the instinct to love
January 22, 2012, 2:34 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

Perhaps the best function of parenthood is to teach the young creature to love with safety, so that it may be able to venture unafraid when later emotion comes; the thwarting of the instinct to love is the root of all sorrow and not sex only but divinity itself is insulted when it is repressed. To disapprove, to condemn –the human soul shrivels under barren righteousness.

Freya Stark

The instinct to love is the quick of life and the flowering of it leads to fearless living. That’s the best case scenario. But the scene is strewn with the walking wounded, and flowering and fearlessness have gone the way of the dodo, it seems.

I spoke with a friend only this week about the very real and deleterious affects, thirty years and more on, of parental absenteeism, alcohol and isolation.  I don’t know why her psychic misery, which is easily traceable as she so vividly related to me, is somehow unreal and to be denied.  She described her misery and in the same breath stated that, once past the age of eighteen, one mustn’t blame. There’s a small insanity: bearing witness to the root – and saying it’s not real and that someone can’t be blamed.  Well, you only have yourself to blame these days; an almost desperate need to which she still clings.


A girl was selling books on her stoop and I picked up a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for $2.  Maybe it will be something like Downton, which I have been devouring – I thought.  Not two weeks later I saw the full set of Brideshead DVDs at the library and checked them out and watched all 11 episodes in three nights.

On its face Brideshead is a story, like Downton, of the waning of the British aristocracy in the early 20th century.   That’s what the reviewers and the jacket covers tell us.  But the story is really more about adolescent love, family and religion.  At its heart, it is about the thwarting of love.

Charles Ryder and  Sebastian Flyte meet as undergraduates at Oxford University.  They become fast friends and Charles is drawn in to Sebastian’s aristocratic family:  a leaky vessel threatening to capsize.  The very foundations of the Marchmain family were built on shaky ground: Lord Marchmain converted to Catholicism to marry Sebastian’s mother, and eventually left the family to escape the smothering and stultifying influence of Lady Marchmain’s faith.

Charles loves Sebastian until Sebastian, like his father before him, withers and retreats in the face of his mother’s well meaning but ultimately destructive commitment to the demands of the church.  Then, some years later, Charles loves Sebastian’s sister Julia who, although stronger than Sebastian, eventually follows him into self imposed exile from family and relations brought on by the same issues of a graceless, airless faith.


You can tell the author Freya Stark would have something wonderful to say about love when you read her quiet, beautiful books.  In the brief passage above, she tells us that teaching to love is the prime role of a parent, and that to thwart love will lead to sorrow.  Pay careful attention all you lovers of righteousness: she says the need to be right will surely kill love.

So say it is what it is.  A drubbing that still hurts,  a thwarting of a very human need to love.  Then let yourself fall into Love.  Know that it is instinctual to fall, a passive act, and transformative.   The poet Oliver says “Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”   Waugh said that “to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”

2 Comments so far
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I watched Brideshead for the first time a few years ago, and was amazed at how much more there was to it than the soap opera about posh folk I’d been expecting.

i must investigate Freya Stark, thanks

Comment by speccy

I’m just finishing the book and it is much more. He challenges everything and destroys it all while he’s at it. I’ve only read one Freya Stark book – On a Shoestring To Coorg – it’s very good. She took her young daughter and traveled all over the place and wrote about it. Thanks for reading.

Comment by Peter Rudd

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