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Chesterton and the Possibility of Romance

September 24th, 2009 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Apologies for the lack of writing.  I am in the throes of an article on marriage to submit to The City, and it is proving much more difficult than I had expected.  The issues surrounding marriage are so intricate and complex that I suspect a book is the only proper way to treat them.

Regardless, for your reading pleasure I offer this extended treatment of drama, romance, and the acceptance of contingent circumstances that are not brought about by our own choosing by G.K. Chesterton, as I think it has relevance to many of the recent discussions we have been having here at Mere-O about technology and marriage.

But in order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission.  If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential.  It may often happen, no doubt, that a drama may be written by somebody else which we like very little.  But we should like it still less if the author came before the curtain every hour or so, and forced on us the whole trouble of inventing the next act.  A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel.  But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel.  And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events.  They are dull because they are omnipotent.  They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures.  The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of those great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect.  It is vain for the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings.  To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings.  To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance.  Of all these great limitations and frameworks which fashion and create the poetry and variety of life, the family is the most definite and important.  Hence it is misunderstood by the moderns, who imagine that romance would exist most perfectly in a complete state of what they call liberty.  They think that if a man makes a gesture it would be a startling and romantic matter that the sun should fall from the sky.  But the startling and romantic thing about the sun is that it does not fall from the sky.  They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations--that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes.  There is nothing baser than that infinity.  They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe to be as weak as themselves.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.