Love: Reinventing Romantic Love

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.


1. 鸟的礼物
Eun Heekyung, 人民文学出版社, 2007

2. Romantic Love and Society
Jung Yi Hyun, Moonji Publishing Co., Ltd.
2003, 251p, ISBN 9788932014487

3. Voleur d'oeufs
Youn Dae-Nyeong, L’Harmattan, 2003

A Gift from a Bird is Eun Heekyung’s first novel. In this book, Eun offers a scrupulous portrayal of Korean lives and customs in the 1960s when Korea first entered the era of industrialization. The novel opens with the scene where people are watching the moon landing in 1969. The first moon landing was a great scientific accomplishment, but it was also the end of mystified and romantic notions of the moon. The romantic belief that a rabbit sits under the laurel tree on the moon was shattered when man landed on the moon and discovered that it was a just a dry, rabbit-less, desolate place. Love in Eun’s novel is not very different from the demystified moon.

The protagonist is a nice, average, 12-year-old named Jinhee who believes: “I don’t have to grow past the age of 12.” For the adolescent girl, life is just a joke. Why does she not feel the need to grow? Beneath Jinhee’s cool exterior are wounds inflicted by her mother’s suicide and her father’s absence. For Jinhee, life is just a succession of scars. If love is a part of life, romantic expectations will also someday become a scar. For her, romantic expectations of love are as clichéd as life is boring. As an adult, Jinhee lives with her uncle’s friend. They’re not married, and they don’t have children together. Jinhee does not see love as an object of desire or a fate she has to follow. It is nothing more than a show that involves coincidence, humor, and cynicism.

Youn Dae-Nyeon...