[In the following passage from Aldous Huxley’s novel Those Barren Leaves we get, I believe, quite an accurate description of the effect sexual infatuation—commonly and misleadingly called ‘love’ in everyday English—has on some men, especially young men who are intellectual and intensely idealistic. There is nothing wrong with sexual infatuation in itself. The problem arises when it exists apart from affection, respect, and altruism. In such cases, because of the intensity of the emotions it arouses, it is easily mistaken for ‘true love.’ Consider the case of Susannah M. A college student, she was President Kennedy’s lover shortly after he was elected. “I thought I loved him. Absolutely! To be as bowled over as this, this must be love! Because my best day dreams were literally at their limit in having a love affair with John Kennedy.” Her opinion has since been severely modified. Obviously she was a victim of infatuation. With women the infatuation seems to be more romantic than sexual; with men, the reverse.]
The weeks passed. I saw her almost every day. And every day I loved her more violently and painfully, with a love that less and less resembled the religious passion of my boyhood. But it was the persistent memory of that passion which made my present desire so parching and tormenting, that filled me with a thirst that no possible possession could assuage. No possible possession, since whatever I might possess, as I realized more and more clearly each time I saw her, would be utterly different from what I had desired all these years to possess. I had desired all beauty, all that exists of goodness and truth, symbolized and incarnate in one face. And now the face drew near, the lips touched mine; and what I had got was simply a young woman with a ‘temperament,’ as the euphemists who deplore the word admiringly and lovingly qualify the lascivious thing. And yet, against all reason, in spite of all the evidence, I could not help believing that she was somehow and secretly what I imagined her. My love for her as a symbol strengthened my desire for her as an individual woman.
All this, were it to happen to me now, would seem perfectly natural and normal. If I were to make love to a young woman, I should know precisely what I was making love to. But that, in those days, was something I still had to learn. In Barbara’s company I was learning it with a vengeance. I was learning that it is possible to be profoundly and slavishly in love with someone for whom one has no esteem, whom one does not like, whom one regards as a bad character and who, finally, not only makes one unhappy but bores one. And why not, I might now ask, why not? That things should be like this is probably the most natural thing in the world. But in those days I imagined that love ought always to be mixed up with affection and admiration, with worship and an intellectual rapture, as unflagging as that which one experiences during the playing of a symphony. Sometimes, no doubt, love does get involved with some or all of these things; sometimes these things exist by themselves, apart from love. But one must be prepared to swallow one’s love completely neat and unadulterated. It is a fiery, crude and somewhat poisonous draught.
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