Monday, February 26, 2018

Give Me Love

Valentine’s Day is long past, but the subject of adult love is never ending.

How’s that for a stunning bit of wisdom? But love is an endless discussion topic, no matter what our age, gender, etc. Why? Maybe because we really don’t understand it?

I’ve never fancied the “and they lived happily ever after” books. That happens, but so does “and they lived miserably ever after”. Marriage is often work. Sometimes the passion isn’t mutual or the transitions from initial romance do not occur equally. Sometimes love doesn’t fit the stereotype. Sometimes it just plain terrifies us.

Have I made love sound downright dismal?

Surprise! There are a couple of happy marriages in my books, but I do try to portray the complexity and fluidity of the emotion. We often think adult love should be “a certain way”, permanent and “proper”. We try to fit it into a straightjacket, then get all panic-stricken when it won’t stay in the fool thing. But rather than get into modern debates on divorce, infidelity, or the changing roles of marital partners, I try to stick to the medieval, while acknowledging that psychology hasn’t changed much in a few millennia.

In the upper classes, marriages were usually arranged for family profit. Some of those unions evolved into a mutually satisfying form of love and partnership. Some most certainly did not. In less property-oriented families, people more often did marry for love. That, too, can be either a delight or a disaster.

There were gay people back then, but the concept of a “homosexual” was nonexistent. (In my chosen era, sodomites included anyone who had non-Church approved sex.) Most gay people, as was expected, married the opposite gender and had sexual relations with their spouses for the approved purpose of begetting children. Many of those marriages were companionable. Like heterosexuals, caught in less than satisfying marriages, gays also had lovers outside the approved union. How gay men and women survived emotionally and formed relationships was fascinating research. For this, I thank my character, Brother Thomas.

Contrary to popular opinion, medievals weren’t naïve about lust and sex. It was a largely rural society, and, even in urban areas, cats and dogs did it in the streets and never scared the horses. (Hildegard von Bingen, a woman raised by an anchoress, wrote knowledgeably about sex.) So it should come as no surprise that my Prioress Eleanor, although raised in a convent, was fully aware of sex. With a genuine vocation, however, she assumes she can deal with any temptation, but, when she meets Brother Thomas, her feelings about him would make an NC-17 movie rating blush. How does she handle this? Her journey is another look at the complex nature of love, as is his with her.


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  2. Great post, Priscilla! In the case of Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas, I think you capture the complexity of an emotionally intense friendship that develops through shared experiences and values. I suppose the label we apply to it isn't all that important.

    1. I agree. Language can fail us sometimes. How often have we all said, or thought, there just isn’t a word for that?