The Godfather: Peter Corris on illicit love
There is only one happiness in this life, to love and to be loved. – George Sand
All You Need Is Love. – Lennon and McCartney
When two people come together untrammelled, with no baggage, as it were – no romantic attachments to other persons, no guilt – it can be a joy. Such a meeting can lead to a lasting love, children, mental and physical comfort. But it’s not the stuff of drama or literature.
Think of Paris and Helen, Lancelot and Guinevere, Anna Karenina, Tristan and Iseult, Madame Bovary, et cetera. Illicit love provides the stuff of drama – guilt, regret, subterfuge, conspiracy, betrayal. It also heightens sexual desire and performance. Think of Mellors and Lady Chatterley.
And how well life has fed into literature. How many novels, plays and films have been generated by the stories of Henry Tudor and Anne Boleyn and by Edward and Mrs Simpson? A local example is provided by George Johnston and Charmian Clift – Johnston was married when their affair began. Their tempestuous marriage was to end tragically with Clift’s suicide.
Illicit love in the past involved notes, passionate secret diary entries, and go-betweens, leading to clandestine meetings, misunderstandings, antagonisms. In modern times it calls forth telephone calls and texts to and from secret mobiles, emails from secret accounts and, in some high profile circles, desperate attempts to avoid media scrutiny.
While licit passion invariably cools, illicit attachments can die down, spark up, be renewed – think of Elyot and Amanda in Private Lives, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in real life. Sometimes these renewals work, sometimes not. If they involve the rejection of another lover or lovers they can leave bitterness in their wake or even mystery, as in the case of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. All grist to the mills of novelists, dramatists and the writers of screenplays.
I was prompted to these thoughts by Geoffrey Robertson’s excellent memoir, Rather His Own Man (2018), which will certainly earn a place in my ‘best of’’ list for this year. Robertson refers to his ‘assignations’ with Kathy Lette, who at the time was married. He was also in a long-standing and public relationship.
In the epilogue, almost as a footnote, Robertson writes that he and Lette, after 30 years of marriage, have agreed to ‘amicably uncouple’ in order to see what ‘late-life freedom might bring’. One hopes for their sakes that amicable is the operative word but, with his admitting that he has fallen in love with another woman and considering such larger than life characters and egos as those of Geoffrey Robertson and Kathy Lette, one has to wonder.