Hart--Love and Sexuality II
Bill Long 11/11/05
Honest Disclosure and Lasting Commitment
Despite the fact that Herbert and Jenifer seemed to be deeply in love with each other, Herbert had a secret he had confided to a male friend that year that he knew he had to divulge to Jenifer. He wrote to her to inform her of "some of the things you've got to know if I'm to be honest at all but which freezing self-consciousness stops me telling you when I see you" (73). First he rehearses old ground:
"First, then--if it means anything at all--I love you or at least I do if those words describe my inability for hours and hours on end to think of anything except you; though when I say I think of you I can't tell if I mean your integrity and intelligence or your eyes and hair or my own feeling alive for the first time since I was a boy, which comes over me when I think of any of these things" (73).
Now that the positive thing has been said, he plunges on:
"Secondly, I'm useless to you at this stage as a lover. l don't mean that I am impotent physically because I'm not that in the very least. What I do mean is that I've so long suppressed the physical expression of my feelings (because I thought all my feelings were homosexual) that my whole faculty for expression has atropied and is only gradually coming to life....I think I am both passionate and heterosexual but the effect of all the mistakes I've made or which were made for me has been to render me, on the surface and for a good many layers underneath--instinctively suspicious of my own heterosexual feelings" (74).
Hers is the only female body he has known in his 30 years; if he was placed on the "Downs" next to a beautiful youth, however, he "should have been thrown at once into the extremes of physical passion..." He concludes laconically: "As for experience--none homosexual."
What could the effect of this enormously charged and multi-layered letter have been on Jenifer? On the one hand, even she could not have taken this in stride. No woman, however liberal and experimental in her personal philosophy, would easily contemplate a lifetime union with a man who might be thrown into passionate convulsions at the sight of a handsome youth. On the other hand, however, she may not have been shocked by the homoerotic tone of some of the letter and the frank confession of the inner struggles which Herbert experienced. For one who looked at life as a chance to overcome huge obstacles, this might have been a sort of stimulus for her to devote herself even more assiduously to unlocking the heart of a man with a great mind but only imperfectly developed self-understanding and expresssion. Nicole Lacey, Hart's biographer, points to a number of subsequent letters, which we may call the "A.R" letters ("after revelation") in which Jenifer tries to make light of this confession with some gender-bending humor of her own.
But in some way that Lacey does not fully explain, because the paper trail perhaps doesn't allow full explanation, Jenifer was able to incorporate Herbert's self-revelation into her love for him or, better said, his honest confession opened her to dimensions of desire that she had not hitherto expressed. Her ardor and humor shine through in the following letters:
"Darling...I cannot bear this agony of the flesh much longer. Please love me; I ask nothing else in the world.....My dearest Herbert...I got 3 and half hours' sleep and feel like blackest hell. Do let's go away alone togehter: I long to. I will do anything for you except wear high heel shoes all the time. In devotion, Jen" (77).
"It's no use just repeating that I love you for now you will think that it means nothing or anyway is a pretty unoriginal remark. But I want you and no one else in the whole wide world--I want to share and to give ad infinitum everything there is. I don't mind how dependent I am on you--so please accept a clinging limpet--I do adore I do adore--O Christ--But wilt thou accept not--the worship the heart lifts above" (Id.).
And then, with a particularly intriguing twist, she closes another letter with the line, "Anyway I shall try to become more boyish every day!"
In the face of this barrage of desire, Herbert let his emotions overflow toward Jenifer:
"Darling Jen..I have done nothing all day long except lust and lust and lust for you. I don't want to think or read or speak to anyone but only to lie naked by your side..I've felt entirely different and happy and successful and confident all day. Its exactly like being born again with all of one's faculties absolutely fresh and clear. Christ! Herbert" (78).
And then, finally, after going to his doctor for a heart examination (Hart experienced irregular heartbeat in those years), he said:
"The doctor photographed my heart today and you will receive a splendid picture of it mounted in red roses. He was puzzled by the presence of a number of blood vessels that arranged themselves so as to form the letter J whenever I took a deep breath..."
How can you not love both of them for these letters? How can you not feel that Hart is a better lawyer, a better scholar, a better person for allowing himself to love like this, and that she is a fuller human being for incorporating all his mysteries and conflicts in the folds of her love? Who would not long to have had such formative experiences with one's own lover so that when the hard times come and the bodies sag, these memories can be kindled and still light a fire? We discover ourselves when we find ourselves in love.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long