Saturday, 20 January 2007

4:2 Where did love come from?

Contrast this to the long literary and legal tradition in England. From Anglo-Saxon poetry, through medieval love poetry, to Chaucer, Shakespeare and the great poets and novelists, English literature is awash with love, and its relationship to marriage. It is the single most important theme. This is not just the flirtation of youngsters. It is endless reflection on this strange, irrational, overpowering, feeling that can sweep one human being into a life-long, unbreakable commitment to another. Endless advice, letters and sermons revolve around the theme of how to recognize and react to love, and how, without love, a marriage cannot work.

Nor is this just a literary phenomenon, some idealistic and airy-fairy convention unrelated to real life. We can look at village records, court cases and legal treatises in the past. These show that a boy of fourteen and a girl of twelve could get married without a priest and without the presence of the parents for much of the period up to the sixteenth century. The decision as to when and who a person married was not a family or community one. It was an individual matter. A close emotional partnership with a ‘married friend’, a companionship to provide mutual help and to overcome loneliness was too important a matter to be left to the decision of others.

Of course there were exceptions. At the level of the aristocracy there were often battles between parents and children. No doubt this also happened at a lower level as well. And of course many people routinely look for shared interests, social compatibility and financial potential in their future partner. Yet behind all of this is a system which is concerned about the weighing up of emotion and practical advantages, of choices between various desirable goals.

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