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Is the Yearning for Romance (in the broad sense)

a Legitimate or an Immature Desire?

[ROMANCE: a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life, e.g. the beauty and romance of a south sea island.]

Sir George Allen, Vice Chancellor of the University of Malaya, was giving a party. His house was on a hilltop, overlooking the sea, the view extending to the Indonesian islands to the southward. One’s car circled the hill and left behind the attap huts and stalls of the local villagers. The hillside was alive with the noise of the cicadas, and native dogs barked at the passing car. The house had an arched colonnade on the seaward side, through which the sunset could be seen when we arrived, the gold turning to purple as night fell on Singapore. The host and his male guests were in tropical evening dress, white jackets and black trousers, the women in pretty frocks, and the Chinese servants uniformed in white. It was a gay scene, with girls laughing and glasses being refilled, stengahs and gimlets being sipped and formal introductions being made. Our host was called to the telephone in the midst of it all and came back looking so upset that the conversation died away. “I’m sorry to tell you all,” he said quietly, “that the High Commissioner was ambushed and killed this afternoon.” It had happened, he told us, on the road to Fraser’s Hill. Lady Gurney, he assured us, was still alive. Nothing more was known, and that for the moment was that. The party went on but a little subdued, as people are still in the presence of death.

I pondered afterwards on the meaning of the word “romance,” for the scene I have tried to describe was, to me, supremely romantic. But what does that word mean? A romantic scene is literally one too good to be true, presenting incidents too theatrical for everyday life. There is more to it, however, than that. For true romance involves two other factors. With the exotic or picturesque scene must go an element of danger and a sufficiency of domestic help. The possibility of another ambush or riot was essential to the plot. But so were the servants. For had the hostess reminded her guests that they would be expected to help wash the dishes, the scene would have ceased to be romantic. We should not have resented the idea, but we should have sensed that a scene of fiction was being reduced to the level of fact. That which is furthest from the romantic is the sordid, and even the prosaic is a move in that direction. The romance of British Malaya, itself a sort of footnote to the romance of British India, was based essentially on domestic service and danger. In Singapore we had enough of both and there were moments up country when the degree of risk seemed more, even, than was strictly necessary. Our lives were romantic, therefore, and I feel to this day a kind of pity for anyone who has never lived in the East.

C. Northcote Parkinson

[Imagine that you have a passion for the outdoors, that you are relatively young, and that you are in the pink of good health. Could you step back in time in order to be present at the scene that Jim Corbett (a renowned Anglo-Indian sportsman and hunter of maneating tigers) so lovingly describes below, you would surely be aware of an element of romance in the situation. Should there be someone else in the party that you find very attractive and very companionable, then the romantic element might well increase exponentially.]

Nowhere along the foothills of the Himalayas is there a more beautiful setting for a camp than under the Flame of the Forest trees at Bindukhera, when they are in full bloom. If you can picture white tents under a canopy of orange-coloured bloom; a multitude of brilliantly plumaged red and gold minivets, golden orioles, rose-headed parakeets, golden-backed woodpeckers, and wire-crested drongos flitting from tree to tree and shaking down the bloom until the ground round the tents resembled a rich orange-coloured carpet; densely wooded foothills in the background topped by ridge upon rising ridge of the Himalayas, and they in turn topped by the eternal snows, then, and only then, will you have some idea of our camp at Bindukhera one February morning in the year 1929.

Jim Corbett

[The British Raj still had a quarter century to run when Malcolm Muggeridge completed his three year contract at the Union Christian College in the smallish town of Alwaye. His subject was English, and his sheet-anchor was a book known as Little Dowden, a brief history of English Literature by a Victorian clergyman of that name. Most of his students were Syrian Christians who slavishly memorized the course material, not because of any genuine interest, but to take a degree and get into Government employment, which at that time offered pretty well the only openings for graduates. Disenchanted with the whole process of higher education as it was practiced in Alwaye, and with his part in it, he felt exhilarated when he found himself on his way home. He describes the circumstances and emotions of his low-keyed departure as follows:]

The first part of my journey was by small boat on the backwaters, and I had with me Venketramen, a Madras Brahmin and colleague at the Union Christian College who had become a close friend, and Mathail, a Christian sadhu or holy man, wearing the saffron robe and wandering without money or possessions from place to place, to whom I was also devoted. Their original purpose had been only to see me off at Alwaye, but then they very sweetly decided they would come with me as far as Alleppey. I still had with me some examination papers to mark, which I proceeded to do in a desultory way, throwing them away in the backwater as soon as I had finished marking them and recording the marks awarded. It seemed a satisfying symbolic gesture. In my ebullient mood, the candidates fared well; I believe I scarcely failed a single one... I felt very content in the company of these two; the happiness of our journey together glows still across the years that have passed. The sparkling water, the bright sunshine, the warm breeze; the sense of being detached from duties, responsibilities, affections even; yesterday gone, and tomorrow not yet come, and our boat propelled smoothly along; to give an extra point to my contentment, each examination paper discarded representing a defiant and final rejection of Little Dowden. We watched delightedly as the papers bobbed away on the surface of the water. Happiness is the most difficult of all things to convey. Tolstoy, I should say, comes nearest; for instance, in his description in War and Peace of Natasha’s visit to the huntsman’s house; how she and the others listened to stories, then danced, then rode back in their sledge through the frosty starlit night. With my two oddly assorted companions, gliding into the golden light of an Indian evening on my way back to Europe and home, I likewise was happy.

Malcolm Muggeridge

In order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential. It may often happen, no doubt, that a drama may be written by somebody else which we like very little. But we should like it still less if the author came before the curtain every hour or so, and forced on us the whole trouble of inventing the next act. A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect. It is vain for the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings. To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance.

G. K. Chesterton

Thoughts about Romance & Romanticism

A sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.

Oscar Wilde

A love of revolution for its own sake, quite apart from its circumstances and consequences, is part of the romantic outlook.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Every person on earth must have sentiment and romance in his existence; in every person’s life, indeed, which can be called a life at all, sentiment is the most solid thing.

G. K. Chesterton

Cynicism is no protection against sentimentality.

Philip Marchand

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.

Simone Weil

Rationalists set reason on the throne of power. The Romantics place their personal feelings at the centre of life and enter a world driven by the imagination.

Romantic love used to be thought of as a kind of temporary madness. Right into the early 19th century the two things that were thought to be very poor grounds for choosing a marriage partner were sexual passion and romantic passion.

Romanticism is an aspect of ideology.

John Ralston Saul

What Nazism taught us, among other things, is that a man can cry at music and be absolutely unmoved by the murder of children.

Romanticism is the expression of man’s urge to rise above reason and common sense, just as rationalism is the expression of his urge to rise above theology and emotion.

For many Americans business is the business of life. It is also the romance of life. We shall admire or deplore this spirit, accordingly as we are glad to see trade irradiated with so much poetry, or sorry to see so much poetry wasted on trade. But it does make many people happy, like any other hobby; and one is disposed to add that it does fill their imaginations like any other delusion.

G. K. Chesterton

The characteristic malady of all romanticism is ennui.

What Godel’s Theorem promises the romantically inclined is a similarly dramatic proof of the specialness of the human mind. Godel’s Theorem defines a deed, it seems, that a genuine human mind can perform but that no imposter, no mere algorithm-controlled robot, could perform.

Daniel Dennett

When rationalism makes people sceptical of all absolutes, their incurable romanticism leads them to idealise their finer emotions. Thus, in materialistic societies sex passes beyond its natural function and becomes an outlet for all the unsatisfied cravings of the psychic life. But the romantic idealisation of sexual passion fails as completely as the rationalist attempt to reduce it to a mere appetite.

Christopher Dawson

The romantic loves love.

For a vivid, fictional account of Eros (romantic/erotic love) click HERE

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