Harper Lee on Love

Lee in the balcony of Monroeville's local courthouse, in 1961 Donald Uhrbrock/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Lee in the balcony of Monroeville’s local courthouse, in 1961
Donald Uhrbrock/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

“Love—In Other Words”

Harper Lee

Vogue April 15 1961, pp64-65


An excerpt:

Love transforms. Why is it that the quotidian we are seeking, when we can’t find it in the Bible or in Shakespeare, most often turns up in Don Quixote? Because Cervantes, from sheer love of life, made the nuances of life immortal. Why, when we are familiar with every line, must we stop and listen when “The Messiah” is playing? Because every note was born of a man’s love for God, and we hear it. Try this experiment: catch (if you can) someone who loathes baroque music; play for him any part of Semele, then sit back and watch his polite attention turn to compulsive attention–see your captive become Handel’s captive. Avarice never wrote a good novel; hate did not paint “The Birth of Venus”; nor did envy reveal to us that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides. Every creation of man’s mind that has withstood the buffeting of time was born of love–love of something or someone. It is possible even to love mathematics.

The history of mankind contains innumerable testaments to the power of love, but none touches the transformation undergone by the otherwise cantankerous St. Paul when he addressed himself to the subject: loving, he wrote of love itself, and he gave us a miracle. Listen:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing…”

After St. Paul, we have done our best, but our best has never come near him.

Love purifies. Suffering never purified anybody; suffering merely intensifies the self-directed drives within us. Any act of love, however–no matter how small–lessens anxiety’s grip, gives us a taste of tomorrow, and eases the yoke of our fears. Love, unlike virtue, is not its own reward. The reward of love is peace of mind, and peace of mind is the end of man’s desiring.

Read more here.


One thought on “Harper Lee on Love

  1. I would contend with her that suffering can purify… but perhaps we wouldn’t disagree, as I do know that it does not always do so, and perhaps it can only do so in combination with love.

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