If I had filled out the Top Ten Influences meme that was floating around St. Blog's a month or two ago, one of my influences would have been C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves. It's one of my favorite books and has shaped my thinking on love and friendship ever since I first read it at the impressionable age of 17. Lewis's clear prose and delightful style, along with his masterful analysis of both human and divine love, made a deep impression on me then. He so perfectly enunciated all my half-formed ideas about friendship that The Four Loves is doubtless a major reason why Darwin and I started dating a week and a half after we sat up until 3 am on the night we met (at a freshman mixer, believe it or not), talking about all our common interests.
As one of the great sorrows of my life is that Darwin had never read this book that was so pivotal in my intellectual formation, I recently began reading The Four Loves to him in the evenings. Lewis is eminently suited for reading aloud: he's witty, concise, and elegant. We just finished his chapter on Affection, which contains the marvelous example of the recently-deceased Mrs. Fidget as an example of natural Affection gone bad.
The Four Loves is about the four types of love as described by the Greek philosophers: affection (storge), friendship (philia), erotic love (eros), and charity (agape). In analyzing each type of love Lewis examines the purely human aspects of the loves, good and bad, and the various ways that merely human love can turn bad without the guiding influence of divine love (hence the bitter, manipulative Mrs. Fidget). I've always loved the parts where Lewis talks about the natural loves deteriorating because his examples are so recognizable. Who doesn't know a family where one or both of the parents have taken their affection for the children so far as to become controlling and over-protective? Or where one member's natural desire for affection becomes so demanding and overwhelming as to almost isolate them from the rest of the family? Or the sort of resentful character for whom any display of love is just not enough or too little too late?
As Lewis points out, he has to make up examples only because he and the reader don't move in the same circles; it's all too easy to find countless examples of such behavior from among one's own family and acquaintances.
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