The title of this book is deliberately ironic. Domestic violence is not about love as we understand it, but about the need for men to reassert their threatened or lost command in a relationship. Eight Lessons in Love is a critical study of fictional treatments of that ironic problem, offering a radical new way of reading and teaching those works as drastic lessons in power and control.
Drawing on his recent experience as a volunteer group co-counselor of male batterers, and on his lifelong experience as a scholar, editor, and critic in the field of fiction studies, Mark Spilka has developed a way to apply present professional understanding of domestic violence to fictional attempts to cope with the theme. This critical sampler includes Spilka's essays on the stories included: James Joyce's "Counterparts," Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," John Cheever's "Torch Song," George Eliot's early novella Janet's Repentance, D. H. Lawrence's "The White Stocking," Ann Petry's "Like a Winding Sheet," John Steinbeck's "The Murder," and Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Wife Killer." Each critical assessment of these stories is followed by the text of the relevant tale or novella so that readers can move comfortably from one to the other.
Using such professional devices as the Anger Iceberg Chart and the Power Ladder, and such key professional concepts as "male accountability" and "female collusion," Spilka asks new questions about these stories and sheds surprising new light on both their literary and their current social implications. He asks why Hemingway rewards his dying protagonist with heaven, for instance, in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," when that bravely self-critical man has spent most of his dying days verbally abusing his safari wife; or why Joyce primes his buffeted male protagonist for vengeful domestic violence in "Counterparts," but whisks the man's wife out to evening chapel service so that a child receives the abuse that was surely meant for her.
Spilka shows how all these writers are keenly aware of domestic abuse as it affects themselves and their characters, and how they struggle honestly to cope with the issues of violence and sometimes overcome or assuage them in later fictions. The stakes in domestic violence are extraordinarily high: life or death. What better place to gain new awareness of their implications than in the depths of Eight Lessons in Love, where we can investigate the specific and dramatic ramifications of each story.
Mark Spilka is I. J. Kapstein Professor Emeritus of English at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of several books, most recently Renewing the Normative D.H. Lawrence: A Peraonal Progress (University of Missouri Press).