Divergent & Prejudice

Romance is dead if modern literature has anything to say about it.

Love is arguably the greatest theme in all of western literature. It gives us Dante’s affection for Beatrice, Agnes Wickfield’s guiding influence on David Copperfield, the angsty love story of Romeo and Juliet, or even the bitter parting of Dido and Aeneas. Where there is love and emotion, there is likely to be a story worth telling.

These two passages taken from Jane Austen and modern-day author Veronica Roth illustrate exactly what modern fiction lacks:

“As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people’s happiness were in his guardianship!—how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to bestow!—how much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“His eyes hold mine, and as the silent seconds pass, he looks less and less stern. I hear my heartbeat. I have been looking at him too long, but then, he has been looking back, and I feel like we are both trying to say something the other can’t hear, though I could be imagining it . Too long – and now, even longer, my heart even louder, his tranquil eyes swallowing me whole.”

– Veronica Roth, Divergent

Elizabeth Bennet changes her opinion of Mr. Darcy dramatically through the course of the story. She first considers him arrogant and insulting, but later sees him as kind and personable. In both cases, her judgment involves significant depth of feeling. Veronica Roth’s lead character Tris doesn’t factor in anything close to Elizabeth’s considerations. Her attraction is mainly physical, and the phrase “though I could be imagining it” undercuts any certainty that such a level of character like Mr. Darcy’s even exists. Allan Bloom explains that “students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one.”

If love and literature are to survive our shallow time and the objectifying influences of Snapchat, Tinder, and cheap stream-of-consciousness novels, it will require a return to cultivating the soul. That may sound lofty, but all it takes is the belief that virtue exists, that kindness matters, and that the opinion of trusted friends and community plays a vital role in discovering true love.


Banner Image: ukgardenphotosCreative Commons License, 2016.

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