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Strange Bedfellows: Eros from Ovid to Edna St. Vincent Millay A Post-Feminist Study

Dissertation
Author: Cristina Friederike Nehring
Abstract:
Strange Bedfellows : Eros from Ovid to Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Post-Feminist Study opens with a look at iconic feminist authors whose reputation has been sullied by how they loved rather than by how they wrote. It argues that literary women like Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir are judged differently from their male counterparts: Where literary men are allowed not just to think in print but to feel in life, women are obliged to choose. If they will be thinkers, they are not allowed to be lovers; if they are lovers, they must accept the ruin or reduction of their credibility as thinkers. I posit that such discrimination is unjustified: the most powerful feminist/feminine intellectuals over the centuries have often been the most powerful and passionate (and occasionally unfortunate) lovers. The courage that drives a revolutionary literary life is the same courage that drives an enterprising love life. One need only think of the medieval Heloise or the nineteenth-century war reporter, Transcendentalist and feminist, Margaret Fuller. The introduction to Strange Bedfellows lays out my theoretical framework. Each subsequent chapter draws on literary, philosophical, epistolary and mythological sources to explore a different aspect of passionate love--love as heroism, as inequality, as art, as wisdom, as failure--that is either denied or regretted in modem critical discourse. In analyzing texts as various as Plato's Phaedrus , the myth of Tristan and Iseult , the "Master Letters" of Emily Dickinson and the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I hope to suggest that romantic-erotic love may be understood as an act of high feminism rather than anti-feminism, of daring rather than gullibility, of strength rather than weakness, whatever our gender. I close with an appeal to contemporary communities of criticism to reconsider our reading of women thinkers in love--and perhaps our reading of love itself.

Table of Contents Acknowledgments v Vita vii Abstract xi Introduction - Women in Love 1 Chapter 1 - Cupid Doffs His Blindfold: Love as Wisdom 16 Chapter 2 - The Power of Power Differentials: Love as Inequality 47 Chapter 3 - The Blade Between Us: Love as Transgression 78 Chapter 4 - "We Must be Two Before we Can be One": Love as Absence 105 Chapter 5 - "On My Blood I'll Carry You Away": Love as Heroism 136 Chapter 6 - "Anonymous Except for Injury": Love as Failure 186 Chapter 7 - Carving in the Flesh: Love as Art 228 Epilogue - Waging Love: Toward a New Definition of Eros 264 Endnotes 269 Bibliography 303 IV

Acknowledgments I would like to thank, with all my heart, Stephen Yenser, Jonathan Post and Michael Heim, my three imaginative, wise and wonderful thesis advisors. They have been—each in an altogether different way—an inspiration from the beginning of my academic and literary career. Their classes and counseling, their personal and pedagogic style, the elan which Professor Post attacks "II Penseroso," the integrity and eloquence that Michael Heim brings to translation and debate, the verbal joie-de-vivre with which Stephen Yenser renders a Hellenic church or skewers a Plath critic—all these have elevated and inspirited me. Where my path has curved and lengthened, dipped and disappeared, by turns, into the aromatic underbrush, they have waited, warned, enlightened and understood me. My errors are my own. But what is best of my endeavors—whether in the pages that follow or in the pages of the New York Times—owes almost everything to them, to the combative love of literature they enflamed and exemplified, the standards they instilled. I thank you, Stephen, Jonathan, and Michael, today, tomorrow and the day after. I'd also like to thank Robert Watson, one of the most formidable UCLA instructors I've ever had, a trenchant metaphysical wit and a marvelous Mensch. I'd like to thank Barbara Packer who has inspired me to the quick—first with her crystalline prose and insights on my favorite essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, increasingly, with her personal courage and grace. The praise and blame for my entry into the English major many years earlier, goes, however, to Michael Bonin: As my first writing teacher at

UCLA, he changed me from an undeclared college freshman who'd slept through the Advanced Placement English test into a drunken idolater of the word—and the Bard. I should add that I could not have strayed so far or wide into silva obscura of literature and philosophy—and survived to tell about it—had it not been for the forgiving and generous good humor of UCLA Young Research librarian Judy Davis, who waived more overdue book fees than I dare to count. My parents, Christa and Wolfgang Nehring, have been expert editors at every stage of this thesis, and compelling debaters of its ideas. Russell Jacoby—my iconoclastic accomplice and favorite public intellectual—has guided its progress, and mine, from the first. My final tribute goes to Eurydice Rafaella Tess, my nearly two-year-old daughter. Struck with leukemia at the age of one, she has been fighting this illness with a disposition as fierce and as fearless as it is effervescently affectionate and tender. Without meaning to do so, she has become a model for the virtues explored in these pages: she has become the loving warrior I sought in literary history, reconciling feminine love with feminist valor. Eurydice, this book's for you. VI

VITA Born in Los Angeles, California 1992 B.A., English, summa cum laude University of California, Los Angeles 1992-1993 Director's Fellowship Stanford University Palo Alto, California 1992-1993 Teaching Assistant Stanford University Stanford University Palo Alto, California 1993 -1998 Dean's Humanities Fellowship University of California, Los Angeles 1995-1998 Teaching Assistant English Department University of California, Los Angeles 1997 M.A., English University of California, Los Angeles 1998 C. Phil., English University of California, Los Angeles 1998-2009 Free-lance critic and travel writer 2000-2003 Instructor Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures University of Paris XIII Paris, France 2000-2004 Contributing Editor Harper's Magazine New York, New York 2002 American Scholar Award Best Literary Criticism vn

2003 National Magazine Award Best Criticism 2004-2009 Contributing Writer Atlantic Monthly Washington DC 2005-2009 Contributing Writer Conde Nast Traveler PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS Nehring, Cristina. (April, 2001). Paris is boring: Claiming France for the new homebodies. Essay on Adam Gopnik and contemporary France. Harper's Magazine. —, (Summer, 2001). Dung, diet and art: Essay about the art and biography of William Wordsworth. American Scholar. —, (September, 2001). The higher yearning: Bringing eros back to academe. Harper's Magazine. —, (January, 2002). Mr. Goodbar redux: Essay on popular dating manuals. Atlantic Monthly. —, (February, 2002). The vindications: The moral opportunism of feminist biography. Harper's Magazine. —, (July, 2002). Last the night: The abiding genius of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Harper's Magazine. —, (Summer 2002). Time, Gass, and the essay: Review of William Gass. Michigan Quarterly Review. —, (Fall, 2002). Eros unseated: Essay-review of Francine Prose. American Scholar. —, (November, 2002). The unbearable slightness: Why do we like Milan Kundera again? Harper's Magazine. —, (May, 2003). Our essays, ourselves: In defense of the Big Idea. Essay on the historical and contemporary essay. Harper's Magazine. Vl l l

(August, 2003). Love in the time of hedonism: Review of Michel Houllebecq. Harper's Magazine. (April, 2004). Domesticated goddess: Essay on Sylvia Plath. Atlantic Monthly. (June 27,2004). Books make you a boring person. Personal essay. New York Times Book Review. (December 12, 2004). Letter from Paris: Writers in paradise. New York Times Book Review. (December 2004). Shakespeare in love or in context: Essay on Stephen Greenblatt and Shakespeare studies. Atlantic Monthly. (February 13, 2005). Love hurts: Review of recent books about Heloise and Abelard. New York Times Book Review. (April 5, 2005). Was it something I said? Five books by extremely engaging misogynists. Atlantic Monthly. (July, 2005). Beauty in the blood. Feature article on Crete. Conde Nast Traveler. (July-August, 2005). Fidelity with a wandering eye: Essay on recent marriage books. Atlantic Monthly. (October, 2005). Latex conquers all: Essay on the literature of women's health. Atlantic Monthly. (December 2, 2005). No exit: Essay on Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. New York Times Book Review. (March, 2006). It takes a village. Feature article on the culture of European villages. Conde Nast Traveler. (June, 2006). Love in a hot climate. Feature article about conjugal customs on the Seychelles islands. Conde Nast Traveler. (September, 2006). Zip it: Erica Jong's stunning self-absorption. Atlantic Monthly. (December, 2006). Of sex and marriage: Stop it, you're killing my libido: Essay on the laws of attraction in modern psychology. Atlantic Monthly.

—, (November, 2007) What's wrong with the American essay. Truthdig. http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/20071129_cristina_nehring_on_whats wrongwiththeamericanessay/ —, (March, 2008). To the sea. Feature article on old European seaside resorts. Conde Nast Traveler. —, (June, 2008). Un Homme in full: Essay on French president Nicolas Sarkozy and playwright Yasmina Reza. Atlantic Monthly. —, (April, 2009). Isn't it romantic? Feature article on Paris. Conde Nast Traveler. —, (June, 2009). Where are love's heroes today? Essay on homo-erotic love in ancient Greece. Chronicle of Higher Education. —, (June 24, 2009). Practice, practice, practice: Review of biography of Masters and Johnson. New York Times Book Review. —, (August, 2009). The new erotic fundamentalism: Essay on modern American mores. Truthdig. http://www.trathdig.com/arts_culture/item/20090820_cristina_nehring_on_the_ne weroticfundamentalism/ —, (June 17,2010). Waging love: Toward a post-feminist idea of romance. Paper to be presented at ideaCity, Toronto, Canada. x

ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION Strange Bedfellows: Eros from Ovid to Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Post-Feminist Study by Cristina Friederike Nehring Doctor of Philosophy in English University of California, Los Angeles, 2010 Professor Jonathan F.S. Post, Co-Chair Professor Stephen Yenser, Co-Chair Strange Bedfellows: Eros from Ovid to Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Post-Feminist Study opens with a look at iconic feminist authors whose reputation has been sullied by how they loved rather than by how they wrote. It argues that literary women like Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir are judged differently from their male xi

counterparts: Where literary men are allowed not just to think in print but to feel in life, women are obliged to choose. If they will be thinkers, they are not allowed to be lovers; if they are lovers, they must accept the ruin or reduction of their credibility as thinkers. I posit that such discrimination is unjustified: the most powerful feminist/feminine intellectuals over the centuries have often been the most powerful and passionate (and occasionally unfortunate) lovers. The courage that drives a revolutionary literary life is the same courage that drives an enterprising love life. One need only think of the medieval Heloise or the nineteenth-century war reporter, Transcendentalist and feminist, Margaret Fuller. The introduction to Strange Bedfellows lays out my theoretical framework. Each subsequent chapter draws on literary, philosophical, epistolary and mythological sources to explore a different aspect of passionate love—love as heroism, as inequality, as art, as wisdom, as failure—that is either denied or regretted in modern critical discourse. In analyzing texts as various as Plato's Phaedrus, the myth of Tristan andlseult, the "Master Letters" of Emily Dickinson and the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I hope to suggest that romantic-erotic love may be understood as an act of high feminism rather than anti-feminism, of daring rather than gullibility, of strength rather than weakness, whatever our gender. I close with an appeal to contemporary communities of criticism to reconsider our reading of women thinkers in love—and perhaps our reading of love itself. xn

Introduction Women in Love No sooner had her corpse cooled than the stoning began. The 38-year-old author had been a "whore," a "hyena in petticoats." Venerable poets suggested she had wished to mate with an elephant. Women's rights advocates damned her "imprudence and impolicy." Nineteenth-century suffragettes dismissed her as a "silly victim of passion" and strained to sever their cause from hers. Twenty-first-century feminists still frequently assail her "misogyny"—or simply pass her over in embarrassed silence.1 And yet Mary Wollstonecraft is the mother of modern feminism. Her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1792) was the first tract of its kind in English; it provoked more admiration than opposition even in the benighted 18th century. This admiration only grew as the Western world came to accept—even to assume— Wollstonecraft's argument. The problem with Wollstonecraft for many modern feminists is not what she wrote; it is how she lived—or rather, how she loved.2 At once passionate and profoundly loyal, Wollstonecraft loved without stint, prudence, or reserve—and often without luck. "There are few crimes which exact a worse punishment than this generous fault: to put oneself entirely in another's hands and thus be at his mercy."3 So wrote Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949)—and so it has been for Wollstonecraft. If her life was nearly ended by the dashing American businessman who broke her heart, her reputation was nearly interred by a censorious international readership. And not only—or mainly— by defenders of patriarchy, but by defenders of female emancipation: "Her own sex, her 1

own sisters" exclaims one critic, "condemned her pitilessly."4 To some degree, one can understand this: they did not want to make a model of a woman who—while writing of female independence—twice attempted suicide for a man. But the problem is more vexed than that. For feminists, over the decades, have not only damned those of their colleagues and foremothers who were unlucky in love, but also those who were lucky. Take Edna St. Vincent Millay. Ostensibly a poster girl for gender equality, Millay smoked a cigar, won a Pulitzer in poetry (the first ever accorded a woman), supported herself and several family members with her writing, entertained the odd lesbian lover, consigned housework firmly to her husband, and kept any number of important men permanently at her command. The problem is: she liked them—the men, that is. She liked them a lot. So much that she wrote a great deal of poems about them and expended some effort cultivating an alluring sexual persona. She was a success at both: the premier literary critic of her time called her one of the most important American poets of all time.5 Men adored, obeyed, and afforded her much enjoyment. Hers may be as happy a love life as literary history allows us to glimpse. But after her death, she was punished for it.6 The onslaught started more subtly than with Wollstonecraft: a critic would remark upon her sexy demeanor, her sultry voice, and suggest that without it her poetry was rather bare. Another would wonder whether if all those men had not been so besotted with her she'd have made it into the literary canon—conveniently disregarding that her judges and admirers overwhelmingly had never laid eyes on her. Before long, Millay's love life had eclipsed her literary achievement as effectively—and disastrously—as 2

WoUstonecraft's amours had eclipsed the Vindication of the Rights of Women 150 years before. Her poetry—so recently regarded as masterful and wry—was dismissed as lightweight and frivolous—as inconsequential as its pretty, primping, sexually over active author.7 An insidious dynamic seems to be at work here. For women authors in general, love—whether reciprocal or spurned, happy or sad, chaste or promiscuous—seems to be a public relations gaffe, a death blow to one's credibility as a thinker. It does not matter whether the woman in question made a mess or a model of her love life—the fact that she had one—and assigned it obvious importance in her emotional household—suffices to explode her intellectual credibility. If she felt deeply, she cannot (we seem to assume) have thought deeply. To be respected as a thinker in our world, a woman must cease to be a lover. To pass for an intellectual of any distinction, she must either renounce romantic love altogether or box it into a space so small in her life that it attracts no attention. If a man, as Yeats once claimed, "is forced to choose/Perfection of the life or of the work," a woman is all too often forced to choose perfection of the heart or of the head.% Should she choose to follow her heart, she needn't bother her head about philosophy or feminism; the world will mock her efforts. A strong mind, we've come to believe, precludes a strong heart. This, at least, is the mantra under which female artists have labored for centuries, and continue—to some real extent—to labor today. It has never been the mantra of male artists. We find almost the opposite assumptions shaping the valuation of male writers as we find of female writers over the 3

centuries. From Ovid, Petrarch and Dante, to Hemingway, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, and Michel Houellebecq, literary men have been admired rather than punished for an active amorous life—whether or not their amorous overtures were crowned with success. It does not diminish our respect for Petrarch that he spent his life in hopeless despondence over a married girl who would not give him the time of day. We do not see him as humiliated for this reason, as we see WoUstonecraft. His artistic and philosophical credentials are untainted by the turmoil of his erotic biography; indeed, they are strengthened. Generations of sonneteers and statesmen rushed to imitate his eloquent heartache during the English Renaissance—often inventing a cruel mistress when they could not find one in real life, the better to prostrate themselves before her. It was part of one's manliness to surrender to love in the Renaissance, part of one's wealth as a human being. Luckily: for the literature of amorous surrender has inspired many of the most resplendent poems of the English language. And it is rare indeed for its authors—from Shakespeare (who pined in vain for "Dark Ladies" and bright boys alike) to John Donne (who plunged into decades of poverty after eloping with his boss's niece) —to be belittled by posterity as "silly victims of passion."9 If men are not disdained for abandon in love, neither are they penalized for promiscuity: Who has ever heard of a Boswell, Byron or Shelley, a Jean-Paul Sartre or a Philip Roth being demoted as writers because of the abundance of their erotic adventures? Once in a while a moral reservation may be implied: 'it is unfortunate that Shelley's teenage bride committed suicide after he abandoned her, or that Byron placed his illegitimate daughter in a nunnery where she starved.' But the moral admonition— 4

even if ventured—never touches the work. It occurs to no one to think less of "Mont Blanc" because of Shelley's emotional fiascos. It occurs to no one to discount the poetry of Byron as frivolous fluff because its author numbered his one-night-stands in multiples of a hundred (as did Edna Millay). Sartre's temperament has provoked increasing criticism in recent years, but nobody dismisses his philosophy because he bedded dozens of groupies while paired with Simone de Beauvoir. No: it is her work whose seriousness is questioned for this reason: Why did she put up with it, we want to know—and how does it compromise her theories?10 The reputation of a male thinker is either untouched or improved by an erotically charged biography. The reputation of a female thinker is either subtly undermined or squarely destroyed. Is this the legacy of patriarchy? In part, but it is also the legacy of feminism, which—since the 18th century—has sported an anti-romantic bias. In the 20th century, however, the critique was stepped up. As early as the 1910s and 20s, women's rights activists summoned their sex to abandon heterosexual love since "there could be no mating between the spiritually developed women of this day and men who ... are their inferiors."11 It was in the 70s that the anti-romantic chorus really swelled: from Germaine Greer and Kate Millet to Shulamith Firestone and Andrea Dworkin, articulate, energetic, and often best-selling feminists declared sex a glorified form of rape and romance a patriarchal ploy to enslave women.12 Mary Evans, Love: An Unromantic Discussion (Cambridge, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2003) p. 143; Laura Kipnis, Against Love: A Polemic (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003), p. 47. Such voices created a climate in which intellectual women who also loved were regarded as dupes. 5

"Love," proclaims Shulamith Firestone in a book whose 1970 cover announces it "might change your life," "... is the pivot of women's oppression today."13 It is "a frenzied passion which compels women to submit to a diminishing life in chains," adds Andrea Dworkin in 1976.14 It's a "pathological condition," according to a group called simply "The Feminists." After all, "the basic elements of rape are involved in all heterosexual relationships," avers Susan Griffin.15 Griffin's is a thesis that got a lot of mileage for decades; anticipated in Kate Millett's 1969 literary study, Sexual Politics, it was developed at greatest length in Andrea Dworkin's 1987 book Intercourse. "Rape," she there concludes, "is becoming a central paradigm for intercourse in our time." 16 With rhetoric like this it is no wonder that card-carrying women's advocates were apologetic, at best, about practicing heterosexual love. Lesbianism in the 1970s was "almost a categorical imperative for all women truly interested in the welfare and progress of other women," claims Lillian Faderman.17 We have come a long way since—and we haven't. On one hand, it is no longer acceptable to stigmatize women across the board for having male partners. On the other, books continue to appear which (like Mary Evans's 2003 Love: An Unromantic Discussion) count love "a four-letter word" or (like Laura Kipnis's 2003 Against Love) an oath of "chronic dissatisfaction."18 These books suggest something. Love at the beginning of the 21st century has been defused and discredited. Feminism is partly to blame—but only partly. We inhabit a world in which every aspect of romance from meeting to mating has been streamlined, safety-checked, and emptied of spiritual consequence. The result is that we imagine we live in an erotic culture of 6

unprecedented opportunity when in fact we live in an erotic culture that is almost unendurably bland. Romance in our day is a poor and shrunken thing. To some it remains an explicit embarrassment, a discredited myth, the false sugar that once coated the pill of women's servility. To others it has become a recreational sport. Stripped of big meanings, it has become simply another innocuous pastime. It has become "safe sex," harmless fun, a good-natured grasping for physical pleasure with a convenient companion—or indeed with an object. The sex toy market has gone mainstream. Every emancipated young woman is assumed to own a vibrator—or two. Magazines are full of advice on which will accessorize most pleasantly with your handbag, fit most snugly into a jeans pocket, or lend itself most easily to a quick fling with a second party. (See the remote-controlled vibrator that can be operated from another room by your cat.) Among older American housewives, the tupperware party has—we are told in bestsellers like Gail Sheehy's Sex and the Seasoned Woman—been replaced by the sex toy party.19 Overstated or not, such reports suggest a commodification of eroticism such as the world has not seen before. To still others, love has become a simple strategy for garnering public attention— a media tool. Teenage girls strip off their shirts and make out for the film crews of "Girls Gone Wild," as Ariel Levy laments in Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture?-® On week-ends they provide Lewinsky-like favors to Casanova-like numbers of mates. "Love" at this level is no longer even about sexual gratification anymore—at least not for the girls—it is about boasting. It's about stealing a little 7

limelight. It is also about rejecting the fuddy-duddy feminisms of one's elders and showing that one is happy to be a sex object. The problem is not that it's undignified to be a sex object. (We are all sex objects, men as well as women—which in no way precludes our being intellectual agents simultaneously.) The issue lies elsewhere. It is the trivialization of love that is the tragedy of our time. It is the methodical demystification, recreationalization, automization, commercialization, medicalization, and domestication of eros that is making today's world a so much flatter place. For however much is won by making sex (in its widest sense) "safe"; however much is gained by making orgasms available on tap and bed partners accessible by the click of a mouse, more—far more—is lost. We have so far submitted eros to our enlightened agendas of self-protection and indulgence today that it has grown anemic. We have restricted and tweaked, humbled and caged it so consistently that the poor beast has become as impotent as it is domestic. No longer able to bite, it has also lost the power to sweep us off the ground, to take us for a flight in the heavens, a twirl into the unknown. To salvage romantic relations we have had, paradoxically, to bleed the romance out of them. We have had to ironize them first of all, second to egotize them, and third to circumscribe them. We have had to ironize them because we could no longer be gulls of male "mystification." To look at love as a sublime union of souls, as Wollstonecraft did (as well as Shakespeare and Donne and D.H. Lawrence, but that is another matter) was to succumb to the fictions of the oppressor. According to Barbara Ehrenreich, physical love is at its best these days when it "provides an ironic commentary on what has traditionally 8

been understood as normal heterosexuality" —that is, when it mocks the old domination- and-submission dynamics dramatized in classic love-making by replacing it with a smorgasbord of new and presumably value-neutral activities like masturbation and sex toy employment. And should this sap some of sexuality's visceral power, its almost mystical resonance? So much the better, says Ehrenreich: "We [as women] had come to understand that the 'mystery' was simply a form of obfuscation. The grand and magical meanings—eternal love, romance, and, always, 'surrender'—were there in part to distract us from the paucity of pleasure."21 Fair enough. Pleasure is a desirable commodity, and we've gotten better at its procurement—but at what price? If indeed the ideas of eternal romance and surrender were able to "distract" us for so long from our important bedroom business, then perhaps it is because they are inherently more exciting than even the most successful sleight of the sexual hand. And perhaps this can be men's experience as readily as women's— especially now that female emancipation has made it so much easier for lovers to be confidants as well as collaborators in erotic ecstasy. In a century—like the 15th—when a philosopher like Montaigne still believed women "incapable of friendship," a man might be forgiven for thinking he must segregate his mental from his physical pleasures. 22 But today that man has every invitation to unite them, making heterosexual intimacy, for both sexes, that much more potent and encompassing. There is no need—in order to knock the stigma off romance—to roll back pleasure, power, economic self-sufficiency, philosophical enfranchisement, or any of the other successes of the women's movement. We need not trash feminism's flowers to 9

dispose of the rotting fruit in its cellar. Romantic love is better between partners with equal rights; sex is superior after some of the new anatomy lessons. We can have both knowledge and mystery, equality and abandon. To succeed in this, we must, however, stop reading erotic relationships as elaborate allegories of one-upmanship. But what happens when love is glaringly unequal? What happens when it is altogether unreciprocated? The couples profiled in this book did not always "succeed" at love. They sometimes failed. Their beloved was not always their equal. And when he was, he still could not always respond at the level they desired. Sometimes the force of their emotions simply left him reeling, flustered. Sometimes he was otherwise committed. But it is not for this reason that their passion was unproductive or ignoble. To the contrary: it endowed them not merely with an emotional wisdom inaccessible to their more prudent colleagues, but also with richly variegated and dramatic lives. Where many a writer is the sum of his texts, the writers whose loves will come under scrutiny here were more. Their books are writ in blood as well as ink; their biographies rival their bibliographies. "It never troubles the sun," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in one of his later essays, "that some of his rays fall wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the reflecting planet. Let your greatness educate the cold and crude companion. If he is unequal, he will presently pass away; but thou, thou art enlarged by thy own shining"2^ Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" is forgotten today, but Shakespeare lives. Wollstonecraft's Gilbert Imlay is full of dust today, but the lines he provoked her to write—and the philosophies he caused her to formulate and reformulate— live. These relationships show 10

that love can be a form of strength, of emotional entrepreneurship, of creative enlargement. In fact, love can be a form of feminism. * * * * The most ardent agents of women's advancement have often been the most ardent entrepreneurs of love. They knew that far from representing an act of weakness or docility women's love—like men's—is struggle. It is conquest and self-conquest. Far from proving incompatible with a muscular intellectual life, it is its natural counterpart. Strong thoughts engender strong emotions. A woman accustomed to reasoning for herself is unlikely to leave courting, desiring, sacrificing, swaggering, or indeed self-dramatizing to the opposite sex. She is unlikely to shrink from a fight. In her bestselling book, "Writing a Woman's Life," the late Carolyn Heilbrun laments the fact that the biographies of women—even creatively prolific and professionally successful women— are typically written to revolve around a "romance plot," while the biographies of men are organized as "quest narratives." Men, in other words, are defined by the missions they have accomplished, the dragons they have slain, the prizes they have won, while women are defined by the men they have loved. This is indeed unforgivably reductive; it is an error which Heilbrun exposes with force. But where she herself falls into error is in the antagonism she posits between "quest" and "romance".24 There are hundreds of quests, of course, and women ought to pursue as broad a spectrum as men. But is not the highest and hardest quest of them all, in fact, the quest for love? It is in the service of love, of "romance," that knights have slain the fiercest 11

monsters, heroes have won the hardest contests, poets have penned the greatest verses. Far from being the opposite of a quest, is not romantic love the mother of all quests—for men as well as women? "Marriage," Phyllis Rose stated memorably in Parallel Lives, " is the most important political act of adulthood." ["I believe marriage to be the primary political experience in which most of us engage as adults .. ."] 2 5 Why, then, do we flinch to call it quest, end, intrepid undertaking? Equality is not about making women equal to men in foot-soldierdom, but equal in access to the grail. It is in the name of love that both sexes have shown their greatest mettle. The methods they embrace have changed; there is no reason to cling to the old choreography of resistance and pursuit, coyness and command assigned, at one time, to women and men respectively. But there is every reason to retain the hunt for the holy chalice itself, for whether lost or found, embraced or only brushed, it invokes the fiercest courage, the finest expression, the highest achievement. "The tragedy of the self-supporting ... woman does not lie in too many, but in too few experiences,"26 wrote the prescient Emma Goldman in the first half of the 20th century. The problem is not that today's woman does too many things once reserved for men—that she runs for public office, lifts weights, and has one-night-stands—it is that she does too few important things. And high among the important things she doesn't do—or seek—is love that transcends surgical sex; that transcends frivolous exhibitionism; that transcends pragmatic marriage for the purpose of social stability or family-planning. 12

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Abstract: Strange Bedfellows : Eros from Ovid to Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Post-Feminist Study opens with a look at iconic feminist authors whose reputation has been sullied by how they loved rather than by how they wrote. It argues that literary women like Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir are judged differently from their male counterparts: Where literary men are allowed not just to think in print but to feel in life, women are obliged to choose. If they will be thinkers, they are not allowed to be lovers; if they are lovers, they must accept the ruin or reduction of their credibility as thinkers. I posit that such discrimination is unjustified: the most powerful feminist/feminine intellectuals over the centuries have often been the most powerful and passionate (and occasionally unfortunate) lovers. The courage that drives a revolutionary literary life is the same courage that drives an enterprising love life. One need only think of the medieval Heloise or the nineteenth-century war reporter, Transcendentalist and feminist, Margaret Fuller. The introduction to Strange Bedfellows lays out my theoretical framework. Each subsequent chapter draws on literary, philosophical, epistolary and mythological sources to explore a different aspect of passionate love--love as heroism, as inequality, as art, as wisdom, as failure--that is either denied or regretted in modem critical discourse. In analyzing texts as various as Plato's Phaedrus , the myth of Tristan and Iseult , the "Master Letters" of Emily Dickinson and the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I hope to suggest that romantic-erotic love may be understood as an act of high feminism rather than anti-feminism, of daring rather than gullibility, of strength rather than weakness, whatever our gender. I close with an appeal to contemporary communities of criticism to reconsider our reading of women thinkers in love--and perhaps our reading of love itself.