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Portrait of A Marriage

Well, I'm weary. Just finished Portrait of A Marriage, because I promised my shrink I'd return it back to her tomorrow. It's an unbelievably brilliant autobiography of a marriage. I'm not a reader of letters or journals, don't quite fancy them, but the combination of letters and journals here, with the subject matter at hand, is riveting. What is this book about? Other than the obvious, Portrait revolves around the love life of Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson. In today's terms, I would assume them both to be very much bi. They were a roaming, fiercely loyal and loving couple, who respected each other enough to understand they'd need to pursue same-sex physical relationships outside the marriage to make their marriage succeed. It's not shocking, actually written with humor and good sense, and the imagery often alludes to that quirk I love in early 20th century English literature. It can be as good as a consumptive tirade on Spain, or as tragic as "a jellyfish on cocaine."

The study of the main characters alone is amazing, not because they are studied (the book is narrated by their son, interspersed with letters, diaries and Vita's autobiography), but because the book is set in such a way the reader is allowed to draw his/her own conclusions. The different opinions and perspectives are given, with very individual voices, all set in this indignant joy for delicacy and a mockery of it. To be blunt, it's that English madness I like so much in writing again. That almost reprehensible swooning over nice views and class-differences (helps that the characters of this book are all uppity). But the book's strength is its irony, because the protagonists are so unlike the class they claim to, and rebel with a sort of bohemian innocence about love and their sexual identities. There are times the work comes swoopingly close to being a reasoning of gay rights and the rights to them, a very obscure undercurrent, but it's there. Which might actually hold water, except it seems at least the main voice, Vita's, didn't even realize there was such a thing as homosexuality until rather late in life.

Very lightly, I'd say this book reaffirms my own belief that marriages are predominantly contracts and political results, for the true understanding, reasoning, reflection and care that might give rise to a real bond between people is not subject to contractual hire. It also takes it a few steps further up, putting reason into blind spots I'd never been able to. For example, I've never dared claim that marriages in and of themselves are unecessary, because some folks do like that bondage, and what works for them is not for me to speculate. But saying that marriages might be necessary is a chink to be exploited while debating, for, if marriages do have a purpose, then certainly, to the emotive eye of a conservative, one's minority opinion should conform to the majority's? Potrait makes the furthered argument of marriages being unecessary based on politics, foreplay love and frollicking romanticism, but marriage can be made an option for friends of the deepest understanding and mutual respect. Marriage, therefore, would be a ceremony to seal a friendship, rather than the flaunting of one.

Under Portrait also, the definition of love is questioned. It's divided between passionate love and deep love, based on the rather unusual understanding Vita and Harold had. For them, passionate loves were the affairs and people they pursued to satisfy the need for a chase, for romance. Deep love was what they shared, their mutual respect, and the rock solid knowledge they'd never leave each other no matter where, who with and how far they wandered. I find this idea inspiring and educational. I would venture so far as noble, but the cruelties that this sort of relationship brings could only work for very certain kinds of characters, chiefly that they are tolerant ones (or obtusely loyal).

Anyway, the inspiration I draw from this has given me very interesting brain fodder. Which might or might not appear here soon, you just never know. Also of note, Vita's poems in that book were lovely, I'd love to read more of them. If I can just find a way to hunt them down here, this would make for another fine read.

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