“The Torments of Love” is a fascinating trilogy that explains the nature of love and how vain it can be. It is the story of a young woman Helisenne who was married at the tender age of 11 years, to a much older man. Initially they shared a perfect marriage worth coveting. However, this was only because of Helisenne’s innocence who was both young and naïve at the time.
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She is portrayed as a chaste and noble lady who is set to be the model wife, respectful and admired by all. However, with the exposure to new environment she becomes wise in the ways of love. Such exposure leads to an adulterous affair with Guenelic, a younger male of seemingly noble origin.
The flight to fantasy land reveals the vanity of love brought about by much suffering such that she ends up regretting existence and wishes that her creator would not have let her live beyond her childhood. In the book, De Crenne highlights the two types of love: lascivious love; illicit vain and full of suffering; and matrimonial love noble; chaste and worthwhile. This story therefore is an expression of how the power of lascivious loves over matrimonial, how vain it can be and why people should pursue more worth while ventures.
Crenne views marriage as a very sacred and holy institution held in deep reverence by those in it (8). Chastity is the rock under which perfect marriages are built on.
A married person has to be both chaste in heart as well as in character: the things that a married person does must reflect a chaste spirit from within. As such a married person especially a woman has to avoid all the trappings of the search for pleasure. With regard to pleasure, Crenne says that it can be found in abundance within marriage and as such, a person has no reason to go searching for it outside the marriage (8).
Furthermore a married person holds a very important position in the society and as such has to uphold dignity so as to retain that position (9). Married women are subject to public scrutiny by society and are much more liable to blame and condemnation should they commit any form of misdemeanor such as having affairs with other men.
Therefore Crenne sees women as the carriers of dignity not only in marriage but also in the society (9). Men on their part have a free ticket and are allowed to have extra marital affairs without any blame; the kings, princes and such other men of noble background, without criticism from the society, publicly express their affection for Helisenne, despite knowing that she is married.
It is Helisenne who is watched carefully by the society to see if she will fall for the traps set by such men (10). This is an expression of how women are discriminated in the society. Furthermore a chaste wife upholds not only her dignity but also that of her husband (10).
It takes great fortune to have great marriage; for it would not be attributed to anything other than fortune for a person to marry a total stranger. Marrying a total stranger and finding that they are ‘agreeable” is just a matter of fortune (8). Helisenne was married to a stranger soon after she turned 11.
She was lucky to have found an adorable husband (8). Such occurrence can thus be attributed to nothing but luck. The irony of such fortune is that it can turn out to be a misfortune. At such an early age one is bound by the innocence and naiveté of the new found love. The misfortune is compounded by the societal norms and beliefs such as choosing one’s marriage partner, rather than being let to choose whom one loves. This is the beginning of the misfortune of love.
Marriage founded on such innocence and naiveté is full of love and pleasure, inexplicable beyond words. The marriage partners in such a case find it easy to love and reciprocate love (8). Such a marriage lacks nothing and whatever little there lacks a person is motivated to persevere for the sake of love; Helisenne persevered for three years with poor health as a result of her early marriage but went through the suffering gladly in the name of love (8).
Furthermore due to the innocence of such a young couple the marriage is full of “delight and amusement pleasure” (10). Perfect marriage survives on reason and logic. Therefore, a married person should let reason (chastity) prevail over bodily desires (adultery) so as to maintain marriage (10).
The partners find a lot of pleasure in each other’s company and support. The couples find it easier to do things together thus; “together when the desired day came, we went to the said city to increase (our) chances of winning the court case” (9, 10). This is in reference to Helisenne’s great journey to a new city to fight for their land. Such is the honor of a marriage of young and innocent people. It has no blemish (10).
However such a marriage lives as long as the couple remains locked up in their own world because sooner or later nature may call upon a person to move from one place to another.
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Such a change of scene presents one with the opportunity to discover new things, which includes new people. Such discovery exposes the young, naïve and unnatural love to new challenges. This exposure may lead one to find other people with whom one may fall in love with, naturally. This new love is beyond comprehension and can only be compared to madness (73).
When this occurs it is the beginning of an adulterous affair. Such affairs are full of passion and uncontrollable craving for insatiable pleasure. Initially a person may make the best efforts to fight and maintain the chastity but eventually and slowly will succumb to the unimaginable urge to be with the new found love. Furthermore such an adulterous affair starts as an innocent physical attraction that grows with time (10).
Such illicit love is held in great secret. It is like a snare and once it captures its victims it makes them totally helpless and only depend on it for survival (16). Such love can be arrested before it grows beyond control by reducing the proximity between the two lovers (10, 73). This means that physical distance and the frequency of contact are what motivate this love to grow stronger and stronger. Moreover, the secrecy in which it is ducted only adds more fuel to the fire.
Crenne continues to explain the there are two types of love: lascivious (adulterous affair) love and chaste (matrimonial) love (10). Lascivious love is illicit, full of vain and hope as the married person always harbors unending fantasies of being with their secret lover. Such fantasies only lead to physical, psychological and even spiritual turmoil (201).
What is more surprising is the fact that the individual who finds illicit affection to a secret lover cannot hide that love for long as the love is too strong that it causes a person to change their general mannerism. The behavior change betrays one’s inner feeling.
Married people who find themselves in illicit affairs may want to fight the urge and keep it secret until the day they die, but slowly it starts to consume them such that they drop their guard and start defending such an adulterous affair. The pillars that kept a person chaste soon start to carve in under pressure and as such unreason slowly sets in. This is the genesis of breaking up of a marriage that initially seemed immune to such.
As a result of the unreason of lascivious love a person in love can defend the infirmities of those they love to justify the love. Reason no longer prevails. Instead reason takes a new meaning such that it is only what is done in the name of love that seems reasonable. So unreasonable is the new craving for love that even respect for God slowly wanes. Even such places of worship as temples are converted into places of opportunity to practice such infirmities (Disse12).
A person cannot love two people especially if one of them was a person for whom one was forced to love. Surprisingly though, love can be transferred from one person to another thus; “the love (that Helisenne) felt for her husband now belonged to her secret lover” (13). Such illicitly attained love can only be maintained through illicit means. The person who previously espoused the virtues of honesty and integrity acquires new tastes: to cheat, to lie, to betray and to pretend so as to maintain the new love.
This is out of the anxiety created by the knowledge that something that is easily obtained is easily devalued. For there to be any appreciation of love one has to persevere through great odds and suffer great consequences so as to appreciate that priced possession (25). Such is the controlling nature of lascivious love. Such love is also full of doubts worries about its present and future existence (66).
Love, whether chaste or illicit, is such a powerful force in life that it is the whole essence that motivates people to continue living. It is what adds meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. It is so important that when it is denied to a person, the need to live dies. People can spend their entire lifetimes looking for love, journey to great countries, engage in war and go through the great odds in search of it (77).
Helisenne’s husband lived for the love of his wife, going to such great lengths as to threaten to kill her secret lover, as well as lock her up in effort to separate her from illicit lover. After realizing that Helisenne had been locked up Guenelic, her secret lover, out of his love for her sets out to search for her, the result of which is the journeys through out the world in search of there Helisenne had been locked up by her husband.
Helisenne the former chaste, noble and faithful wife, upon discovering the attraction of secret love spends her entire life searching for her secret love. Crenne adds that even some of the most important personalities such as Socrates were also victims of this domineering phenomenon (93, 94).
The effort that is put to seek love is so great that one would expect a better life after such great love is found. However the opposite is true. Such love is just vain. It leads to nothing. After all the suffering and torment a person goes through such love does not lead to freedom. People who commit their lives in pursuit of this kind of life and love are exposing themselves to suffering anguish and possibly death; death being the ultimate end of the pursuit of such desires (201-214).
Because of the vanity of such love Crenne advices ladies of nobility to look for something much more valuable to do other than search for love that would lead them nowhere thus; “ exhorting all fair ladies to love sparingly well, chastely and avoid all manner of vain and unchaste love” (7).
It is better to be chaste, dignified, and to avoid the pursuit of the pleasures of love. Chaste love is fulfilling. However, the search for illicit pleasures of love is the real cause of much suffering and affliction. Such affliction makes one not only loose their status in the society but also their life. This it is more important to commit ones life in pursuit of other noble course other than love.
De Crenne, Halisenne. The Torments of Love, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 1996. Print
Disse, Dorothy. Helisenne de Crenne /Marguerite de Briet (d. aft.1552). Other Women Voices. 2011. Web.