Feb. 9, 2009

The Sweetest Woman There

by John Clare

From bank to bank the water roars Like thunder in a storm
A Sea in sight of both the shores Creating no alarm
The water-birds above the flood Fly o'er the foam and
And nature wears a gloomy hood On this October day

And there I saw a bonny maid That proved my heart's
All day she was a Goddess made An angel fair at night
We loved and in each other's power Felt nothing to
I was the leaf and she the flower And both grew on one stem

I loved her lip her cheek her eye She cheered my
   midnight gloom
A bonny rose 'neath God's own sky In one perrenial
She lives 'mid pastures evergreen And meadows ever
Each winter spring and summer scene The sweetest
   woman there

She lives among the meadow floods That foams and
   roars away
While fading hedgerows distant woods Fade off to
   naked spray
She lives to cherish and delight All nature with her face
She brought me joy morn noon and night In that low
   lonely place

"The Sweetest Woman There" by John Clare from Selected Poems 1793-1844. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the week of Valentine's Day.

On this day in 1822, 19-year-old Victor Hugo — the man who would eventually write Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame — wrote a love letter to Adèle Foucher. She was a childhood friend of his, and she had grown up to be beautiful: tall, with a long neck, and lovely dark eyes. Victor was desperate to marry her. But Adèle's family was skeptical of Hugo, who had no money or career to speak of.

On this day, 187 years ago, Victor wrote to Adèle:

Oh, Adèle, it is your image engraven on my heart which has developed the germs of any little virtues I may have had. ... You may see, my angel, what a temple ardent love has raised for you in your Victor's heart.

Victor Hugo and Adèle Foucher got married later that year. They each had affairs, but they had five children and stayed together until Adèle's death in 1868.

One of the most famous fictional love stories is Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen. It's the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It begins with the line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Elizabeth is one of five sisters, and since the family estate will pass away from the girls and straight to a distant male relative, Mrs. Bennett has made it her sole purpose in life to get all five of her daughters married off to good husbands.

Elizabeth Bennett is the second-oldest sister. She is bright, witty, and very pretty. She meets Mr. Darcy, who is intelligent and proud — but beneath his aloof demeanor, he is kind. Darcy finds himself falling in love with Elizabeth, but tends to express it by insulting her. So she insults him back. Darcy's pride and Elizabeth's prejudice against Darcy give the book its title.

But it all ends happily, and Elizabeth and Darcy are married, as are two of the other four Bennett sisters.

Another enduring love story is Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, an epic novel of Southern life in the Civil War era. It's the tale of Scarlett O'Hara, a spoiled, rebellious Southern belle. She is in love with Ashley Wilkes, but when she finds out that Ashley is going to marry his gentle cousin Melanie, she is furious. She marries another man to hurt Ashley, and her husband dies soon after. Scarlett has several children by different men. She keeps up a many-year flirtation with the scoundrel Rhett Butler, but denies him when he asks her to be his mistress.

Eventually, after the Civil War has destroyed the South and left her beloved home, Tara, in ruins, she marries Rhett. They fight constantly. She is still in love with Ashley, who has arrived home safe from the war. Scarlett and Ashley occasionally admit their love for each other — but he is loyal to his kind wife, Melanie, and Scarlett eventually becomes friends with Melanie as well. Rhett and Scarlett have a daughter who dies tragically in an accident that Scarlett blames on her husband.

At the end of the novel, Rhett finally leaves Scarlett, just as she realizes that she has really loved him, and not Ashley, all along. She pleads with Rhett not to leave and asks him how she will live without him, to which he replies: "My dear, I don't give a damn." In the famous 1939 film version with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, the line is altered very slightly: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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