Watch your definition of cyberstalking


We often say we’re “stalking” someone online if we spend a lot of time looking at their status updates, photos, tweets, etc. This study out of Germany emphasizes that’s not really cyberstalking — it’s probably more like “online obsessive relational intrusion.” In other words, you’re using the digital universe to feed your obsession, but you’re not interfering with the person’s life. The cyberstalking definition used in this study entails: unwanted internet contacts/harassment; a duration of more than 2 weeks; and harassment that provoked fear.

Was Victor Hugo’s Daughter the Inspiration for Éponine?


Cosette may have snagged Marius in Les Misérables, but everyone who has read the novel or seen the Broadway musical knows Éponine is the much more intriguing character. Éponine’s unrequited love for Marius led her to disguise herself in men’s clothing so she could be at the barricades with him in the 1832 June rebellion in Paris. Then she took a bullet for him, saving his life and ending hers in martyrdom. She was the first of his band of revolutionaries to die for the cause. Her devotion to Marius, literary critics say, symbolically redeemed her from her morally depraved street urchin life she led as the daughter of the thieving Thénardiers.

There’s an interesting parallel between Éponine and Hugo’s own daughter Adèle. As Hugo was in the last years of writing Les Misérables (the novel took him 17 years to write), Adèle became obsessed with Albert Pinson, a British soldier. She followed him to Halifax, a very bold move for an unmarried woman in 1863. Though he’d once asked her to marry him, he no longer loved her back. She would go out at night in Halifax in search of him — dressed in men’s evening clothes.

The parallels between Adèle and Éponine are striking. Adèle may have been taking a page from Les Misérables, published the year before she jumped the pond. Adèle was also a big fan of George Sand, whose male pseudonym and garb got her into places forbidden to women.

Check out Truffaut’s 1975 film The Story of Adèle H. (L’Histoire D’Adèle H.). One of the best movies on unrequited love. The young Isabelle Adjani, who plays Adèle, is memorable in a top hat. Truffaut admired Adèle’s quest to make her own life apart from her famous father, but he doesn’t shirk from portraying how very sad her obsession was.

Dante and Elaine of Astolat: Gender and Medieval Portrayals of Unrequited Love


I’ve been thinking about Dante, who staked much of his writerly identity on unrequited love. As he writes to his beloved Beatrice in La Vita Nuova: “Thus pallid and void of all power, I come to behold you, thinking to be made whole.”

Beatrice never made Dante whole. But his quest for wholeness through her gave him privilege – a subject to write about, a way to exalt himself through his feeling for a woman he barely knew. His desire was about seeing himself anew and asserting himself in the world through his fantasy love. As medieval studies scholar Howard Bloch put it, “The gaze is not upon the woman so much as on the reflection of the man in her eyes.” What the beloved says or does to the lover becomes less important than what he can make out of the idea of her.

Could a medieval woman also “quest for wholeness” through unrequited love?

Medieval portrayals of women in unrequited love make it clear that their infatuations are inappropriate, not enriching or heroic. In Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Sir Lancelot has no inclination to bask in the attentions of Elaine of Astolat. He chastises her instead for trying to make him feel “constrayned to love.” Before she perishes of heartbreak, she arranges for her funeral barge to greet him at Camelot and prepares a letter explaining how she died. Her dramatic self-destruction is arguably a kind of masochistic self-exaltation – but certainly a far cry (to put it lightly) from an ennobling quest or literary fame. The privilege of the unrequited lover didn’t extend to the medieval woman.

Here’s Sophie Anderson’s 1870 painting “The Lily Maid of Astolat,” thanks to Wikimedia Commons:

Aelaine of astolat



This movie looks intriguing. About a housewife in Indian with “an artistic bent” who gets obsessed with possessing an unfinished sculpture of Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. Just the description points to so much about the dynamics of unrequited love: We fall for something static and unreal that represents something we want inside ourselves.

The Easter Parade


I watched MGM’s 1948 musical “Easter Parade” last night with Clara. She’s into musical theater and I was curious about the theme of unrequited love. Indeed, the movie’s characters are linked by a chain of unrequited yearning: Don is heartbroken over his ex Nadine, who has the hots for Johnny, who falls for Hannah, who loves Don. Hannah, the female lead played by Judy Garland, eventually secures Don’s love. In the movies, of course, unrequited love nearly always transforms into mutual love.

What’s interesting is the gender role reversal that takes place for Hannah to cement Don’s affection. Hannah and Don have a falling out because Don consented to dance with Nadine. Don insists he’ll wait outside her door until she forgives him, but then he gets kicked out by her apartment’s security guy (though really Don doesn’t give much of a fight to stay). The next morning, Hannah is distraught and hasn’t slept a wink. Don, as Johnny reports, is still snoozing peacefully. Johnny urges her to confess her love. “It’s different for a man!” she protests. “Why?” Johnny asks. He’s all but telling her to man up and win Don (played by Fred Astaire, who can dance like anyone’s business but has no sexual charisma whatsoever), who’s something of a wimp (femme?). Hannah goes all out. She sends him a bunny, a Happy Easter cake, and a top hat with a darling pink bow. Then she sweeps into his apartment, telling Don he’s “gonna be late” for the Easter Parade. “Aren’t you ready yet? Just like a man!” she sniffs. He puts on his ribboned hat. She appraises him in a low voice. “Very nice.” Then she launches into the Easter Parade song: “Never saw you look/quite so pretty before.” They strolled Fifth Avenue and pose for photographers. He pulls out a ring. She’s finally won him for good.

Self-help books make it seem as if women have to play it coy and let themselves be chased in order to win love. But in this classic musical, a subversive twist? See also: Some Kind of Wonderful, Twelfth Night.

You Really Do Belong With Me?


I was a mere tween when MTV started up and even back then I didn’t like the idea of music videos. They basically steamrolled over whatever idea you had in your head about a song and what the lyrics meant. The hot video right now in my seven-year-old’s crowd is the one for “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift. The song is all about unresolved longing — a tomboy who’s in love with a guy who prefers a cheerleader. But the video gives the girl her happy ending: She’s all femmed up at the prom (in a virginal white gown!) and wins her beloved away from the cheerleader.

I’ve been reading all this research about how people in obsessive unrequited love tend to follow a cultural “script” that positions unrequited love as a mere precursor to mutual love. If you persevere, you’ll get your beloved. Of course this is a myth and leads us to all kinds of unpleasantry, from bitter disappointment to stalking behavior. The video plays right into this script. We need to let our daughters know that the song, with its intense longing and lack of resolution, is much more real. Lots of times, you’re not going to get the guy, and you’re going to have to sing out your pain.