Wednesday, September 04, 2013

"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

I mentioned in a previous post that I attended two weddings this past summer. At one of these – the wedding of my friends Liana and Curtis – I had the honor of serving as the officiant. At both weddings I was moved by the vows that were exchanged. At my friends Bob and John's wedding John sang his vows to Bob. It was incredibly beautiful and moving. Experiencing these weddings, and in particular the vows spoken, has made me reflect upon both the meaning of marriage and what it is I would like to say to my beloved at our wedding (an event which, as I note here, I envision taking place within the tidal zone of a beach!)

As regular readers would know, I've recently been sharing excerpts from Winston Graham's acclaimed Poldark books, a series of twelve historical fiction novels that I'm in the process of reading (actually re-reading) back-to-back. It just so happens that in the novel I completed about a month ago there's a declaration made by one of the characters to another that, with a few minor changes, I could readily see myself incorporating into any vows I would say to my beloved.

Here's the heart of what is said . . .

I want to marry you. I want you to become a part of me—each to become a part of the other . . . I want to claim the honour of knowing your body intimately—and your mind and your heart. I want to take you into the world and to live with you always, to experience everything that the world offers, in your company—to talk to you, to listen to you, to face with you all the dangers and the sweets . . . the pains and the pleasures, the exhilaration, the joys [and the challenges].

These words are spoken by Jeremy Poldark to Cuby Trevanion towards the end of the tenth Poldark novel, The Loving Cup. Interestingly, despite the fact that theirs is a heterosexual relationship, there is no mention of procreation during Jeremy's marriage declaration. Procreation is, of course, a good and beautiful thing, but clearly, contrary to what opponents of same-sex marriage insist, it is not – nor should it be – the primary reason for why people decide to get married. It's true that for centuries in the West, and still today in many parts of the world, marriage was rooted in patriarchy and thus primarily about the securing of property and heirs, and the forging of alliances. But that's not the case today. Do we really want to return to previous definitions of marriage which, among other things, saw women and children as property of men? To hear some people talk – including the U.S. Catholic bishops – that indeed seems to be the case. Now, the interesting thing about the Poldark novels is that they are set in an era (1783-1820) and place (the English county of Cornwall) where conflicting definitions of marriage greatly impact people's lives. Arranged marriages are still very much the norm (see, for instance, the previous Poldark-related post, A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna). Yet at the same time there are people who, no doubt influenced in part by Romanticism, respect and value the place and role of mutual love when seeking a marriage partner.

Yet I don't think such a perspective on marriage is solely the property of Romanticism. I take to heart what Archbishop Vincent Nichols says about marriage, though I interpret his words in a much broader and inclusive way. He says that marriage is "part of what is best in human nature." Similarly, I take and expand Archbishop Nienstedt's words about "rediscovering what has been written on our hearts from the very beginning." For me and many other people – including Catholics, what's "written on our hearts from the very beginning" has to do with God's presence in relationships of love. Accordingly, in our openness to and acceptance of loving same-sex relationships we discover anew God's liberating presence and action.

Back now to the Poldark novels. You may recall that I introduced Jeremy and Cuby's story in this previous Wild Reed post. Jeremy is the eldest son of Ross and Demelza Poldark, the central characters in the series. (In the 1995 TV dramatization of the eighth Poldark novel The Stranger from the Sea, Jeremy is played by Ioan Gruffund, pictured at left.) Jeremy had fallen in love with Cuby at first sight, but she was determined to obey her brother John and help her noble but impoverished family by marrying for money. John Trevanion and the wealthy but ruthless banker George Warleggan (Ross Poldark's nemisis) carefully arrange a marriage between Cuby and George's son, Valentine, much to Jeremy's bitter disappointment. Indeed, it was the news of this pending arranged marriage and, moreover, Cuby's willingness to be part of it, that in large part led to Jeremy joining the army and leaving Cornwall. The marriage between Valentine and Cuby, however, never takes place, owing to Valentine's clandestine marriage to Selina Pope, a beautiful and somewhat well-to-do widow ten years his senior. George Warleggan subsequently disowns and disinherits his son.

Due soon to return to his posting in Belgium, Jeremy confides in his father all these developments and the fact that he is still very much in love with Cuby. Ross encourages his son to make a last ditch effort to win Cuby over. Accordingly, Jeremy travels to Caerhays, Cuby's family home, enters it like a thief in the night, and waits in Cuby's room. When she arrives to retire for the evening, Cuby, quite understandably, is startled by Jeremy's presence. The following excerpt from Winston Graham's The Loving Cup, continues the story . . .

Cuby stared at the [. . .] figure of the young man who for more than three years had loved her devotedly. Lank hair, but curling at the ends and dark, worn long and a little untidy—somehow it was like a soldier's hair—fresh complexion, strong nose, blue-grey eyes with heavy lids, clever mouth, small cleft in the chin. Looking at her. Staring at her. Feasting his eyes on her. She didn't love him and never had. Hadn't she realized that only these last few weeks, when she had had time to pause, to reflect, to decide her own life?

"Jeremy, my heart nearly stopped! . . ."

"I'm sorry, there was no other way of breaking my presence to you."

[. . .] "How did you get in?"

"A ladder to the roof."

"Have you been here long?"

"An hour perhaps. And an hour or so outside."

His eyes were heavy on hers. He had grown up so much this last year; his face was set with resolution.

[. . .] He came near enough to put a hand very lightly on her arm. "Look, my dear. I shall never touch you without your consent, understand that. But I want to talk to you. We have all night. Pray do sit down and listen to what I have to say."

With the first glint of a troubled smile she said, "Where is your horse?"

"Tethered behind the house. Near the builders' workings."

"He will get restive."

"Not for a while. And it is not horse, Cuby, it is horses."

He caught the flicker of her hazel eyes as she turned to look behind her. She took a chair, sat down.

"Very well. I will listen. But have we not said it all before?"

He perched on the bed, one boot, highly polished but with a few splashes of new mud adhering, slowing swinging with a nonchalance he did not feel.

He said: "I have come for you. To take you away. I have money enough for us to live on. The mine we opened is paying higher dividends and should make me moderately independent. I am going back tonight to rejoin my regiment in Brussels. If you come with me we shall ride only to Launceston tonight and stay at the White Hart."

"Come with you? Jeremy I am very, very sorry. Have I not tried to explain often and often—"

[. . .] He took her hand, turned it over, palm up, held it quietly. It lay there like a not-quite-tame animal which any moment might spring away.

He said, "I want to marry you. I—I want you to become a part of me—each to become a part of the other . . . I want to claim the honour of knowing your body intimately—and your mind and your heart. Cuby, I want to take you into the world and to live with you always, to—to experience everything that the world offers, in your company—to talk to you, to listen to you, to face with you all the dangers and the sweets . . . the pains and the pleasures, the—the exhilaration, and the joys of being young—of challenge and fulfilment and happiness." He stopped, short of more words with which to break down her defences. She sat head down, but listening.

He said sombrely. "I know I can marry someone else. I know you can, But it would be for us both a retreat into a half life, never breathing deep, never feeling all there is to feel, passing one's days without the ultimate and—and vital flavour . . ."

"Why are you so sure of all this—for me as well as for yourself?"

"It is in me to be sure," he said, stroking her palm. "Come away with me now. As I said, we'll spend the night in Launceston—as cousins or whatever you like to give the journey the necessary respectability. We'll take the London coach tomorrow, be married in London, then travel straight to Brussels. It may not all be easy, comfortable, safe—in the way that perhaps living here is easy, comfortable, safe; but it will be everything else I can make it for your pleasure and happiness. My beloved, will you come?"

The spaniel was barking again in the easy, comfortable, safe depths of the house. She sat in the easy, safe, comfort of her bedroom with a red-jacketed young soldier stroking her palm. This room she had only occupied since the new castle was built, but most of the furniture she had known all her young life. She was sitting in one of the green velvet bedroom chairs in which fifteen years ago she had sat to have her first hunting-boot laced up by the maid. In the frame of the faded gilt mirror showing damp spots over the mantelshelf were stuck little mementoes she had collected from time to time: a ball programme, a tie-pin which had belonged to her father, a sprig of rosemary from a picnic, a crayon drawing Clemency had made of her. An embroidery work-basket with pieces of silk slipping out of the lid was on another chair; in front of it slippers and a pair of kid-gloves. The curtains of the bed were of heavy yellow brocade, the window curtains of a similar material but faded with the sun. Her room. Her privacy. Invaded by a rather formidable young soldier.

"Will you come?" he said.

Even if she loved him, which she did not, his proposition was beyond the impractical, bordering on the insane. How to break it to him gently, deflate once again the vain and pitiful hope so that he would go quietly, leave her and go, not too badly hurt, return to his regiment able and willing to lead and enjoy a life without her? It was such a pity, for, had circumstances been different, he would have made her a better husband than Valentine, and she would have made him a better wife. It was a pity that she was not the sort of girl he imagined her to be. Nor ever had been, nor ever conceivably could be. He imagined her warm, gentle, yielding; but she was cold, hard, firm. Family meant far more than any lovesick young man. Far more. John and Augustus and Clemency and the little boys, and Mama, and the great splendid castle, and the wonderful vistas, and the noble woods and the gentle cliffs and the ever-changing yet changeable sea. She was a Trevanion of Caerhays and that was all. And that was enough. More than enough.

For the first time in several minutes she looked up at him, and he was watching her. Something stirred, crawled, came to life within her. Of course it had not been entirely absent in the past, but it should not come up now. Must not come up now. Suddenly, as if aware of the danger, caution, common sense, calculation started screaming at her. She put her free hand up to her mouth.

"Will you come?" he asked again.

"Yes, please," she said.

– Excerpted from The Loving Cup: A Novel of Cornwall: 1813-1815 (1984)
by Winston Graham
pp. 422-425

When we first meet Jeremy and Cuby in The Twisted Sword, the next novel in the Poldark saga, they are living as happy newlyweds in Brussels, where Jeremy is stationed with the 52nd Oxfordshires. Cuby's abrupt change of heart and mind regarding Jeremy at the end of the previous novel is explained as follows.

As for Cuby, who, after the defection of Valentine had reconciled herself readily enough to the prospect of a long period of maidenhood, had even considered that she might be happiest remaining unmarried permanently, living with her mother and sister and brother and his two young children in the fine castle that was still in process of being completed, and who, suddenly confronted with this tall soldier, abruptly grown older and more authoritative, had found herself driven forward by such of strong feeling and sexual emotion which she had never felt before and which she scarcely recognized or had time to give a name to . . . as for Cuby, she so far suffered no second thoughts, no sense of anti-climax, no rational awakening. She sometimes thought about her family left behind at Caerhays, but only as if they belonged to a former life.

It was if in her character there had been a log-jam of feeling, of emotion, held up, held back, quite unconsciously, by a cool and rational brain, so that she had remained unstirred at the prospect of marrying Valentine, a charming young man who did not love her – and only marginally stirred by the concentrated devotion of Jeremy who wanted her and no other woman in the world.

The jam had been broken, luckily for Jeremy, by Jeremy, just in time. And it was truly broken; once given way, she had given way with it. . . .

– Excerpted from The Twisted Sword: A Novel of Cornwall: 1815 (1990)
by Winston Graham
p. 44

For previous Poldark-related posts, see:
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Into the Greenwood

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
Stephanie Coontz on the Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
John Corvino on the "Always and Everywhere" Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the "Defense of Traditional Marriage" Argument
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument
God Weighs In on the Gay Marriage Debate
Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions
Steve Chapman: "Time is On the Side of Gay Marriage"
Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning

Recommended Off-site Links:
Winston Graham’s The Loving Cup: Demelza's Courage – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, May 27, 2011).
Winston Graham’s The Twisted Sword: Deliver Us from Swords and Curs – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, June 24, 2011).
The Official Winston Graham and Poldark Website

First image: Ioan Gruffund as Jeremy Poldark in the ITV television dramatization Poldark (1996).

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