It’s Valentine’s Day and thoughts turn to love and its many forms. From the romantic, “mushy stuff” to lifelong friendships, from celebrating Galentine’s Day to showering a pet with extra belly rubs, and from love of God to love of self, there are many ways to express love.
We asked Saint Leo University faculty members who teach in the College of Arts and Sciences about their favorite words of love and why they chose the book or poem.
Dr. Burgsbee L. Hobbs, associate professor in the Department of Language Studies and the Arts, teaches literary and cultural studies courses at Saint Leo. He also has taught the popular Love and Desire in Literature course designed and authored by his Valentine, Dr. Allyson Marino, associate professor of English and fine arts. They married in 2007 and are the parents of two children.
“I sometimes assign students to read one of my favorite love story novels, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) by the acclaimed Czech writer Milan Kundera,” Hobbs said. “There's nothing about this tale that's ‘smooth’ and there's lots to unpack. Set in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, the long-time and problematic relationship between the co-protagonists Tereza, an introverted photojournalist and lover of literature, and Tomáš, a self-absorbed, philandering surgeon is chaotic, complicated, and full of drama, much like real life.”
Hobbs noted that, “In terms of practicality, they are tragically wrong for one another, in so many ways; but, these affairs are matters of the heart and, consequently, defy any measure of logic. Therein lies the messy conflict.
“Tereza the dreamer and Tomáš the idealist, have an inexplicable spiritual connection that speaks more to passion than reason. Even when these two lovers try to separate, they just can't. Their mutual love [and peculiar codependence] for both one another and their pet dog is real and unshakeable, despite their inherent character flaws and psychological baggage,” Hobbs said.
“Their journey isn't a schmaltzy, predictable yarn like Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook (1996) or John Grogan's Marley and Me, (2005) so Kundera's book is not escapist and certainly not a good fit for everyone,” Hobbs added. “But, for anyone who's really been in love, and appreciates or relates to its thorny complexities, the strangely unique truthfulness in this one might hit home.
“Can love sometimes be a turbulent, emotional roller coaster or even a raging dumpster fire? Might it sometimes be a heavy burden to bear? Absolutely. Are the painful risks of such a love, nevertheless, still worth it? According to these characters, you bet they are.”
“Melissa Febos' newest essay collection Girlhood (Bloomsbury, 2021) has a lot to say about love—love of mothers, friends, strangers, the beloved, and, perhaps most importantly, love of the self, even one's own darkness,” Barngrover said. [photo of Anne Barngrover and book]
“In her essay ‘Wild America,’ Febos writes about the vulnerability she needed to embrace to accept true love from her partner and now-wife: ‘Part of learning to receive things is learning to do so when you haven't even asked for them. To let love sneak up on you with its warm splash of light and just stand there squinting. It can be a lot to take. I stood there for a minute, not sure if I was going to cry. I didn't. We kept walking.’
“This book set my mind whirring and lit up my heart,” Barngrover added.
Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing at University Campus, and the city of Tampa’s first Wordsmith, selected a favorite genre, too—poetry. In addition to her classroom duties, she edits the university’s literary and arts review publication, Sandhill Review.
“Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems based loosely on the lives of her maternal grandparents, is one of my favorite love stories,” Russo said. “The poems chronicle the couple's courtship, marriage, work, child-rearing, illness and death.
“Graceful and beautifully wrought, these poems don't present idealized, saccharine-sweet love,” she noted. “Instead, they combine the mystery of love with the commonplace of everyday life, including the racism the couple endures. Thomas and Beulah is about the reality of love and life, its joys and sorrows, challenges and triumphs. It is a Valentine to committed relationships everywhere.”