Who wrote the book of love?

By Jen Bland

NIU History Professor Stephen Kern has recently published a book documenting the history of love from 1850 to 1935.

The book is called The Culture of Love: Victorians to Moderns and discusses how the history of love was revealed in American and European literature and art between and during these time periods.

Kern said he first got interested in writing the book while teaching a course about the history of love at NIU. He said he spent 10 years researching and writing the book.

“The students really enjoyed the class and I had fun teaching it so I began working on the book,” he said. “Working with great works of literature has been a privilege.”

Kern’s views are grounded in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, especially those concerning “authentic” and “inauthentic” lifestyles.

The “authentic” lifestyle is referred to as the period when a person acquires an increased awareness about what love is. It is also a time when lovers are more willing to talk about sex and take more responsibility for how and why they marry.

Kern notes that as the years progressed, lovers began to speak more freely to each other and see the concept of love more clearly.

“In modern art the lovers’ ‘eyes are open’ and they are less clothed as opposed to Victorian art,” he said.

The “inauthentic” lifestyle is just the opposite. In this period, lovers didn’t talk about sex and couples were more likely to be set up by a matchmaker, Kern added.

“In the Victorian age, women were more likely to marry a cousin or a neighbor,” Kern said. “They married whoever courted them.”

Kern said in this era sex was scary and people were more influenced by family and social values.

“As public opinion, family pressure and religious conviction loosened, men and women took charge of their love,” Kern said. “And women’s response to the marriage proposal shifted from mere consent to active choice.”

The book has recently been added as an alternate selection for members of the History Book Club. However, for interested NIU students, the book is available at the Junction Book Room, 822 W. Lincoln Hwy.

Kern’s other books include Anatomy and Destiny and The Culture of Space and Time: 1880_1918.