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 Englishman has inclined him to bawdiness, romps and a lack of sensitivity in his approach to love-making—this has caused a corresponding coarsening of the Englishwoman. . . . In general, I think it is fair to say that the English lover (and his partner) could do with a little more finesse, with more panache, and with a great deal more fluency.
This charming, fascinating, and rather lengthy book (390 pages with a very tight interior design) lends itself readily to casual browsing, as well as to reading straight through, from cover to cover.
—Chilton Williamson, Jr.
Jack Finney is best remembered (to the extent that he is remembered at all) as the author of The Body Snatchers, the 1955 novel on which Don Siegel’s 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers was based. But his best-selling novel was another work of science fiction, Time and Again (1970), a delightful tale of time travel and romance that has seen a well-deserved resurgence after Stephen King credited it as the inspiration for his own time-travel romance, 11/22/63.
There is much to admire about Time and Again, especially Finney’s decision to rely on neither technology nor magic to transport his protagonist, Simon Morley, 88 years in the past, to the New York City of 1882. Instead, Si Morley relies on the power of his imagination to make the past live once again, which (to this reader at least) gives the novel a sort of “meta” quality. What Si does in the course of living the story is what Finney had to do in writing it, and what any historical novelist (or, for that matter, historian) must do in order to make another time come alive for his readers. Other ages do continue to exist, and we can visit them, so long as we are willing to make the imaginative effort.
There is the rub. Si travels to the past as part of a government project, and other recruits are less successful—a subtle commentary, perhaps, by Finney on the lack of imagination of the men and women of 1970. Today, of course, we live entirely in the present; the imaginative effort it would take to immerse ourselves in another time is too much to ask of most of our contemporaries. Which, I suspect Jack Finney would say, explains so much about modern life—and especially modern politics.
—Scott P. Richert