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Sunday, 15 July 2012


Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, partners, even occasionally fiancés and fiancées: these are people to whom we are introduced. I don't think anyone has ever introduced me to their lover. And if they did, maybe it would just sound pretentious.

Wikipedia is of no help: it has "Lover" in the singular for two categories, "A person who loves" [ so, "Music lover"] and "A sexual partner" - though the reverse is not true: statistically, sexual partners are not usually lovers. Lovers need more time than a one night stand, though how much more is hard to say and film makers will always try to persuade us it can be done in a day.

"Lover" seems an intrinsically private category: people are only lovers for each other; that they are lovers is no more the business of the world than their longing or their lust for each other.

So "lovers" is the inside and "husbands and wives" (etc) is the outside, then? And sometimes the outside is all there is, an empty shell.

But aren't there people who are only lovers - people who aren't at the same time husbands and wives and all the rest?

When you consider that you probably think first of people having affairs or a man and his mistress. In other words, people who can't publicly declare themselves to be lovers because the edifice of their public lives would likely collapse.

The interesting thing about this is the way it links lovers to transgression: you only get to be lovers with someone if you are doing something you shouldn't be doing.

Lovers and forbidden love go together.

The lovers with whom we are most familiar in literature and the cinema are usually in transgression: they are separated by age, by class, by clan, by race, or by the prohibitions of a church. It is only the strength of passion which makes the transgression possible, but it is the fact of transgression which always dooms it: the law takes its revenge and love is beaten down to tragedy.


There is a lovely autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, The Lover (L'Amant). It's more than that; it's maybe the most beautifully written book I know.

As a teenager in French Indo-China, she forms a passionate, illicit, relationship with a wealthy Chinese man. They trangress the rules of age, of race and of social expectations. Duras published the novel in 1984, half a century after the love it describes. The film of the book angered her sufficiently for her to write a second novel-cum-story board, L'Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991), which reveals more than the first novel - she was younger than she had acknowledged, her family was more disturbed than she had painted it, her own behaviour too.

Both novels are lyric texts, as a love story must be, and like Nabokov in Lolita, Duras uses to the full the lyric power of the liquid letter L. Here she is writing about another girl in her school boarding house, her other love of that lost time in Indo-China:

Il y a celle sur un banc, allongée, celle nommée ici et dans les autres livres de son nom véritable, celle d'une miraculeuse beauté qu'elle, elle veut laide, oui, celle de ce nom de ciel, Hélène Lagonelle dite de Dalat. Cet autre amour d'elle, l'enfant, jamais oublié

Love: langorous, liquid, lost. La, le, li, lo, lu. L is for Lovers. L .


Added 25 July 2018: Material from this Blog post is incorporated into the chapter "Letters Not About Love" in my book Silence Is So Accurate (degree zero 2017), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones, and other booksellers

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