Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. Many people complain about the “Day of Love” being nothing more than a commercial holiday, designed to make people feel more alone. Others complain about the difficulty of getting a dinner reservation, or the awkwardness of sending a Valentine and not receiving one in return. It’s corny. It’s trite. This might all be true, but in my opinion, Valentine’s Day can be enjoyed without emphasizing the expressing of love towards just one person, and instead, focusing on all the people you’re grateful for.
And really, who doesn’t love red and pink? Who doesn’t like flowers, candy, puppies, and chocolate? Whether or not you have a “Valentine” this year, I recommend you cozy up with your favorite romantic novel. If you’re feeling cynical about love, spend the 14th looking to literature for inspiration.
My favorite love story is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I read Jane Eyre in college and was struck by the subtlety of romantic connection between Jane and Rochester. I was attracted to the unfolding nature of their love. It wasn’t necessarily immediate, but it is a deep attraction and respect that grew and blossomed over time. Most importantly, Jane fights for her equality. Although she is a poor orphan, she is convinced of her own worthiness. In her impassioned speech, she says, “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!
I admire Jane’s fire, and so does Rochester. Jane Eyre reminds us that Rochester both appreciates and adores the depth of Jane’s self-awareness and assertion of her own value. It is Jane’s confidence that attracts him to her.
If you’re looking for something more modern: read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. (Read it even if you don’t care about love.) The book explores Maggie’s marriage to artist Harry Dodge, who was born a woman. Maggie challenges all notions of conventionality, sexuality, and gender assignment. At the center of their relationship is an overwhelming passion and respect between two great artists. Maggie’s dedication to speaking for Harry and probing the difficulties of life, transgender issues, and motherhood are written with grace and honesty. She interweaves conversations with various different philosophers, so she never falls into a state of sentimentality or mush. As she watches Harry’s breasts drain after he’s had them removed, she is free of judgment. Maggie is just looking, in concern and love, at the person she’s chosen to spend her life with.
So be it Jane and Rochester, or Maggie and Harry, look to literature to get you closer to Cupid this year.
Kelsey A. Liebenson-Morse
Assistant Nonfiction Editor