While it is true that the French did not invent the concept of romance, they did create many romantic ideals, which have influenced Western concepts for over nine-hundred years. The history of these concepts is at once fascinating and enlightening.
The idea of courtly love does claim origin in eleventh-century France. At this time, it found a voice in poems and songs written by troubadours. These poets were the first to compose and perform in local vernacular language as opposed to the more traditional Greek and Latin. The ideas expressed by the troubadours centered on chivalry and the stages of courtly love. Courtly love was not marital love, but took place outside of marriage, typically between a lady of high social standing and an admirer. This contributed to the notion that true love came from an irrational and passionate attraction that did not work within the confines of marriage.
STAGES OF COURTLY LOVE
• Attraction to a lady
• Adoration of the lady
• Declaration of fervent affection
• Honorable rebuff by the lady
• Rekindled pursuing of the lady with vows of integrity and undying fidelity
• Laments of impending death from unfulfilled yearning
• Heroic actions designed to earn the lady’s affection
• Consummation of the clandestine passion
• Endless escapades and schemes avoiding discovery
The stages typically followed this order, but love leaves room for improvisation. The troubadours were the first poets in the Western world to view love between a man and a woman as a worthy topic of composition. Some historians claim that the poems had no basis in reality, but many assert the troubadours were composing based on first-hand knowledge.
The self-gratifying notion of gallantry gradually displaced the long-suffering and heart-wrenching structure of courtly love. Where courtly love was rooted in deep devotion, gallantry had its roots in hedonistic gratification and seduction. Gallants had multiple relations taking place at the same time. There was no notion of one beloved recipient of love. Gallantry united those who responded to desires with no concern for love. By the seventeenth century, Gallantry digressed to an unsavory form of successive seduction and began to fall out of favor.
Amour-Passion rose as a middle ground between serial seduction and sincere sentimentality. It was a fusion of matters of passion and matters of love. Up to this point, culturally these were decidedly separate entities. By blending the two, the French created a way of uniting fidelity and passion. The same intense seduction and flirtation take place, but they focus on one’s beloved. In the eighteenth- century the ability to love is closely tied to the idea of worth. Amorous feelings showed a person’s true character. Jean-Jacques Rousseau galvanized this idea when his writings encouraged lovers to freely and openly express deep emotions every chance they could.
Nineteenth Century through Today
In French literature, there are multitudes of types and expressions of love. Just a few examples of the various themes include:
• Narcissistic/Neurotic love where the lover centers on himself/herself instead of the beloved
• The paradigm of French the fostering of young men’s appreciation for, and sexual desire for, older women
• Acceptance of infidelity
As recently as the late nineteenth century, French literature promoted the assumption that true love did not exist with a spouse. Ideas have evolved through the years, monogamy became the norm, and some of the melodramatic expressions of love and passion have subsided. It seems the French inclination to eroticize everything will endure and this continues to fascinate the rest of the world.