares his love for Olivia de Havilland. ‘Robin and Marion’, with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn in the title roles, also helped perpetuate the myth. According to legend Marion relieves Robin of the agony from his mortal wounds by polishing him off with poison. An early case of euthanasia.

Paris and Helen
From the pen of Homer. Helen, the Kim Kardashian of her day, runs off with Paris, the weakest of the Trojan princes, infuriating her husband King Menelaus and initiating WW1BC.

Calvero and Terry
From Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 film ‘Limelight’. Calvero, a failed clown, now a penniless alcoholic, forms a romantic association with Terry, a suicidal dancer with dodgy legs. The whole thing ends tragically for Calvero. Hmmm, sounds very like my first marriage.

Anthony & Cleopatra
This is the real McCoy. Fiction endowed with gravitas and tragic grandeur with lines that make Romeo and Juliet seem melodramatic and unbelievable. When all is lost Anthony does what a man must do ‘Finish good lady; the bright day is done and we are for the dark’.

Duke of Windsor & Wallis Simpson
The man who would not be king. The Prince of Wales, born to be king, gives up the throne of England for a divorcee born to shop.

ElizabethTaylor & Richard Burton
The personification of Anthony and Cleopatra. The Vatican condemned the affair as ‘erotic vagrancy’. Burton said it was like ‘clapping two sticks of dynamite together’ [4].

Horatio, Lord Nelson & Emma, Lady Hamilton
Married, diminutive hero with one arm and one eye forms an adulterous relationship with married fan dancer. Nelson’s fellow countrymen ignore his last request, made as he lies dying aboard his ship, that Lady Hamilton be provided for by the nation. He now gazes down over London from an 185ft high column; she lies six feet under in an unmarked grave somewhere in Calais. Ah oui, ah oui.

Ivanhoe & Rowena & Rebecca
Wilfred of Ivanhoe, returns from the Crusades determined to win back the favour of his father, one of the few remaining Saxon nobles, and to marry his father’s ward, Lady Rowena. Ivanhoe is assisted in his struggle against the arrogant Normans by Rebecca, daughter of Jewish Patriarch, Isaac of York. Loved by two women, Ivanhoe settles for the Saxon Rowena in accordance with Ovid’s maxim – that if you would marry suitably you should marry your equal. Sir Walter Scot’s 1830 novel was influential in a revival of Romanticism that was later expressed in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. In the film Robert Taylor chooses the aenemic Joan Fontaine over the darkly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor.


[1] ‘Welcome to Wellville’. 1994 film about Cornflake King Dr Kellog and his Battle Creek Sanatorium where he provided his patients with yogurt enemas.

[2] That ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’

[3] Andres Capellanus ‘De Amore’. From The Art of Courtly Love JJ Parry trans., F Locke, ed (New York: Frederick Ungar), 1954

[4] Marie Claire 22/7/2013 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: The Most Turbulent Love Story Ever Told

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s