Werner and Lee present a thoughtful and expansive consideration of love throughout the ages as depicted in various works of literature.
Love and Happiness: Eros According to Dante, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the Reverend Al Green is influenced by the Christian tradition and a Christian understanding of love, by defining terms early into categories of eros, philia, and agape. It is essentially a comparative-literature examination on the theme of love in which each section looks at a particular work and how the search for love inspired it and is investigated within. The duo behind the book is Craig Werner, a teacher of literature, music, and cultural history, and Rhonda Mawhood Lee, an Episcopal priest. The writing style is friendly and wise, drawing upon personal experiences of both authors in engaging with the bigger questions of the text and the artworks investigated.
Werner and Lee skillfully pull out threads of thought from various works. In the section on Dante, they move systematically through the Divine Comedy to show a notion of love that demonstrates Dante’s concerted effort to change the desirous nature of erotic love into something more divine: “For Dante, any lasting, valuable change is a matter of love. We should love ourselves, of course, but love is an inherently communal enterprise.” They next select a handful of Shakespeare’s plays to demonstrate ways in which eros in particular is twisted and flawed, and leads to tragic ends. The authors then analyze several of Jane Austen’s better-known books to show the subtlety and depth at play in characters who seek love in a society that subjugates them so much as to keep their choices limited. Finally, the authors turn their attention to singer-songwriter Al Green, parsing out not only the singer’s life and conversion as related in his autobiography, but also the conception of love put forth in his lyrics, moving through a list of Green’s songs and analyzing the lyrics.
The strength of Love and Happiness lies in its deep analysis of the cogent ideas teased out of the works presented in the book. This makes the book as a whole richer and more valuable.
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