The website Dictionary.com offers two main definitions for the word “love.” The first describes it as, “A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.” The second, “A feeling of intense desire and attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair; the emotion of sex and romance.” The title, “Enduring Love,” also has a double meaning. On the one hand is the more traditional, conventional understanding: that Joe and Clarissa’s love endures the trials that befall it during the course of the book. The second meaning is the darker, more sinister meaning, the full severity of which unfolds throughout the book: that of Jed Parry’s “enduring love” for Joe.
McEwan makes a pun of the word “love” – on the one hand is the first definition, the “ineffable feeling of affection” between Joe and Clarissa. On the other is a “feeling of intense desire and attraction” which Jed feels for Joe. McEwan seems to be suggesting that love is not merely something to be celebrated in poetry and flowers, but also something to be feared. One cannot, after all, choose who they fall in love with, or who falls in love with them.
Joe and Clarissa have been together for seven years, in a “childless marriage of love.” We meet them having a welcome home picnic upon Clarissa’s return from Boston, where she has been researching Keats for 6 weeks – the longest they have been apart. They seem to be a happy couple; pleased to be reunited and even after the horrific incident with the balloon they help each other through their trauma, talking through their recollections of the event. Indeed, even when Parry’s presence first starts to become an issue, they still seem to be happily in love. However, as the book goes on, Joe and Clarissa’s relationship begins to show cracks and they start to drift apart. Clarissa feels that Joe is overreacting to Parry, suggesting several times that he “ask him in for a cup of tea and he’ll probably never bother you again.” She even hints that this may all be in Joe’s imagination; she mentions twice that Parry’s handwriting is very similar to Joe’s, suggesting that maybe she thinks he has gone mad and is writing the letters himself. Clarissa feels that Joe is handling the situation badly and has perhaps even become a little obsessed with Parry.
Meanwhile, Joe feels hard done by, and that Clarissa is not supporting him in his time of need. He remarks that, “to her I was manic, perversely obsessed… As far as I was concerned she was disloyal, unsupportive in this time of crisis, and irrationally suspicious.” Their relationship begins to fracture under the pressure of Parry’s stalking, and Joe’s handling of the situation. Joe describes their living situation in chapter seventeen, stating that, “we slept in the same bed, but we didn’t embrace. We used the same bathroom, but we never saw each other naked.” They have both “lost [their] heart… and [don’t] know how to begin talking about it.” Earlier in the novel, when Joe visits Jean Logan and sees in her “love and the slow agony of its destruction,” he seems determined to solve his problems with Clarissa, but does not succeed. They lie in bed facing each other, “like armies facing each other across a maze of trenches.” Eventually Clarissa moves into the spare room.
Even when Joe is proved right and Parry comes to their flat with a knife, it seems to be too late to save their relationship. Clarissa still believes Joe has partly caused the situation himself, and moves out completely. There seems to be little hope for Joe and Clarissa as the novel draws to a close. When Joe collects Clarissa for their meeting with Jean Logan in Chapter twenty-four, he feels “a sudden ache… to observe the speed with which this mate, this familiar, was transforming herself into a separate person.” All seems to be lost until the faint glimmer of hope right at the end of the story, when Joe catches Clarissa’s eye: “we exchanged a half smile, and it was as if we were pitching in our own requests for mutual forgiveness.” The happy ending we have all been hoping for – the proof that Joe and Clarissa’s “enduring love” has withstood the test of Parry’s obsession – comes as a throwaway comment in the Appendix. Here it is noted that whereas many victims of de Clrambault’s patients will end up divorced or receiving psychiatric treatment themselves, “in this case [Joe and Clarissae] were reconciled and later successfully adopted a child.” And so Joe and Clarissa’s love has endured; they do live happily ever after.
Joe is the object of the “enduring love” of two people. The first, that coming from Clarissa, he reciprocates and tries his best to reconcile when things go wrong. The second is that of Jed Parry. Jed’s love for Joe is the mot dramatic form of love shown in the book, but it is unwanted and is not returned by Joe. From Joe’s research – and later in the Appendix – we learn that Jed has de Clï¿½rambault’s Syndrome. Starting with a brief glance at the scene of the accident and a short conversation when he follows Joe down to Logan’s body, Jed is convinced that Joe is in love with him. He believes Joe is playing mind games, toying with him. The first time they meet after the balloon incident, outside of Joe’s flat, Parry tells him, “You love me.
You love me, and there’s nothing I can do but return your love.” Jed appears to believe that he has been dragged into this unwillingly, that Joe has “chosen” him and he is merely doing as Joe wishes. Parry seems to be steadfast in this belief, and no amount of protesting from Joe can convince him otherwise. He believes that everything Joe says or does is a signal: “you say that and then you make that face. What is it you really want me to do?” Later on he says, “Brilliant idea with the curtains. I got it straight away?” as if Joe has been signalling his love with curtains he has actually not touched. Parry’s love seems to make him see everything in a different way. In his first letter to Joe in Chapter eleven he writes movingly of the beauty around him: “love has given me new eyes.” In a “normal” relationship love letters would be welcomed. Indeed, earlier in the book Joe has remarked that when they had first met Clarissa had sent him some “beauties, passionately abstract in their exploration of the ways our love was different from and superior to any that had ever existed.” However, letters from Jed are not welcome.
Joe is understandably disturbed by Parry’s attention, and realises early in the book, “I’m in a relationship.” Parry’s obsession becomes more and more concerning as he begins to send letters more frequently and spends most days waiting outside of the flat for Joe. Jed is living in a delusional fantasy in which he has a special relationship with Joe. Joe understands this, as he shows in Chapter fourteen when he remembers the story of the French woman who became obsessed with King George the Fifth. However, this does not mean he is prepared to accept the situation. He is aware that in many situations de Clï¿½rambault’s patients may become violent when their “love” is persistently unrequited. Jed’s love for Joe is so extreme that when Joe it becomes evident that Joe does not return his love, Jed would “rather have [Joe] dead.”
Parry’s love for Joe is an endurance test – both for Jed, being obsessed with someone who does not return his love, and for Joe and Clarissa’s relationship. This causes emotional pain for Joe and Clarissa, but not for Parry who, even when locked in a mental institution, is ecstatically happy in his continuing love for Joe. The fact the last word goes to Jed is telling. It is a chilling reminder that, although Joe has Clarissa back and his life and love seem to be back together, Jed still has his love too, and both seem set to endure to the death. Joe describes Parry’s love for him with words like “stricken” and “morbidity,” which makes love seem more like a fatal disease than the blessing that most people see it as. He is, of course, right: Parry’s love stems from mental illness. Joe describes de Clï¿½rambault’s syndrome as “a dark, distorting mirror that reflected and parodied a brighter world of lovers whose reckless abandon to their cause was sane.” It is disturbing to read the final paragraph of the first Appendix, which states that “the pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap with normal experience, and it is not always easy to accept that one of our most valued experiences may merge into psychopathology.”
In Enduring Love McEwan uses de Clrambault’s syndrome to show another view of love, one that is an extreme, out-of-control version of an ordinary human emotion. His use of the contrast between Joe and Clarissa’s normal relationship struggling against the pressure of Jed’s irrational, unwarranted affections towards Joe, is quite dark. It causes the reader to question the commonly held view of love, and the line between “normal” and “insanity” becomes hard to draw. Most love is characterised by irrational and illogical gestures, but Jed’s irrational and illogical gestures are disturbing and quite scary for Joe. Many people dream of an everlasting love, but he has no choice. He has to endure Parry’s love until it almost kills him, Clarissa and their relationship.