Monday, January 5, 2015

traffic lights twinkle at Holywell Corner

His eyes were riveted upon the manuscript again, but he breathed as though he had been running.
--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself.  This goes to show that even minor poetry may have its practical uses.
--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night


There are fewer things more satisfying than a well-told love story, woven in deft and swift words that signal that there is more to eros than perhaps swiftly beating hearts and racing pulses, but not to the exclusion of beating hearts and racing pulses. And, call me incredibly old-fashioned (because I am), but I think the best love stories are painted in overly clever turns of phrases and blushing cheeks.
It is difficult to be a young single woman in possession of one's own romantic dreams, to sometimes appreciate a good love story. A "good love story" meaning a story of a love that does not endure by itself, but has to fight at selfishness separateness, self-centeredness and loneliness.
Sometimes, I would just rather read bizarre mythic stories about Jesuits on distant planets, and non-fiction biopics about the history of cancer, and forego reading about any sort of romance altogether, for these stories sometimes only seems to heighten the sense that my own particular version of this story is still off in the future.
But it is vitally necessary to read these love stories full of rationality and sensibility. To laugh at the Heathcliffs and Cathies, and their sad, sentimental children, and to learn to laugh with the strange misadventures of Darcy and Lizzie. To learn, along with Elizabeth Bennet, that happiness in love is not a matter of chance, or willy-nilly serendipity, or fate, or SoulMates Who Complete You Completely Entirely Utterly.
A woman who wants a happy love life ought to chose a partner for herself using her brain, common sense, and intelligence. Even if she encounters a charming young man who makes her feel like a load of fireworks has exploded in her stomach, perhaps she should ask herself if that charming sweet-talk is really what she desires, or does she really desire a deeper affirmation of "You and your [fill in the blank virtue/attribute/talent/good quality] inspire me to be better." And then suits the action to the word.
Happiness in love is possible for Elizabeth Bennet because she choses a spouse based on reason. This may sound boring and un-romantic, but it is actually the most romantic thing in the world. It is not dry and passionless, and her romance with Darcy is certainly exciting, emotional, and thrilling. But she doesn't fall for Darcy because he turns her head, flatters her, or makes her feel like the most attractive woman in the room. She falls for Darcy, because she finally realizes she has made a crucial mis-step in judging him: she sees his true character, recognizes his worth, and (since she knows herself [step one of any successful romance: know thyself]) she is able to see that he is truly a partner who could respect her, complement her, and make her happy.

This love story: a story of two very flawed, but very good humans learning to love each other through a rational application of virtue, is the story that Ms. Dorothy Sayers weaves in her masterful Gaudy Night. For her protagonists fall in love with one another's goodness. They are two proud, unyielding spirits who finally see perhaps a chink of vulnerability in the other person. And their response to that vulnerability is kindness, courtesy, and consideration. It is a deeper respect for a person they once thought invincible and unassailable. It is reasonable and yet transcends reason. It is made of the deepest stuff of human existence, something deeper than feeling and thought and emotions and logic puzzles, it is made up of the will. And it is a shame that Cathy and Heathcliff, and their many hysterical, starry-eyed offspring (perhaps Noah and Allie and Jack and Rose, as much as I love them all, are certainly prominent offenders) have deluded us into thinking that romance is something mindless and emotional--that it is sparks and no fire--that it is all chance, fate, and a little pixie dust thrown in. And of course, falling in love is something that is perfectly out of your control, because it involves another person, and we can't control other people, as much as we often wish to and try to.
But it is less haphazard and more structured than perhaps we often imagine it to be. It is less like a wild goose chase and more like a patient, steady journey. It is less like the chaos of musical chairs and more like the spontaneous rhythm of a dance.

 They stood next to each other on the dock,
their souls uniting,
full of the wonder that was each other.



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