DEATH DO US PART?
(LOVE AND LITERATURE)
Yeats, whose own imagination dwelt painfully upon his frustrated love for Maude Gonne, and comfortably within the reciprocated love of Georgie Hyde-Lees, had posed the question: “Does the imagination dwell the most/upon a women won or a woman lost?” We search for representation of love in literature where the question of winning, possessing or losing love becomes rather problematic and the phrase “Till Death Do Us Part” becomes paradoxical in context of love, since poets and philosophers have been reminding us that death releases one into a timelessness and Shakespeare tells us love is “Not Time’s Fool!”
Charing Cross Road in London is renowned for its specialist and second hand book shops and 84 Charing Cross is the address for antiquarian book sellers Marks & Co. Helene Hanff’s book 84, Charing Cross road narrates the twenty year correspondence between the author Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co. The book was published in 1970 and adapted for the stage, television, and then made into film.
Helene Hanff, a struggling writer in New York City, was in search of obscure classics and British literature titles that she had been unable to find when she noticed an advertisement in the Saturday Review of Literature for Marks & Co., describing them as specialists in-out-of-print-books. Hanff longed to visit London, to “See the England of English Literature”. But, as the years passed, she could never afford to make the trip. Single and childless she lived a hand to mouth existence as a writer of children’s history books, television scripts and magazine articles, and regarded herself essentially as a failed playwright. The long running correspondence with “her bookshop”, and especially with Frank Doel the shop’s manager gave her a treasured bond with the city she seemed destined never to see. To a friend embarking on a trip to London that Spring, she wrote: “The blessed man who sold me all my books died a few months ago but Marks & Co. is still there. If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me! I owe it so much.”
The Bridges of Madison County, a novel by Robert James Waller was published in 1992, and made into a film in 1995 by Clint Eastwood.
In the present day, adult siblings Michael and Carolyn arrive at the Iowa farmhouse of Francesca Johnson, their recently deceased, elderly mother, to see about the settlement of their mother's estate. As they go through the contents of her safe deposit box and the will, they are baffled to discover that their mother left very specific instructions that her body be cremated and her ashes thrown off the nearby Roseman Covered Bridge, which is not in accordance with the burial arrangements their parents had made: side-by-side plots in the local cemetery. Michael initially refuses to comply with the cremation, while Carolyn discovers a set of photos of her mother and a letter. She manages to convince Michael to set aside his initial reaction so they can read the documents she has discovered. Once alone, they go through a series of letters from a man named Robert Kincaid to their mother. The siblings find their way to a chest where their mother left a letter, a series of diaries, photographs, old cameras and other mementos.
They discovered that in 1965, their mother, an Italian war bride, had a four-day affair with Robert Kincaid, a travelling professional photographer who had come to Madison County, Iowa, to shoot a photographic essay for National Geographic on the covered bridges in the area. The affair took place while her husband and children were at the state fair in Illinois.
The manner in which Love for Literature mingles into love that moves beyond fixities in these two narratives has made me return time and again to them. I would like to conclude by sharing a feeling that when love and literature mingles in our life, one is able to transcend the conventional pre-occupations with possessing love, or the fear of losing it to any power, including death.