Norrey Ford's The Love Goddess (1976) is a novel about an academic. Admittedly, Professor Bart Ransom's research is rather more exciting than mine: he's working on an underwater archaeology site in the Aegean and requires absolute secrecy from his collaborators because the wreck promises to be so important it would attract the attention of "Pirates, hijackers! The word gold could bring them running from all quarters of the earth" (42). My research won't produce any gold or priceless ancient artefacts but there's something about Bart's explanation of how he feels about his work that did strike a chord with me:
“I’m thirty-one next birthday. I need a greally [sic] great exit line. I’m old for this kind of caper, if one does it professionally.”
“Young for everything else.”
“Unfortunately I don’t want anything else. If I make a real killing this time, I might be able to turn my direction without looking back over my shoulder to the sea. I don’t mean a cash reward, though I don’t despise money. I mean -”
“I’m as vain as the next man. But no, not entirely vanity. To add something, however small, to the sum of man’s knowledge of man. Think of it, Jacqui, the undersea world is the one great area of exploration left.” (53)
Since literary criticism is hardly as physically demanding as deep sea diving, I don't think I need to start worrying about getting too "old for this kind of caper" but, metaphorically, I feel that popular romance fiction is one of the great areas of exploration left. Yes, it has been studied for several decades, but there's still a huge amount of work to be done. Also, much as Bart fears for the safety of his find and knows that a "violent disturbance of the sea [...] could rob him of his dearest hope" (174), so Crystal Goldman recently warned that, "With no cohesive vision for which items to collect and little justification for fiscally supporting popular romance studies material, vital monographs, papers, and articles are not being preserved by libraries for future researchers’ use and may, indeed, be lost from record entirely." And yes, I do think the study of romance novels will "add something, however small, to the sum of man's [and woman's] knowledge of man [and woman]."
Eric Selinger's been planning a course whose official title is
"The Nature and Culture of Love," [...] My original plan for the course was to reframe my work on popular romance fiction as work about the "culture of love," so that I'd have leeway to bring in films or TV shows, advice books or pop songs, really the whole panoply of love-work out there, now and in the past.
Norrey Ford made her own small contribution to writing about "the nature and culture of love." Her heroine, Jacqui, wonders
What was love? How could she be so sure how she felt about Bart, when she couldn’t even define what love was? Or what hate was, for that matter? Maybe they were much the same, two sides of one complete whole. (170)
One thing Jacqui is sure of, though, is that,
Whatever the mind might say, the body had its own life urge, its own yearning.
Was this how Fenella had been trapped into an unsuitable marriage? A few years ago Hogan must have been a splendid animal, brown and supple. If Fenella had forgotten that marriage was a unity of mind and heart as well as body, nerve, muscle and pulse, that would explain her present unhappy situation. (100)
I wondered how representative these musings might be of the "culture of love" in the period in which Ford was writing, so I turned to Getting Married, a "Family Doctor publication published by the British Medical Association" in 1970. Here's part of what Dr Michael O'Donnell has to say about love:
love poses some pretty tough problems for doctors. Is it, for instance, an infectious disease? Or does it strike down isolated sufferers at random? Does it run a different course in male and female or in young and old? Let's cast a critical medical glance at the diagnosis, nature, and treatment of this strange affliction.
First diagnosis. Having grown up through the years when Hollywood films plumbed depths of banality never since equalled, I cruised into adolescence convinced that diagnosing love was no problem. I wasn't sure what it was but I was certain I'd recognise it when it hit me. When I met Miss Right and our gazes locked across a crowded room, schmaltzy music would swell unmistakably in the background. [...]
Later, when I became a doctor, I set about making a more scientific attack on the problem of diagnosing love. Surely, like any other medical entity, it must have recognisable symptoms and signs. Yet a desperate search through the vast library of words spun around the subject led me only to confusion.
Symptoms were alleged to vary from the traditional: Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you, to the trendy: You turned me on when we got into bed so why not tell me your name, darling. The reported signs were equally baffling: a raised temperature - Sighing like a furnace; mental confusion - Bewitched, bothered and bewildered; absent-mindedness - I left my heart in San Francisco; incipient deafness - There were bells all around and I never heard them ringing; and an oft-reported heightened sensitivity to the effects of the moon, the month of Joon and a sentimental "to on". How can you diagnose that lot?
Let's try a dogmatic statement and declare that love, like Gaul, can be divided into three parts. Part One, of whose existence there can be little doubt, is pure sexual attraction. Most healthy males, if locked in a room with a celebrated public sex-symbol, could soon convince themselves that they had fallen in some sort of love with her - if only to justify to themselves the hectic physical activity in which they would be likely to engage. Similarly, the adolescent girl who years for nothing more than to be crushed in the arms of the latest hairy pop singer to twang his guitar in her direction, has caught a nasty infection of Part One.
Dignifying sexual attraction with the title "love" tends to raise the hackles of certain earnest ladies and gents. But I suspect much of their disapproval arises from envy. Most of them have reached an age when opportunities for even vicarious excitement grows depressingly limited [...].
Part One, after all, is the segment of love that makes the world go round or, at least keeps it populated while it's spinning. It is also an important ingredient of that complicated mix that sustains one of the great mysteries of existence - how two people can live together for a lifetime without actually murdering one another.
Love's second component, Part Two, tends to take over where Part One leaves off. It's got something to do with companionship, a sharing of interest, sympathy, and respect. [...] Its gradual and sustaining development explains the success of many marriages "arranged" for purely social, financial, or religious reasons. Part One alone tends to lead to brief spectacular firework displays. When combined with Part Two it can lead to what marriage guidance counsellors like to call "a happy long term relationship".
Part Three is a more ephemeral entity - a magic distillation of anguish and ecstasy, of great misery and even greater happiness, that not only turns timid creatures into brave adventuring heroes, but often reduces the most competent and confident of citizens to anxious dithering worriers. It is the rocket fuel of poets, painters and musicians and has, in its time, driven men to murder, madness, and the slaying of dragons. Part Three, in short, is the cause of all the incomputable symptoms: the head-in-the-clouds effect, the living-in-a-little-word-of-our-own phenomenon, the dramatic shedding of all sense of responsibility, and the sudden impromptu indulgence in deliciously crazy behaviour. [...]
The danger of Part Three is that its pursuit can become an end in itself. Love makes actors of us all and, for many of us, acting has an irresistible allure. Beguiled by the theatrical possibilities, we deceive ourselves that we have fallen in love with somebody when we're really just smitten with the idea of being in love. (17-20)
Norrey Ford's Jacqui is obviously aware of Part 1, and over the course of the novel she and Bart demonstrate that they do have the "companionship, a sharing of interest, sympathy, and respect" necessary for Part 2. I didn't spot many signs of Part 3, though. I wonder if (perhaps if one were feeling particularly charitable) in some other romances one could blame some of the "Too-Stupid-To-Live" behaviour engaged in by the protagonists on that, rather than on poor characterisation?
Have you come across any romances which you think are particularly insightful with regards to the "nature" and/or "culture" of love? Or are you a love goddess, with some insights of your own to offer?
Ford, Norrey. The Love Goddess. Toronto: Harlequin, 1976.
Goldman, Crystal. “Love in the Stacks: Popular Romance Collection Development in Academic Libraries.” Journal of Popular Romance Studies 3.1 (2012).
O'Donnell, Michael. "Is it really love?" Getting Married. London: Family Doctors Publications, 1970. 17-20.