Barbara H. Rosenwein, "Love: A History in Five Fantasies" (Polity Press, 2021)

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Barbara Rosenwein talks about her new book Love: A History in Five Fantasies (Polity Press, 2021) today on the podcast.

We make sense of love with fantasies, stories that shape feelings that are otherwise too overwhelming, incoherent, and wayward to be tamed. For love is a complex, bewildering, and ecstatic emotion covering a welter of different feelings and moral judgments.

Drawing on poetry, fiction, letters, memoirs, and art, and with the aid of a rich array of illustrations, historian Barbara H. Rosenwein explores five of our most enduring fantasies of love: like-minded union, transcendent rapture, selfless giving, obsessive longing, and insatiable desire. Each has had a long and tangled history with lasting effects on how we in the West think about love today. Yet each leads to a different conclusion about what we should strive for in our relationships.

If only we could peel back the layers of love and discover its “true” essence. But love doesn’t work like that; it is constructed on the shards of experience, story, and feeling, shared over time, intertwined with other fantasies. By understanding the history of how we have loved, Rosenwein argues, we may better navigate our own tumultuous experiences and perhaps write our own scripts.

Barbara H. Rosenwein is internationally recognized for her work in the history of emotions, a field she helped to pioneer. Her books explore the many ways in which different groups have experienced, valued, and expressed emotions over time. There are no universal, “basic emotions,” but all of us have feelings shaped by (and shaping in turn) the “emotional communities” in which we live. Rosenwein has taught and lectured around the world, but her home is near Chicago, where she lives with her husband, Tom.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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