What the Editors Are Reading

I have a long-standing habit of picking up books from secondhand shops that I have no intention of reading in the immediate or even foreseeable future, and pulling them off the shelf according to whim, sometimes years later.  One such title is Love and the English, by Nina Epton, which I came across almost by accident in my library the other day.

Epton wrote the book following the success of her previously published Love and the French, both of which follow in the long Western tradition of amatory works that includes Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, Andreas Cappelanus’ De amore, and Marsilio Ficino’s book by the same title.  Love and the English is a wonderful book, the product of immense research whose scholarship is enlivened by deep social and psychological insight and supported by stylish literary prose.  The author sums up her findings, which range from the pre-Norman, Anglo-Saxon period to the middle of the 20th century (the American edition was published in 1960), by observing that, unlike the gallants south of the English Channel, “where men have polished the art of conquest as an end in itself,” Englishmen, having decided that “passion per se does not work,” have lodged love firmly in the conjugal sphere.  “On another level, . . . ” she says,

the general lack of a feminine, aesthetic streak in the...

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