Aspects of Love: An Interview with Dr. Gene Edward Veith

July 13–17, 2015   |   Vol. 123, Week 14

How has our view of love been changed by centuries of storytelling—and what literary romances have been most influential? This week on Home School Heartbeat with your host Mike Smith, Dr. Gene Edward Veith discusses love’s rich heritage in literature.

“What I think we can learn from [Dante’s Divine Comedy] is that real love should improve us, should make us better.”—Dr. Gene Edward Veith

This Week’s Offer

If you want to learn more about love in literature, then check out our free unit study based on the books Dr. Veith discusses on this week’s program. Follow the link to request your free copy.

How has our view of love been changed by centuries of storytelling—and what literary romances have been most influential? This week on Home School Heartbeat with your host Mike Smith, Dr. Gene Edward Veith discusses love’s rich heritage in literature.

Mike Smith:
This week, our guest is Dr. Gene Edward Veith, author, former WORLD Magazine culture editor, and provost of Patrick Henry College. Dr. Veith, thanks for joining us today!

Dr. Gene Veith:
Good to be with you.

A unit study on various portrayals of love in literature is right up your alley, Dr. Veith. So let’s start this unit study at the beginning—the Greeks! Would you tell us about some of the famous couples in the stories of Homer? What’s so remarkable about them anyway?

Dr. Veith:
Oh, one of the most romantic scenes in all of literature is probably when Hector, who is the big hero of the Trojans, meets with his wife, Andromache, and their little son comes up and tries to play with his helmet. And, in that scene, Hector says that where everybody else is fighting for honor and for revenge and all these other causes, the reason he’s fighting, the reason he’s putting his life on the line is for her—for his wife. And that scene, I think, really shows what a husband’s love for his family really is all about.

Well Dr. Veith, one might think that in a great Christian poem like Dante’s Divine Comedy, there wouldn’t be any room for a love story. But Dante’s love for Beatrice is a key element in the story. Now, what’s so virtuous about it, though?

Dr. Veith:
Well, Dante, when he was just 9 years old, had a childhood crush on this little girl named Beatrice; she was only 8. And he saw her again nine years later. But a lot of people have these kind of infatuations with others, and they think that’s what love is. Dante and Beatrice, though, in his thinking about that experience, he really said that it brought him closer to God. That somehow, that little childish love taught him something about what love is. He changed his character; he did better; he forgave his enemies; and he associated that then with his becoming a Christian. And in The Divine Comedy, he turns Beatrice into a symbol for the grace of God. Now, I think what we can learn from that is that real love should improve us, should make us better.

Dr. Veith, not a lot of people read Edmund Spenser’s story The Faerie Queen anymore. A lot of medieval stories involve knights and ladies and romance. What makes Spenser’s ideals of love so special?

Dr. Veith:
Well, in the Middle Ages, romantic love kind of happened apart from marriage. What Spenser did, and he was a Protestant influenced by the Reformation, and what he did in his poetry was to bring romantic love into marriage. And he wrote a series of love poems called amoretti,and they culminated in this wonderful Christian poem about marriage called Epithalamion. And then in his book The Faerie Queen,he again shows a typical medieval romance, but it too leads to marriage, and it does so, showing the couple facing real problems. Lots of misunderstandings, lots of problems, lots of obstacles, lots of unfaithfulness, and yet, Spenser, in this great Christian allegory, shows that when the lady helps bring him to faith, we see their problems resolved, and he’s looking forward then to their marriage.   

Well Dr. Veith, thanks so much for sharing that with us. We can learn some great lessons from these old books! Any family that has middle school or high school–aged daughters probably already knows Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Dr. Veith, what can we learn about love from Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett?

Dr. Veith:
Well, when they first met each other, they didn’t like each other. And, in the whole course of the novel, it was about them learning about each other and appreciating their character and their moral character. And, finally, that was what led to real love between them. Now, some of the other characters make the wrong choices, and they go after appearances; Elizabeth’s sister Lydia goes off with Wickham, and he turns out to be a real cad. And it really is a good example as it goes through all of those different relationships that it explores, that really—character in the person you love is really the most important thing of all. 

Dr. Veith, C.S. Lewis is one of the Christian writers who really stands out, even in the secular world today. But a lot of people don’t know about his own love story with his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham. What is it about this real-life love story that makes it worth studying, Dr. Veith?

Dr. Veith:  
Lewis was 59 when he met Joy Davidman Gresham. She was 42, and she had become a Christian through reading Lewis’s works, and eventually they formed a really strong friendship. Then she got cancer, and then as she was dying, on her deathbed they had a real church wedding. But then she was healed, and Lewis believed it was a miraculous healing; she went into remission of cancer very dramatically. And so, for four years they actually were able to live as husband and wife, in a very close and strong love. Then the cancer came back, and she died. Then Lewis wrote a very powerful book called A Grief Observed, about his struggles with coming to terms with her death, which he finally did in understanding the greater love of God.

Fantastic. What an inspiring story, Dr. Veith! Thank you so much for your insights on literature all this week! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Dr. Gene Edward VeithDr. Gene Edward Veith

Dr. Veith oversees the academic programs at Patrick Henry College, which includes working with the faculty, managing the curriculum, and administering the educational services, including the library and the registrar’s office. He also oversees the office of student life.

Dr. Veith teaches literature and other liberal arts courses. He is the author of 20 books on topics involving Christianity and culture, classical education, literature, and the arts. He previously served as the Culture Editor of WORLD magazine. For 19 years, he was professor of English at Concordia University Wisconsin, where he also served for six years as the dean of the school of arts and sciences.

Dr. Veith has also taught at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and has been a visiting professor at the Estonian Institute of Humanities, Gordon-Conwell, Regent College (Vancouver), and Wheaton College. He also serves as the director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He has been a fellow at the Capital Research Center and the Heritage Foundation. He received his BA in letters (literature, philosophy, history, and classics) from the University of Oklahoma and his MA and PhD in English from the University of Kansas. He and his wife, Jackquelyn, live in Purcellville and have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

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