I’m an INFP, like Tolkien and Shakespeare. And Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey.
I’m intuitive, idealistic, creative, passionate and dedicated. You can’t always see it from outside my head, unless you happen to notice the sparkle in my eyes when I stumble upon something about the Stuarts in a museum.
From the outside I look quiet, but inside my head there’s a knight in a shiny armour fighting a dragon.
I’ve read so many chansons de geste, and my first love was a fox called Robin Hood. I would watch the VHS for days on end, going back to it as soon as it was over, singing along about phony kings and dreaming of a hero who would stay true to King Richard against the oppressor, fighting for the people at the risk of his own life.
There is something incredibly romantic about chivalry. It’s no surprise that authors of the Romantic period were obsessed with it.
Kenelm Henry Digby wrote that “Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world”. It’s something that deeply resonates with me, as I share their deep disdain of utilitarianism.
We tend to see chivalry and the Middle Ages as the age of men. After all, it was an age dominated by the Church and the Church was dominated by men…women can’t be Pope, it’s a no brainer that they were second class. What a misogynist institution (that we refer to as She). We think of Medieval Italian poets’ ideals of the angelic women, the fair maiden being adored by a man in between killing people (in a chivalric manner, of course) on the battlefields of the Holy Land. We think the Virgin Mary against Mary Magdalen as the only paradigm.
Never mind the Empresses, powerful Abbesses, canonised Saints and lay noble women who left us a great intellectual patrimony.
One of these women was Héloïse d’Argentuil. I have confessed already to my love for the work of Alexander Pope, who was one of the later authors inspired by her life. Another one was Jean-Jaques Rousseau, in the novel that famously made him the heartthrob of his age. It is said that no woman in high society was not in love with him after reading La Nouvelle Héloïse.
The Romantics have long criticised Pope for not being passionate enough, as he remained constrained by the conventions of Augustan poetry, but it’s a criticism that I have always found unjustified. It is true that it lacks the freedom of later poetry, but freedom for the sake of it doesn’t equate greater depth of feelings.
There is a lot to say about depth of feelings when you are forced to constraint. I couldn’t imagine telling her story in any other way, because her story itself is the story of a life constrained.
Ah, wretch! believed the spouse of God in vain,
Confessed within the slave of love and man.
Pope has taken a story that was already tragic itself, from the letters they exchanged talking about what went wrong, and God, and life, and made it the sublime retelling of the secret heart of a woman. If there ever was an example of female strength, it’s in enduring a life that is not what you would have chosen for yourself.
We live in an age of great successes and consumption and the quest for more. We are full of messages about building the life we deserve, and positivity and inspiration. We turned a Gospel of brokenness into a Gospel of prosperity. Our idea of epic and heroic conjures images of splendid banners on extensive battlefields. Yet when success becomes a democratic right, it’s no longer epic. In a world full of diamond engagement rings and smiling couples on the beach, which sells us the idea that if only we want it hard enough, we too can be this happy, I can’t see anything more epic than enduring the pain of a long lost love.
If ever chance two wand’ring lovers bringsTo Paraclete’s white walls and silver springs,O’er the pale marble shall they join their heads,And drink the falling tears each other sheds;Then sadly say, with mutual pity mov’d,“Oh may we never love as these have lov’d!”
This post is part of #LoveBlog, a daily blog link-up every day in February with daily prompts. Today I’m co-hosting on the theme of Epic Romance.