'Not so Modern' Love

In the excerpt of George Meredith’s Modern Love, the author explores the realities of “modern love” and the pain it causes. The sixteen line sonnet expresses the feelings and views of a miserably married couple, who suffer in spite of their true feelings; the married couple embodies the ideal “modern love” relationship, privately living in agony rather than upset society and its expectations. Meredith comments on society and the forced marriage, showing how they ruin a person and hope for the future. Through the use of the wife’s true feelings, the husband’s reaction, and their overall relationship, Meredith conveys “modern love” as an empty, painful commitment defined and reviewed by society.

Throughout history and the sonnet, “modern love” can be understood as loveless marriage, only present for social status and stability. Seeming how the poem is set in the 1860s—the Victorian era, the couple was most likely forced into marriage and union that neither wished, yet society approved of and expected. In the time period of the poem, marriage was not liberated—couples were arranged by duty to society and families. While the marriage is represented as “modern love”, it is not love at all, rather, a contract to please society. The passage of George Meredith’s Modern Love expresses the feelings of those who suffer from the unruly contract; while “modern love” did not concern feelings and expression, Meredith uses the couple’s true feelings to express the unhappiness and pain of a “modern love” marriage. In Modern Love, the husband recognizes the pained relationship he and his wife share; he represents the empty, unwanted feelings of “modern love”.

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As the poem unfolds, the husband acknowledges his wife’s unhappiness and misery. Meredith writes “By this he knew she wept with waking eyes”, recognizing that perhaps the man has become accustom to his wife’s weeping and pain, her actions familiar. While the man is aware of his wife’s pain, he does not pity her or feel sorrow; instead, he despises her and her actions. The man explains that her voice and sounds are “Dreadfully venomous to him.” As his wife lay in bed unhappy and in pain, he lay in bed poisoned by the sound of his own wife; her crying and suffering only worsens the situation. Instead of being a couple full of love and passion for each other, he recognizes her pain as present as his own; the man attempts to comfort his wife and places “his hand’s light quiver by her head”, perhaps suggesting that he understands her pain and sympathizes with her.

By showing how the woman’s suffering affects the man, they represent a couple of “modern love”; they are not happy nor expressively in love, rather suffering and staying together in spite. The man’s reaction to his wife throughout the poem expresses his true feelings and the distaste for his marriage. Likewise, the wife in Modern Love expresses how the marriage was forced upon her and transforms her into an empty, deathly state; her pain and loveless marriage representing a true “modern love”. Her marriage is seen as a burden, something she desperately wants to escape, though she lives in ignorance to the facts. As she sobs in her bed, she is confronted with “sharp surprise”, refusing to believe that she is so unhappy and pained. By refusing the truth, the woman represents that of a “modern love” wife, one who hides her true feelings and suffers for the sake of a socially accepted and expected marriage; though the woman is not happy, she remains married.

The consequences of the marriage weigh heavily on the woman, as Meredith describes her sobs as “strangled mute, like little gaping snakes”. The reality of the situation crushes the woman, “strangled” portraying how hopeless her marriage is. Likewise, it represents the force upon her, pushing her into marriage and to stay married though she is unhappy. “Strangled” also symbolizes death, as well as the phrase “stone-still”. The woman’s true feelings reveal that the unhappiness and loveless marriage are perhaps ruining her inside, killing a part of her that may desire to be happy and in love.

The connotation of death and pain show how the woman represents that of a woman in “modern love”, just as the husband and his feelings do. Though the title of the poem is Modern Love, the relationship the couple shares is not one of love, but of secret pain and emptiness. To the casual reader, the couple would not symbolize anything and only shows the unhappiness of one couple; the poem would not represent “modern love”. However, when taking the setting in consideration, it can be seen that the couple represents those of the time period and new love, which is not love at all. The feeling of love has been replaced with the convention of marriage, which is forced and unfulfilled.

The man and woman married in order to conform to society; neither shows true love or passion for the other. At the end of the poem, the couple shares only one common wish; rather than be of love or hope for their marriage, they wish for “the sword that severs all”, showing that they would rather die and be separated than stay unhappily, hopelessly married. The desire for death over marriage showcases “modern love”; Meredith’s diction shows the unfulfilled, unpromising relationship covered by a socially approved title of “marriage”. Through the story of a suffering wife and an unhappy husband, Meredith comments on the reality of the world and what marriage came to represent. Instead of encompassing the love and passion of two people, marriage and love were replaced by society’s expectations.

Meredith suggests that life should not be one of sobbing at night and wishing for death, but hoping for the future. Yet, the couple does not resist society or its expectations; they would rather suffer in privacy than rebel against the oppressing views of family and friends. Because the couple will not rebel against their community and society, they are frozen in an unhappy relationship, forced into a marriage neither desires. They embody the reality of love and marriage of their time period; “modern love” is not love at all.