The Well-Beloved by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After watching Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I decided I’d have to read more by the author Thomas Hardy. What truly impressed me was Hardy’s ability to create such interesting characters and to explore human nature, especially within the confines of the social mores and expectations of Victorian British society. Interestingly, rather than focusing on the wealthy of the period, he focuses on the more common rural class. I love how he gently but harshly criticizes the expectations of Victorian society by placing his characters in unpleasant situations caused by these expectations.
One small bit that I found interesting along these lines is that a young man invites his fiance to a specific place for the island’s traditional consummation of the engagement. However, she leaves him a note saying that, because of her “modern ideas”, she has decided not to meet him because she’d rather save her virginity for marriage. Upon this moment, the rest of the young man’s life hinges. But I found it interesting that some of the “modern” ideas of Victorian times were a turn toward a more conservative view of premarital sex. And Thomas Hardy spins the results of this one “modern idea” to an extreme that spans 40 years.
I love that this book’s full title is The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament. Within, the author explores of the extremes of a certain type of personality through his character Jocelyn. Jocelyn is prone to falling in and out of love constantly. However, nearly as soon as the person he’s fallen in love with takes interest in him, he falls out of love with them and in love with someone else. Jocelyn’s excuse for this phenomenon is that he’s only ever been in love with one entity (which he calls his “well-beloved”), but this entity flits from person to person. He hopes that one day this entity will fall on one person and stay there. How interesting the stories we tell ourselves to excuse ourselves from our actions.
I have a hard time believing Jocelyn’s prognosis of being in “love” with all these women. After all, he often loves them before he even really gets to know them or even meets them. I’d go only as far as to believe that he was addicted to feeling of yearning after someone. And I’d call that state “having a crush” rather than “being in love”. But I well know that feeling. One of my untold secrets is that, until I was in my late 20s, I always had to have a crush on someone, even if I was in a relationship with someone else. It was far more exciting to want and obsess over someone than to actually have them. I think it was when I realized I was addicted to this feeling that I finally was able to shed it. But I didn’t go to the extreme of being a serial heart-breaker like Jocelyn.
Being a scientifically-minded person, I had to research the chemical stages of attraction, love, and relationships after reading of this person who was unable to stay in love.
1. LUST — caused by TESTOSTERONE (plays a major role in the sex drive of both men and women) and OESTROGEN
2. ATTRACTION — PHEROMONES (smell) can play a role here as well as APPEARANCE which can be a subconscious way of determining genetic compatibility
3. INITIAL GIDDINESS — caused by DOPAMINE (a pleasure chemical) which produces a feeling of bliss, euphoria, craving, and addiction. This neurochemical appears to be associated with mate selection.
4. EXCITEMENT AND FOCUS — caused by NOREPINEPHRINE (similar to adrenaline) which results in a racing heart, excitement, heightened attention, short-term memory, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, and goal-oriented behavior.
5. ELATION — caused by PHENYLETHYLAMINE (the product of mixing dopamine with norepinephrine) which produces elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite, and focused attention.
6. OBSESSING OVER NEW PARTNER — caused by lower levels of SEROTONIN
7. BONDING — caused by OXYTOCIN (released as a result of physical touch and at sexual climax) produces feelings of satisfaction and attachment
8. MONOGAMY — caused by VASOPRESSIN (antidiuretic hormone) continues to play a role in attachment
9. LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS — assisted by ENDORPHINS (the body’s natural pain killers released during sex and physical contact) which produce a general sense of well-being including feeling soothed, peaceful, and secure.
So I’m going to say that it was a sort of chemical addiction that Jocelyn and I had: an addiction to dopamine, norepinephine, and phenylethylamine . Unfortunately, Jocelyn stays addicted to these chemicals from his 20s through his 60s. But he never stays in love because he never allows himself to get to the point of developing any type of bond or long-term relationship. He’s no longer interested once the pursuit has ended.
Something else interesting about Jocelyn’s love addictions is that he’s attracted to the same genetic mix over and over again. There’s been research done that says that we are attracted most to those who are the best genetic matches to us. Our pheromonal attraction supposedly leads us to those who are the best genetic matches for our immune systems. There has been research showing that there is often a correlation between couples and their lung volumes, middle finger and ear lobe lengths, overall ear size, neck & wrist circumferences, and metabolic rates. Supposedly for the sake of genetic evolutionary purposes, we are attracted to people who look like our parents or who look like us. According to this, then, there’s a reason couples often look alike. They don’t look alike because they’ve been together so long; instead, they’ve been together so long because they look alike. So it would make sense that, if the attraction is a genetic one, that you’d easily find yourself attracted to several someones from the same genetic pool. That same something that attracted you to the first person would attract you again on a base level.
Anyhow, Hardy didn’t set out to write about the genetics and chemistry of love, but his personality sketch of Jocelyn nods in such a direction. It makes you wonder how a person could continue on such a loathsome path for so long and whether there’s ever a chance of redemption for them. Or are they cursed for a lifetime because of the way they threw away “love” so easily in their youth? Do the decisions that we make early in our lives follow us throughout a lifetime? Can we change? There are so many questions to ponder from a simple character sketch.
While not as complex and wrenching as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, this work will still keep me reading more works by Thomas Hardy. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very Thomas Hardy year for me. This is an author with whom I would love to have been a contemporary of and with whom I would have liked to have been able to strike up a philosophical correspondence. While I’m not generally a fan of realist authors, this one strikes a mental chord with me. I’m rounding up to 4 stars from 3.5 and plan to read everything of his I can get my hands on.
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A few pop sources on the science and chemistry of love and attraction: