Read Harper Lee’s Essay for Vogue, “Love—In Other Words”


Julia Felsenthal reproduces Harper Lee in Vogue:

Many years ago an aging member of the House of Hanover, on learning that the duty of providing an heir to the throne of England had suddenly befallen him and his brothers, confided his alarm to his friend Thomas Creevey: “ . . . It is now seven-and-twenty years that Madame St. Laurent and I have lived together; we are of the same age and have been in all climates, and in all difficulties together, and you may well imagine the pang it will occasion me to part with her . . . . I protest I don’t know what is to become of her if a marriage is to be forced upon me . . . .”

Amused by the Duke of Kent’s predicament. Mr. Creevey recorded the incident in his diary and preserved for us a timeless declaration. The man who made it was not overly endowed with brilliance, nor had he led a noteworthy life, yet we remember his cry from the heart and tend to forget his ultimate service to mankind: He was the father of Queen Victoria.

What did the Duke of Kent tell us? That two people had shared their lives on a voluntary basis for nearly thirty years—in itself a remarkable achievement; that they had survived the fevers and frets of intimate relationship; that together they had met the pressures and disappointments of life; that he is in agony at the prospect of leaving her. In one graceful sentence, the Duke of Kent said all there is to say about the love of a man for a woman.

And in so saying, he tells us much about love itself. There is only one kind of love—love. But the different manifestations of love are uncountable:

At an unfamiliar night noise a mother will spring from bed, not to return until every corner of her domain is tucked safely round her anxiety. A man will look up from his golf game to watch a jet cut caterpillar tracks through the sky. A housewife, before driving to town, will give her neighbour a quick call to see if she wants anything from the store. These are manifestations of a power within us that must of necessity be called divine, for it is no invention of man.

What is love? Many things are like love—indeed, love is present in pity, compassion, romance, affection. What made the Duke of Kent’s statement a declaration of love, and what makes us perform without second thought small acts of love every day of our lives, is an element conspicuous by its absence. Were it present, the Duke of Kent would have left his mistress without a pang; the sound barrier breaking over her head would not rouse the mother; sinking his putt would be the primary aim of the golfer; the housewife would go straight to the store with no thought of her neighbour. One thing identifies love and isolates it from kindred emotions: Love admits not of self.

More here.