Romantic love is a historical phenomenon that appeared with the advent of modernism. Today, it is common knowledge that people get married because they love one another. But it was not until after the advent of romantic love that love became a condition for marriage and the causal relationship between love and marriage was established. Before romantic love became the social norm, people were often given the freedom to pursue romantic love after they had fulfilled the duty of marriage. Romantic love, no matter how you look at it, has a commanding influence on the concept and image of love today.
Romantic love was a new freedom that emerged with modernism. An affirmation of individual freedom, along with romantic love, was more widely recognized, and a new order was built on the freedom of sentiments. People started to yearn for purely romantic relationships based on emotional connections, rather than class, power, or other external factors, and in the process a new theory of subjectivity called “affective individualism” emerged, giving rise to the passionate romance -> marriage -> home sweet home model. After romantic love, individual lives became open projects that allowed room for new desires and new anxieties, and love became a fateful process of enchantment on the way to a complete life.
The novel played no small role in establishing romantic love as the modern myth. 17th century French writer François de La Rochefoucauld once said that people could not even have imagined falling in love if they had not read about love in books, and has argued that romantic love is a literary creation in many ways. As numerous stories of romantic love became popularized in the novel form, romantic love became a modern myth and the mass desire for romantic love became structuralized. Here is where we find the reason German sociologist Niklas Luhmann referred to the novel as a form of generalized media on love. If so, what forms of love do we encounter in novels of the 21st century? Let’s briefly examine the meaning of love in contemporary Korean society through a few novels published since the 1990s.