Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood Review: Celestial Love

pilgrims
[in quoted portions, bold is my emphasis, italics are hers]

In this chapter, Helen will be laying out her explanation for the kind of love she wants the women who read this book to kindle in their husbands; technically, it’s still a part of what Helen included as the introduction, although it is separated into its own chapter. The picture she paints is very lovely, and something that I initially appreciated was that she used literature. When it comes to describing love, going straight to Longfellow is a fantastic idea.

However, the more I got into the examples she pulled from literature, the more I realized that not only does she not practice honest scholarship when it comes to the text, she starts following a dangerous, deceptive pattern of only showing you exactly what she wants you to see. She doesn’t present this ideal of “celestial love” with a whole lot of integrity.

First, she gives her definition of what celestial love is:

 . . . not dutiful, but spontaneous, warm, and tender. When a man truly loves a woman, he experiences a deep feeling within. At times it can be intense, almost like pain. He may feel enchanted and fascinated, with a tender desire to protect and shelter the woman he loves from harm, danger, and difficulty. Then there is the deeper, more spiritual feeling, almost like worship. Even this cannot adequately describe the many-splendored thing called love.

If you take this at face value, this passage is relatively harmless. It sounds pretty enough, romantic enough. Who doesn’t want this sort of love to enrich their marriage? However, this definition becomes anything but harmless as we progress through the book, so I’d like to take a moment and break down some things here.

The level of intensity she describes– it borders on obsessive. Some people do experience love this intensely, and I’m not trying to dismiss or belittle them. However, many men and women just aren’t this crazy intense when they fall in love. For me and my husband, what I have always loved about the way we love each other is that it’s comfortable. Being with Handsome is like swinging in a hammock on a balmy, breezy summer day, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the sun warm my skin. It’s gentle, and almost placid. When he holds me, I feel safe, not exhilarated.

And this might be reading too much into what she’s saying, but I don’t think so. Here, part of the celestial love she wants women to experience is her husband keeping her from difficulty. Granted, I’m not particularly thrilled when something in my life is difficult. But if my husband took all the difficult things out of my life, I wouldn’t be able to grow as a person. Part of having strong character is meeting challenges head-on, defeating them, and then dancing on their graves.

Anyway, moving on. She starts going into her examples from literature and history. The first one is a quote from  Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish, specifically when John Alden decides, basically “to hell with it” (it being loyalty to his friend, the promise he’d made, the bone-deep conviction he had that pursuing Priscilla was sinful, and his duty and obligation as a soldier). The quote she pulls is this one, from “V: The Sailing of the Mayflower

There is no land so sacred, no air so pure and so wholesome,
As is the air she breathes, and the soil that is pressed by her footsteps.
Here for her sake will I stay, and like an invisible presence
Hover around her forever, protecting, supporting her weakness;

Now, that was a beautiful thought expressed by Longfellow. This is literally ground-she-walks-on-air-she-breathes level stuff. However, Helen doesn’t let the reader know that Longfellow has previously described Alden as “rushed like a man insane.” Alden’s love for Priscilla… it really is obsession, and he’s willing to throw away anything he previously believed was important.

Next example: Victor Hugo and Adele Foucher– a relationship she refers to repeatedly through the book. She quotes from his diary where he talks about all the sacrificial ways he would be willing to give of himself to Adele, how much her happiness means to him, that he wants to be the man she can always trust, always depend on.

At this point, I’d like to mention Juliette Drouet, his mistress and traveling companion for fifty years; Leonie Biard, who went to prison when they were discovered while he did not; Alice Ozy, who was in a relationship with his son . . . and many, many others. So, while Victor Hugo was quite a passionate and capable writer, holding him up as an example of “celestial love”– the first time I read this, I laughed so hard I cried.

Her next example is Woodrow Wilson, who was known for his “unemotional schoolmaster” personality. She quotes a letter to his wife where he describes her as “the spring of my content,” and was in general quite elegant and touching. However, she chose Wilson as an example to argue that “every man has the capability . . . if these passions are awakened by the woman.” This argument in unfair and misleading. Every man is his own person, and the way he loves a woman is going to be different. She’s painting this grandiose picture of wild, passionate, worshipful love, and it’s not going to be what every relationship looks like, no matter how healthy it is. What she’s showing us, here, is really as fanciful and unrealistic as a fairy tale or Disney movie.

She rounds out this chapter with two justifications; first, she answers the question “isn’t wanting this kind of love selfish?” She says no, because when you become the woman he can love, and he loves you with celestial love, then he will be a better man for it. So no, it’s not selfish, because the only reason why you’re doing it is for him. Also, you can’t have a healthy family without a happy marriage, so your kids will thank you, too.

She also argues that if you apply what she’s about to teach you, you’ll learn to see his “finer side,” and you’ll love him more because of it. This is an argument that she returns to frequently, and while it starts off . . . ok . . . here, it becomes troubling, because she directly tells women to just stop worrying about their husband’s less-than-stellar qualities (like verbal and emotional abuse, for example).

Her motivation, all in all, isn’t a bad one. She wants women to experience romantic, passionate love, and that’s fine. That doesn’t really bother me all that much, except for the reality that the kind of love she describes isn’t something that every single last relationship should look like, and burdening women with this idea that any other kind of love is like weeds, crumbs, and hell, is . . . well, cruel.

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This is the second post in a series. You can find link to the rest of the series here.

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  • Alice

    That is interesting since most fundamentalists treat feelings like a plague and promote “Love is a choice, not an emotion.” But once again, I’m not familiar with Mormonism so that might be another difference. The quote by Longfellow sort of reminds me of the song “Every Breath You Take” by Police. It is hard to believe some people think that sort of thing is romantic.

    • That is true, and something I noticed. However, for the women who read this book, love is still a choice. They have to choose to love their husband while their husband just notices how adorable they are and falls head over heels with their insipid giggling.

  • wayofcats

    Seems like it’s another instance where the woman can wonder, “Why am I not inspiring that kind of love?” when it might be the man who is incapable understanding and sharing affection.

  • This reminds me of C.S. Lewis saying “Love ceases to become a demon when he ceases to become a god”. God is love. But I don’t believe we should worship our partner.

  • Georgia

    I believe Andelin is Mormon, so the celestial love has an eternal component to it and is tied into Mormon ideas about “heaven” for believers (in quotes because it is quite different from mainline Protestant/Baptist/Catholic version of heaven). Mormonism states that celestial is the highest level of heaven and is reserved for eternally married devout Mormon families, who eventually will have and populate their own world (grossly oversimplified, but I think that at minimum all Mormons would agree that Mormon marriage involves a strong eternal component).

    I am no defender of Andelin, but I think this aspect is an interesting one to pick out in the book and as an element of the analysis: she is, in part, motivated by the idea that human love will be purified into a godlike eternal union, and also possibly motivated by the question that would be in my mind if I were linked to my mate for eternity: does that mean we’ll be fighting forever?

    And, since Baptists have a very one-sidely virulent relationship with Mormons, it is also interesting that the book was disseminated in fundamentalist Baptist households including mine and, as you say, Bob Jones. What aspects in an otherwise heretical book appeal to Baptists? If Andelin is talking about a relationship that will ultimately be purified over a billion years in a jointly held celestial world, but Baptists are talking about women creating this sort of relationship on their own over, at best, 65 years or so, it says something about the expectations fundamentalists have for women. (Alternately, if Andelin is demanding that women childishly stamp their feet (but never stomp!) for all eternity, her vision is even more terrifying than we thought).

    As a side note, my mother went through a Mormon phase before hitting fundamentalism hard (turns out both religions have strong appeal for a screwed up kid from a dire home). She made me read Andelin, and I am afraid quite a lot of it seeped in since I sometimes become uncomfortably aware that I am shifting my anger or frustration to make it more palatable and cute. But she took a marker and blacked out all the instances of the word “celestial” on grounds that it was too Mormon.

  • Okay, citing Victor Hugo as an example was pretty rich. Made my day to read that.

  • anon

    I do experience love very, very strongly. It was very embarrassing when I fell in love to realize I was turning into a cliche from a Gothic novel… seriously, I fell in love at first sight, had trouble eating and sleeping, alternated between highs and lows pretty rapidly, thought about him ALL the time, and in general felt pretty worried about my mental health. We’ve been together for a long time now, and things have settled down somewhat, but it was extremely odd to realize I was not the calm, sensible person I had thought I was. I thought I would grow into love slowly and instead it really felt like being struck by lightning then tumbled in a whirlpool.

    I am extremely, extremely glad that my love is so much calmer than I am. I am also glad that he turned out to be a good person, because for a long time there he could have gotten way too much power over me. I don’t know why she wants to teach women a method that will supposedly inflict this sort of obsession on their men. It can be fun to read about, but when it happens to you and upsets your entire life and conception of yourself, it involves a lot of suffering, even when the other person is wonderful and likes you back.

    If you do cause that sort of emotion in someone on purpose, you may be exacerbating a weakness in their mental health, which could lead to very dark places. If you try to cause that intensity but it doesn’t happen, you would end up feeling really, really inferior, since it’s “supposed” to happen.

    • Exactly! It’s also incredibly arrogant to think that her way of being in love is the absolute best way for every single last person on the planet.

    • wayofcats

      ~If you try to cause that intensity but it doesn’t happen, you would end up feeling really, really inferior, since it’s “supposed” to happen.~

      Yes, I see this is another instance where women are promised control over their lives, only to hold out an impossible goal that keeps them busy blaming themselves.

  • frasersherman

    I like your description of your marriage. There’s a lot of it I recognize in mine.
    I remember reading The Total Woman in the 1970s which had much the same message as this one, but not so overtly religious.

  • Liz

    I saw a billboard today of Liev Schreiber, wolverine’s brother, glowering down at the drivers on hwy 94 all sexy like… and then immediately thought of what it would be like to be MARRIED to the man (from the movie) behind that face… and I shivered. I’ve no idea what he’s like as a real life person, but I don’t think I COULD be married to someone that was passionately obsessed with me – for the only real fights I’ve ever had with my husband of 27 years were when he became overly focused on me and wanting to help me become a “better” person.

    That’s not his JOB. That’s MINE with the enabling and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to become obedient to the person of Christ, to become the woman HE is pleased with and THAT will mostly likely make me a good wife but that isn’t my GOAL for that would turn my marriage into an IDOL.

    I have a dear friend who is married to someone who either cannot or WILL not see a MAJOR GLARING FLAW in his character, yet she is so committed to the marriage that she enables him with her grieving silence… and it breaks my heart. For maybe it is the dissolution of the marriage or the real threat of it that might help him see the forest instead of the trees.

  • Jinx

    Late comment, but I have to say something. Her definition of love is dangerous. I have a friend who has been with one abusive man after another. She thinks it’s not love if he’s not obsessed with her. She’s broken up with two nice guys because they didn’t act that way. It’s the same every time. The obsessed guys seem super sweet because they call her to see how she is 12 times a day. Then they become super controlling and call her 12 times a day to see where she is and who she’s with.