From Publishers Weekly
Nehring's opening assertion that she argues by provocation and aims to anger reveals the rhetorical nature of her argument that our tepid age needs a return to true Eros. Just what she advocates is unclear, since her examples range from the chaste passion of Emily Dickinson through the frenzied sexuality of Edna St. Vincent Millay to the open relationship of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Nehring does regret the collateral damage of this last pairing (a couple of cases of insanity and one suicide among their other lovers) and acknowledges that most of her case studies demonstrate excesses not to be emulated. That reduces her call for boldness in love to familiar clichés: absence makes the heart grow fonder; play hard to get; and defy social conventions in love (what is more of a postmodern cliché than advocating transgression?). Nehring, who has written for Harper's
and the Atlantic
among others, is a keen, empathic reader of literary texts, drawing attention to undervalued love writings like the letters of Horace Walpole and Madame du Deffand, and offering an astute reading of Dickinson's much-debated Master letters. But overall, she is more preachy and patronizing than provocative. (June)
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Nehring's book stirred much debate among critics, who generally disagreed that her answers to our sad state of love -- romantic excess and passion -- offer feasible solutions. After all, asked the Philadelphia Inquirer
, what is so gratifying about love as a "tumultuous, emotional struggle [filled with] tedious existential angst"? Other critics took issue with the idea that modern-day society lacks passionate love. The Wall Street Journal
further pointed out that Nehring's prescription rests on a type of feminism that impedes our emotional well-being -- and disagreed that passion thrives on gender inequalities. Although provoking and ambitious, Vindication
left most critics with the feeling that "we should strive for something beyond her notion of love-as-heroic-quest" (Philadelphia Inquirer
) -- and that readers should probably move on.