What is the distinction between divine love and romantic love in The End of the Affair?  

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The theme of love in this excellent novel relates very closely to the choices that the main characters make. Sarah chooses to sacrifice her romantic love for Bendrix for a divine love. Bendrix is not able to understand this in any way, as his romantic love is shown to be selfish at its core, and so easily leads him to hate Sarah for rejecting him. This is shown by the way that after his relationship with Sarah is over, he oscillates between the two contradictory states of love and hate for her rather than moving on and finding somebody new in his life. These emotions, based as they are merely on romantic love, depend on what is going on in their relationship. For example, when he feels he stands a chance of getting back together with her, he loves her, whereas when she stops seeing him, he hates her. His romantic love, and romantic love in general, is shown to be confused by his own selfishness. This leads him, for example, to disregard her burial wishes.

If we compare the love of Bendrix for the love of Sarah, we can see that her romantic love is exchanged for divine love in response to a mad and irrational vow made to God. This brings her peace and she can't help but compare this divine love to the romantic love that she shared with Bendrix. Whilst the latter was unhealthy and sinful, the divine love that she now experiences brings her joy, peace and a sense of renewing. As her diary entry shows, Sarah believes that her affair with Bendrix was part of her journey towards accepting God's divine love:

Did I ever love Maurice as much before I loved you? Or was it You I really loved all the time?... For he hated in me the things You hate. He was on Your side all the time without knowing it. You willed our separation, but he willed it too. He worked for it with his anger and his jealousy, and he worked for it with his love. For he gave so much love and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn't anything left, when we'd finished, but You.

The divine love that brings Sarah such peace and joy is never fully understood by Bendrix, though his final words in the novel suggest that his understanding of it is increasing.

 

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