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“On Love”, “Tale of Genji”, “The Lais of Marie de France”: Comparison Essay

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Updated: Nov 1st, 2021

Love can be portrayed in many ways, ranging from innocent and non-sexual to non-innocent and sexual. Deception may or may not be employed, while death and other negative aspects may likely also be the results of love. All of these elements remain similar to some degree across ages and across the various portrayals of them, while the only thing which commonly changes is the way the characters choose to interact with each other in a loving way. Time, in the general sense, seems to have no impact whatsoever on the various ways in which people choose to interact with each other in a loving manner. The same level of innocent, non-innocent, and average forms of love seem to have similar levels across ages, even in spite of the varying societal norms which are in place in these times. The works studied each portrays some aspect of love, and while many of these aspects are different in the stories, both the main underlying principles with regards to love seem to be the same while the time era and state of society apparently have little to no influence on these, with perhaps the exception of the levels of deception and secrecy. All the works studied portray a timeless element of love, and as a whole, they show the full spectrum of the elements of love.

In de Botton’s story, love is a major theme mentioned in detail and throughout the story, while the young author is constantly kept busy by the emotion. The basic story is one of an affair, which obviously deals directly with love, as the affair is the majority of the plot. The narrator gives their first-person account of the process of falling in love with another character in the story, as well as a step-by-step description of the feelings of being in love and eventually falling out of it. The chapters in the story are designed so that each individual segment is a unique piece of information regarding some account of the love affair with the character of Chloe, ranging from detailed and specific information to general views on the subject. Many categories that can be related to love are discussed overall, while for some reason particular attention is paid to the more plain and boring elements and circumstances. “We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults” (DeBotton 15) is an example of such a pondering by one of the characters.

The story is even more unique in that the characters are not portrayed as what is commonly considered to be appealing as far as with physical nature or other traits people commonly associate with love, however they are used to describe the full account of the love as it is generally known. Even though the characters are not appealing and the elements of love typically mentioned are not of the commonly more interesting variety, the account is written in such a way that it still draws a level of interest and curiosity as to what will occur next. The characters go to a great extent in considering love in general, as is evident with “Albert Camus suggested that we fall in love with people because, from the outside, they look so whole, physically whole and emotionally “together.” (DeBotton p.48). Perhaps this is best revealed in “The more familiar two people become, the more the language they speak together departs from that of the ordinary, dictionary-defined discourse. Familiarity creates a new language, an in-house language of intimacy that carries a reference to the story the two lovers are weaving together and that cannot be readily understood by others.” (de Botton). As the story deals with the entire process of love rather than some bits and pieces of scenarios that take place as other stories commonly do, we can see this directly in the story, and it is unique. Overall, while this story does not give a great deal of consideration to the aspects of love as they actually occur between two characters, it does consider a lot of such elements in the thoughts and random musings of the characters. In this sense, the book is rather well-rounded in regards to considering a variety of elements.

The Genji story concerns many love affairs, and these are constantly changing to some degree while regarding some forbidden aspects as well. Genji’s initial love is for a stepmom but eventually, this person is loved in a more physical manner. The love is banned between them and although it is socially not acceptable the love continues anyway. Genji becomes upset that love is not allowed and eventually runs into conflict with two women who are loved to some degree by him. While Genji personally seems to believe that he is capable of being monogamous, it is apparent that he also realizes that the conditions for this to be true are so idealized that they will never happen. He does consider this activity from time to time as can be seen in the passage “If you can only be so, how can I do otherwise than love you? My position also may in time be improved, and then we may enjoy greater happiness!” This idealization ultimately increases while many more trivial love affairs although these techniques do not constitute love on many levels because they are ultimately less than satisfying. While Genji has great control over his actions and reactions to all his relationships, there seem to be some regard to the powerlessness in all of what he does, as is suggested in “There must have been some divine mystery that predetermined the course of their love,” said they, “for in matters in which she is concerned he is powerless.” (Shikibu p.26)

The reasons for this lack of satisfaction are actually many, sometimes because he is not allowed to have his way, sometimes because something happens to the woman and she becomes unavailable, and sometimes because his interests fade or is lost completely due to the personal and mental traits of the woman. His difficulty with the general concept and communication with another can be seen in the passage “If I say I love you, you might not believe me; and yet, indeed, it is so. Do think of me! True, we are not yet quite free, and perhaps I might not be able.” (Shikibu p.70) Genji overall has terrible luck both with his interest blossoming fully into love as well as being presented with a decent opportunity for working circumstances for this to take place. Genji sometimes loses his composure and is tempted to do things he would not have normally done, such as rape. In this, we can see that Genji has lost some of his typical passion for love as his passions grow in a direction that does not involve the level of care normally associated with the emotion of love. He would soon father a child with the emperor’s lady, while the secret aspects of his love life would increase since everyone would think the child is the emperor’s rather than his.

The secret would be kept as the child grew into adulthood, while Genji would have another child with his wife. Not long after Genji’s wife would perish, leaving him without obligations or as much of a necessity for secrecy in that sense. While he did not apparently love his wife enough to be faithful to her in life, Genji did fully miss her in death as much as someone who had lost a loved one would. He does find another love soon and marries again. Genji’s secrets in love would soon be exposed, as the first of this was with an emperor’s mistress. There is no jealousy in this love and while the love is not regarded enough to be avenged for breaking, as this was a mistress and not a wife, social obligations practically force the emperor to punish him regardless. Genji would justify this kind of thinking for this kind of relationship with “Nevertheless, my love to your mistress was singularly deep; too deep, perhaps, to the last long. Do tell me now all you know about her;” (Shikibu p.92)

Genji’s ways do not cease or slow despite exposed secrets and other repercussions, and his passion for love is revealed in yet another affair with the daughter of a rich traveler. It is not until Genji is a middle-aged man that his love life begins to go downhill. He would find he needs more closure in his actions, as can be seen with “Whose love you may be I know not, But I’ll not stand outside your cot,” and was going away, when he suddenly thought, “This is too abrupt!” (Shikibu p. 143). Although he marries once again, his emotions are not as wrapped up as they once were and his level of satisfaction and passion also decrease. “Where my lost love may dwell unseen, Looks gloomy now to this sad eye That looks with tears on what has been” (Shikibu p. 156) is an example of his views towards the end of the story. While the character of this setting was not influenced by norms or the opinions of others, he was affected by his own experiences by the end of the story and thus had been touched by love, though from a variety of unique circumstances rather than any specific generalized experience.

The Lais of Marie de France deals with love in a less organized way, mostly because the tales are split across multiple sections rather than being a sole story. Courtship is more evident in this story than in others, and thus love is more idolized while lust is not as much of a factor. The general idealization of love is shown in an earlier tale with “He knew full well that, whatever the reason for her being on the ship, she was of a noble lineage, and he conceived a love for her greater than for any” (Marie p.52). Love is portrayed in the actions of the main characters in an exciting manner and celebrated to a serious degree. The book does contain aspects of love not also being as well-received as it is offered, as can be seen, “You may have all my love: just tell me what you desire! I grant you my love and you should be glad to have me.’ ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘leave me be!” (Marie p.76) while a character is clearly not idealized the concept of the two of them together as the other is. Love is, as such, contrasted with the negative consequences that can result as well. Some of the stories take on these negative consequences in such a way that they serve as an effective warning about the problems that love can ultimately bring. The lack of logical thinking is also evident in love in this book in some circumstances as can be seen with “I only spoke of it yesterday and now already I am begging him for his love. I think he may blame me, but if he is courtly, he will be grateful.” (Marie p. 116) Overall, while only the more conceptual and idealized concepts are portrayed here, the book gives a solid account of very common themes which have been experienced since before its time and are continued to be


Botton, Alain, On Love, Published by Grove Atlantic Press, 2006.

Murasaki Shikibu and Kencho Suematsu, Tale of Genji, Tuttle Publishing, 2006.

Marie UK, Glyn S. Burgess, Keith Busby, The lais of Marie de France, Penguin Classics, 1999.

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