In A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, Christina Nehring sets forth to return romantic relationships – those involving that tricky, slippery emotional state called “love” – to center-stage. Love is in dire straits, according to Nehring. It is too safe; the risky thrill of falling in love, risking one’s emotional state, has been flattened by PC-ness, “prescriptives” for every relationship problem under the sun, and banality.
This is not a “relationship” book, no matter where you might find it in the bookstore. Nehring offers no “quick-fix” for what ails one’s relationship. Instead, Nehring uses examples from history and literature to show how the relationships that cause us to show our vulnerabilities are often the ones that are the most satisfactory. A Vindication of Love is far more a cultural studies work than a self-help book.
Nehring first takes issue with the historical denigration of women’s romantic relationships starting with Mary Wollstonecraft and Edna St. Vincent Millay. How could an intelligent woman, one who espouses equality between men and women, fall prey to whims of the heart? Attempt suicide because her lover has left her? Must be something wrong there…but then history never stabbed Percy Bysshe Shelley in the back for abandoning his first wife (who drowned in the Thames under suspicious circumstances, if I remember) to wed Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley. This introduction leads into an examination of love as it functions in power dynamics, abscences, wisdom, art, transgression, and failure. Along the way, Nehring pulls examples from history (Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Abelard and Heloise) and literature (Darcy and Lizzy, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Catherine and Heathcliff) to show how love can elevate and illuminate, or wound. There is a wealth of close reading and research to support the chapters (and if you haven’t read Abelard and Heloise or Dante or Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights your TBR needs expansion).
Unfortunately, I found one mis-quote. Mis-quotes drive me nuts particularly if the source is one I know well. Like Jane Eyre. On page 52, Nehring is discussing power discrepancies and cites a scene in Jane Eyre where Jane refuses to call Mr. Rochester “Charles”; the citation is given as page 97 in the 1899 Harper and Bros edition of Charlotte Bronte’s best-known novel. Page 97 of the 1899 edition of Jane Eyre has no reference to Mr. Rochester because Jane is still at school at Lowood and is taking her cue from Miss Temple; additionally, Rochester’s given name isn’t “Charles”, it’s “Edward” – as in “Edward Fairfax Rochester” as Jane so relates to the reader on page 528 of the same 1899 edition (there aren’t even any characters named Charles in the book – I checked). The mis-quote stopped me in my reading tracks. I had a choice to make: finish A Vindication of Love (which the publisher was so nice as to send to me on request) or chuck it. I chose to finish it but paid far more attention to examples and citations than I normally would. Not too many pages later, Rochester’s name was given correctly so I have no idea what happened the first time. I didn’t find any other issues, either, so maybe a computer did it.
Nehring has wonderful arguements. I very much agree with many of her points, that our culture of Match.com and speed-dating creates an unsatisfying safety net. I also agree with her that love takes courage, the courage to risk being hurt in order to give and receive love. Once I got past the quote hiccup, I was able to really enjoy Nehring’s examples because many were familiar to me. I had a lot of fun reading this book – I thought alot, too!
*Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.