I've been recently re-reading some portions of The Four Loves. I don't remember having very strong views about this book when I read it years ago. There certainly are some excellent parts, especially when he talks about the love of God.
But on the subject of love and marriage, it simply will not do. I think the biggest underlying problem here is that Lewis had at that time too rigid a view of what it meant to love one's spouse. He may (we can hope) have gotten more information later when he fell in love and got married himself. But at the time of writing The Four Loves, he seems to have thought of love between man and wife as either a mere tempest of emotion--hence, transient and unimportant--or as the settled unity of many years--hence, and by definition, impossible at the beginning of marriage. This view of Lewis's is quite evident in the following passage from a letter (April 18, 1940):
No one is going to deny that the biological end of the sexual functions is offspring. And this is, on any sane view, of more importance than the feelings of the parents....Surely to put the mere emotional aspects first would be sheer sentimentalism....The third reason [for marriage in the Prayer Book] gives the thing that matters far more than "being in love" and will last and increase, between good people, long after "love" in the popular sense is only as a memory of childhood--the partnership, the loyalty to "the firm", the composite creature. (Remember that it is not a cynic but a devoted husband and inconsolable widower, Dr. Johnson, who said that a man who has been happy with one woman cd. have been equally happy with any one of "tens of thousands" of other women. i.e. the original attraction will turn out in the end to have been almost accidental: it is what is built up on that, or any other, basis wh. may have brought the people together that matters.)One finds the same near-contempt for love between newlyweds as mere emotion and the same implication that love between married people ought to grow over time as opposed to being sought before marriage in this passage, put into the mouth of Screwtape:
From the true statement that this...relation was intended to produce...affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call "being in love" is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy....In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result. Two advantages follow. In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves "in love," and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.This false dichotomy between love as unimportant emotion and love as a settled feeling built up over years even makes him write the following, to my mind highly distasteful, passage from The Four Loves which goes so far as to praise sexual intercourse without love.
Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros. They went to the act with no other "fuel," so to speak, than plain animal desire. And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their "marriage debt," and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord.This is quintessentially and self-evidently a passage written by a male, and I would say, written by a male who knows little about women. It entirely ignores the strong connection for many women between emotions like affection and a sense of being cherished, loved, and protected, on the one hand, and sexual desire, on the other.
Moreover, Lewis assumes that there is nothing even remotely morally questionable about a husband's having intercourse with his wife when he does not love her and when she does not love him. The Catholic Church itself, which I consider fairly representative of (at a minimum) a paradigmatically conservative view on sexual subjects, holds that the sexual act between man and wife is supposed to serve, inter alia, a "unitive purpose," which would seem to raise questions about having intercourse with a spouse for whom you have no feeling, whom, perhaps, you scarcely know at all (which is at least one plausible scenario invoked by Lewis's picture of arranged marriage), and who has no feeling for you.
Then there is the question of the validity of marriages undertaken without the true freedom of the two principal people involved. Lewis's casual implication that untold numbers of young people perfectly validly married other people for whom they had no affection solely out of obedience to their parents is open to some question. Indeed, the abuses during the ages of marriages made in just that fashion are the entire basis of the present concern with due maturity and full freedom in enacting the marriage sacrament. Lewis simply o'erleaps all such worries and, in effect, says, "You're not going to say that all those people who married only semi-willingly and got on with the marital act willy-nilly, out of a sheer sense of duty, were wrong, are you?"
There is something not only unconsciously brutal but also foolish and crude about Lewis's whole approach to this subject. The nuances of feeling between members of the opposite sex--including various degrees of kindness, affection, protectiveness, admiration, respect, trust, and spontaneous commitment--seem lost on him. He seems not even to realize that all of these can be and to no small extent ought to be present prior to marriage, though they do, of course, grow over the years. To him, love between husband and wife is relatively unimportant because it is just a childish emotion. What's love got to do with it? It's all about duty, obedience to parents, and the desire to have children, and that's it.
Some time ago, I read an interesting article by Gilbert Meilaender in First Things about in vitro fertilization. (At least, I believe it was Meilaender. I am going by memory.) He made the excellent point that one problem out of many with in vitro fertilization is that it denies the primacy of the relationship between husband and wife. The existence of the child grows out of the parents' love for one another and is a result of the sexual expression of that love. The existence of a child is not an end for which one's wife (or husband) is to be used simply as a means. Exactly and precisely. Much better than "on any sane view, offspring are more important than the feelings of the parents." Meilaender, I suspect, could have taught Lewis a thing or two on this entire subject.
The fact that spouses should not merely use one another as a means to an end also seems to me to call into question Lewis's statements about marrying as a means of preserving chastity. Lewis fails to distinguish a) seeking marriage in general because one wishes to avoid sins against chastity and b) seeking marriage to some particular person because one wishes to avoid sins against chastity when one has no particular feeling favoring that person over other (reasonably attractive and well-behaved) members of the opposite sex. The former is perfectly sensible. We may be able to see the problem with the latter if we picture an imaginary marriage proposal a la Lewis cum Johnson. You gentlemen who are married, I ask you to imagine what would have happened if you had proposed to your wife in the following fashion:
Well, honey, I've decided that I lack the gift of continence, as the Prayer Book puts it. So it would be prudent for me to get married in order to avoid sexual sin. Dr. Johnson teaches us that a man who has been happy with one woman could have been happy with any one of tens of thousands of women. I think I can be happy with one woman, so I could probably be happy with any one of tens of thousands of women. It's not that I love you or think you are particularly special. But you are conveniently ready to hand, and I'm sure you'll do as well for the purpose as any. So what do you say? Will you marry me?
I sincerely hope that she would have decked you.