Love is the singular emotion that all humans rely on most…and crave endlessly, no matter what the cost. United by this theme of love, the nine titles in the Penguin Great Loves collection include tales of blissful and all-encompassing, doomed and tragic, erotic and absurd, seductive and adulterous, innocent and murderous love.
Ring in the spring by reading excerpts from Leo Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, Thomas Hardy's A Mere Interlude, and Stendhal's Cures for Love and discover this series of books under 250 pages.
Love can be incurable
I want to try and establish exactly what this passion is, whose every genuine manifestation is characterized by beauty.
There are four different kinds of love:
1. Passionate Love. This was the love of the Portuguese nun, that of Heloise for Abelard, of the captain of Vesel, and of the gendarme of Cento.
2. Mannered Love, which flourished in Paris about 1760, and which is to be found in the memoirs and novels of the period; for example those of Crebillon, Lauzen, Duclos, Marmontel, Chamfort, and Mme d'Epinay…
A stylized painting, this, where the rosy hues extend into the shadows, where there is no place for anything at all unpleasant—for that would be a breach of etiquette, of good taste, of delicacy, and so forth. A man of breeding will know in advance all the rituals he must meet and observe in the various stages of this kind of love, which often achieves greater refinement than real love, since there is nothing passionate or unpredictable about it, and it is always witty. It is a cold, pretty miniature as against an oil painting by one of the Carrachi; and while passionate love carries us away against our real interests, mannered love as invariably respects those interests. Admittedly, if you take away vanity, there is very little left of mannered love, and the poor weakened invalid can hardly drag itself along.
3. Physical Love. You are hunting; you come across a handsome young peasant girl who takes to her heels through the woods. Everyone knows the love that springs from this kind of pleasure, and however desiccated and miserable you may be, this is where your love-life begins at sixteen.
4. Vanity-Love. The great majority of men, especially in France, both desire and possess a fashionable woman, much in the way one might own a fine horse—as a luxury befitting a young man. Vanity, a little flattered and a little piqued, leads to enthusiasm. Sometimes there is physical love, but not always; often even physical pleasure is lacking. ‘A duchess is never more than thirty in the eyes of a bourgeois,’ said the Duchesse de Chaulness, and the courtiers of that just king Louis of Holland cheerfully recall even now a pretty woman from the Hague who was quite unable to resist the charms of anyone who happened to be a duke or a prince. But true to hierarchical principles, as soon as a prince came to court she would send her duke packing. She was rather like an emblem of seniority in the diplomatic corps!
The happiest version of this insipid relationship is where physical pleasure grows with habit. Then memories produce a semblance of love; there is the pricking at your side and the sadness in satisfaction; the atmosphere of romantic fiction catches you by the throat, and you believe yourself lovesick and melancholy, for vanity will always pretend to be grand passion. One thing is certain though: whichever kind of love produces the pleasures, they only become vivid, and their recollection of what you have had and lost is always better than what you can hope for in the future.
Occasionally in vanity-love, habit, or despair of finding something better, results in a friendship of the least attractive sort, which will even boast of its stability, and so on.
Although physical pleasure, being natural, is known to all, it is only of secondary importance to sensitive, passionate people. If such people are derided in drawing rooms or made unhappy by the intrigues of the worldly, they possess in compensation a knowledge of pleasures utterly inaccessible to those moved only by vanity or money.
Some virtuous and sensitive women are almost unaware of the idea of physical pleasure; they have so rarely, if I may hazard an expression, exposed themselves to it, and in fact the raptures of passionate love have practically effaced the memory of bodily delights.
There are some men who are the victims and instruments of a hellish pride, a pride like that of Alferi. These men, who are cruel perhaps because like Nero they are always afraid, judge everyone after their own pattern, and can achieve physical pleasure only when they indulge their pride by practicing cruelties upon the companion of their pleasures. Hence the horrors of Justine. Only in this way can they find a sense of security.
Instead of defining four kinds of love, one might well admit eight or ten distinctions. There are perhaps as many different ways of feeling as there are of seeing, but differences of terminology do not affect the arguments which follow. Every variety of love mentioned henceforth is born, lives, dies, or attains immortality in accordance with the same laws.
Explore the rest of the Great Loves series here: