‘I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.’
This is the note Chris wrote me that meant we finally got together. Romantic, isn’t it? What a guy. Ho ho, not really, OBVIOUSLY he didn’t write that, she says wryly. Jane Austen did and I wish Jane Austen wrote all boyfriends’ notes, I had a boyfriend once whom I got together with after he texted me a line from Dumb and Dumber. (It was a great line but the origin story is never going to be great on that one, is it?)
No, this is my favourite bit from my favourite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion, which I am rereading and which basically gives me the biggest butterflies (butterfly-related pun intended) in my stomach whenever I come back to it. It’s the note Captain Wentworth writes to Anne Elliot at the climax of the novel after a lot of shilly-shallying to tell her he still loves her, eight years after their engagement ended (her fault, Anne, you fool, YOU FOOL!). If there is anything more romantic IN THE WHOLE ENGLISH LANGUAGE I will eat my arm. I’m reminded at the moment that I did a lot of thinking about the power of enduring love when finishing The Butterfly Summer. At the very heart of the story is a woman who falls in love with a king – Charles II on the run from Cromwell after the last battle of the Civil War in 1651 – when he comes to stay at her remote Cornish stately home. They fall in love and have two idyllic weeks together, but she is abandoned by him when he has to escape to France. She later bears his child – a daughter whom she calls Charlotte – and can’t get over him, eventually dying for love of him in a pretty Gothic way (you’ll have to read the book to find out how). I loved writing this bit of the novel, as it makes up a tiny portion of the plot but it’s the kernel of the whole story and so vital that it’s believable. When restored to the throne, and married to a suitable foreign royal bride, Charles shows Nina Parr he hasn’t forgotten her when he grants her and her female descendants the right to inherit Keepsake, the house in the novel. I wanted you to feel as though the power of his love for her and their story was still alive in the remains of the house, that it has endured and lasted through time. I love stories like that.
As Valentine’s Day is almost here I think about how silly it has become, although I do rather love Valentine’s Day just as I love Halloween and New Year’s Eve and other dates that mark specific times of the year. My mum always used to get me and my sister a card and a little chocolate every year so I always thought of it as a day for love in general, not about awful set menus in depressing restaurants surrounded by sullen couples who literally don’t have a word to say to each other. But does Valentine’s Day reflect the enormous power love has? No, not really.
There is an abbey in Scotland near where we go on holiday every year (to a caravan, and if you want to talk about the power of enduring love then try going on a family holiday every year to a caravan on the rainiest part of the Scottish coast and know the strength of your relationship at the end – I love you, Chris). It is called Sweetheart Abbey and was founded by a grieving widow in memory of her husband John de Balliol (who himself was the founder of Balliol College in Oxford). Her devotion to his memory became famous and she wanted something of him to endure forever. She had his heart embalmed and placed in a silver casket and when she died it was buried alongside her; the monks then renamed the Abbey in tribute to her and her love for her husband. Sweetheart Abbey: what a lovely idea. (Just don’t embalm my heart please if I go before you, Chris. Leave it alone.)
Now that I’m grown-up (! ish) I think love that endures is about friendship and humour and kindness and not as much about romantic gestures, although I’m always up for some gifting and floral tributes. So, a little reminder to myself this year: don’t post a photo on Facebook of a man selling single red roses in cellophane outside the tube with a sarky question about what man alive on earth buys these tacky, overpriced things, only to be presented with one by the love of my life a few hours later… Oh dear. I prefer to remember the year we both got each other the extension pack to a board game we both love* and that to my mind is romantic. I can hear you laughing with sorrow and pity, but that’s enduring love for me.
*The board game is Carcassonne. Carcassonne is AMAZING.