What is the most conservative love story ever told? National Review Online asked some family and friends and here’s what they came up with.
My pick for a conservative love story? How about John and Abigail Adams, that most American of couples who were each other’s equal and were lovers, partners, and best friends for more than 50 years.
John was brilliant, difficult, a man of vision and conviction. Historian Abigail was brilliant, independent, his most capable confidante and adviser. David McCullough who finally placed our second president in his proper place in the pantheon of Founding Fathers said about them, “It’s very clear that this was one of the great love stories in our history, and a true love story. But they loved each other not just by gazing at one another, but by looking out in the same direction. Abigail Adams, too, was a profound patriot and supported all that John Adams did her whole marriage to him.”
They were apart for years while John first helped create and then serve their new country. They wrote over 1,000 letters to each other. Once John wrote to Abigail during one of their long separations when he was representing revolutionary America in France, “I must go to you or you must come to me. I cannot live without you,” Yes, there was real passion there but their love story was strengthened as well by respect, by commitment, and, most of all, by character.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.
Richard Brookhiser Persuasion
by Jane Austen. I don’t know (or care) if it’s conservative, but it is adult. It is the love story of maturity, of wisdom, of pain, of second chances, of hope after long resignation, of love at last. “And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers, flirting girls, nor nurserymaids and children, they could indulge in those introspections and acknowledgments, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest.” Love at last. Open your eyes; fight the world for it.
–Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of NR and the author of Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, among other books.
I’m going to go for the obvious here, because to my mind there is no other: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice
. Of course the novel wasn’t conservative for its time, advocating as it does the heretical idea that a woman should marry for love as well as money. But it is conservative to a modern sensibility, in that the lovers never even exchange so much as a chaste kiss in its 388 pages. And yet, and yet…is there any TV-hardened reader whose heart does not pound, whose mouth does not go dry, as the determined Mr. Darcy, at last, claims his love…?
“If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety for his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand , that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably not felt before…. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heart-felt delight, diffused over his face, became him… They walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects….
And so it goes on, for–sigh!–three delicious chapters of post-game chatter. Eat that, Sex & The City.
–Danielle Crittenden is author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman and Amanda Bright@Home
The greatest “conservative” love story is the one that runs through, and completes, Tolstoy’s War and Peace:
The story of Natasha Rostow, who at the novel’s beginning is a delicious, high-spirited–and sometimes dangerously foolish–young girl and at its end is no longer a girl but a deepened and settled married woman. On the way, she has in all girlish foolishness placed herself in peril and has thereby also caused great hurt. In the end she marries a man who in his own way has been a seeker, in his case not a seeker after romance but after one or another kind of transcendence. And he, too, settles down with her into a life of rich daily domesticity. While Natasha’s life is proceeding to its proper, and fulfilled, denouement
, enormous, murderous disruptions–the “war” in the novel’s title (between Russia and Napoleon)–are going on all around. But Tolstoy, who knew everything there was to know about the human heart, could not deny Natasha her destiny as everyday wife and mother. This is what you might call the true romance.
–Midge Decter is author of An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War, among other books.
My first inclination is to say that the most conservative love story ever told is Free to Choose
by Milton Friedman. But you’re not talking about that kind of love, are you? So wouldn’t it have to be Rick and Ilsa, in that great picture Casablanca
? They give up being together, love everlasting, because, well, the problems of “two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans” in this crazy (Nazi-fighting) world. Sacrificing personal fulfillment for the greater good? Tossing love aside to fight and win a war? Happy Freakin’ Valentine’s Day, right?
–Rob Long, a television writer in Hollywood, writes the regular “Long View” column for National Review.
The most conservative love story ever told? How about the heartening tale of Levin and Kitty in Anna Karenina
. Everyone knows the grim story of the novel’s heroine, who wrecked her life with extra-marital passion, but the contrasting account of the Levins and their rewarding, complex marriage takes up fully half the book. To add to the relevance for traditionalists, Levin ultimately finds God (in some of the most convincing descriptions ever written about a spiritual quest) at the same time he discovers marital fulfillment. The interlocking accounts of Anna and the Levins underline the unbridgeable gap between today’s liberals and conservatives: they urge people to follow their hearts, we expect them to do their duty. We recognize that the basic obligation of civilization and decency requires that we master our urges rather than surrendering to them. That strategy, Levin understands, provides the best chance for satisfaction and happiness. Cultural leftists, on the other hand, suggest that any attempt to tame or channel emotions is somehow inauthentic–an approach that leads to all-too-authentic tragedy, as with the beautiful, noble, emotion-ruled Anna, crushed on the train tracks by the unstoppable locomotive of fate.
–Michael Medved is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, author of Right Turns : From Liberal Activist to Conservative Champion in 35 Unconventional Lessons.
John J. Miller The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton is not a “conservative” novel–that’s much too simplistic, and part of Wharton’s agenda in writing it was to criticize the hidebound traditions of New York’s social elite. But the most powerful feature of the book is the unrequited love affair between Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska–and the prevailing sense, when all is said and done, that some loves are best left unrequited. It is a triumph of social mores over individualistic urges. Wharton is often described as a protégé of Henry James. With the possible exception of The Turn of the Screw
–a fine, short novel–I have found her more readable than James. Also, The Age of Innocence
was made into a good movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder, who won an Oscar nomination for her performance as Newland Archer’s wife, May Welland.
–John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author, most recently, of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America..
“Conservative romance” would appear to be an oxymoron, but in fact there are many examples of conservative fidelity. In some cases it is one-sided: Catherine of Aragon’s devotion to Henry VIII is a fine example of marital commitment. After he cast her aside for Anne Boleyn, Catherine, in exile, continued to insist that she was wife, and queen, to Henry. On her deathbed she wrote the ungrateful Henry a tender letter reiterating her commitment. Then there are the couples who preached radical politics but lived fairly conservatively: Fabian Socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, for example. In literature, the unconsummated love between Archer Newland and Countess Olenska in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence
provides another conservative example: drawn to each other yet limited by restrictive social conventions (and, eventually, Newland’s marriage) the two never do give in to their mutual desire. In the end, of course, the reader is meant to view this as a small tragedy, but for those of a more conservative sensibility, who live in a modern world where self-gratification trumps virtue, it is in some ways more satisfactory to find two people who resist, rather than succumb, to their romantic yearnings–and in the process perform their duty.
–Christine Rosen is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and author of My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2004.
For a tale of conservative Valentine passion, revisit love’s original author. As a young girl, I loved reading the Old Testament love stories: Adam and Eve (yes, a love story!); Isaac and Rebekah (destiny and love at first sight); Jacob and Rachel (love thwarted and enduring passion); David and Bathsheba (lust and redemption); and then, on into the New Testament where we find the beautiful testing of love and commitment in the story of Mary and Joseph.
But none of these wonderful stories gives us the picture of (conservative) love that we find in the Song of Songs, which tells us the tale of the Beloved and her Lover. . .
She is gorgeous, says he: “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. . .”
And he is handsome, says she: “How handsome you are, my lover! Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. . .”
And things heat up pretty quickly from there. “You have stolen my heart, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes. . . “
She was chaste–”a garden locked up.” But once they’ve made a commitment to one another–”I have come into my garden, my bride. . .,” he says–then they belong only to each other.
“My beloved is mine, and I am his,” she repeats several times, “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.”
But this is no bland, bloodless romance. Their passion for one another is blush-inducing. Following a somewhat racy passage having to do with “fruits,” where the Beloved says she is “faint with love,” she adds that “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. . .”
Why is this conservative? Because it makes unmistakably clear that the mystical one-flesh union between a man and his beloved bride is at once both earthy, and eternal.
The Beloved concludes with love’s anthem: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. . . “
–Charmaine Yoest, is a vice president at the Family Research Center, who also blogs at www.CharmaineYoest.com.