Love, Again is really a story within a story. Although it concerns itself mainly with Sarah's unacceptable passion for two younger men, the framework of the novel's action is the production of a biographical play that Sarah has written with Stephen Ellington-Smith, Julie Vairon. (Though Julie is treated like an actual historic figure for the purposes of the novel, she is in fact an invention, a fictional character.) The Julie of Sarah's play was born of mixed-race parentage in Martinique in the late nineteenth century and lived in France until her suicide in mid-life. She is celebrated as much for her several forbidden, tempestuous love affairs with high-born men as she is for her poems, journals, paintings and musical compositions. A prodigiously talented young woman, she defied convention by insisting on independent living, falling into despair only when she felt respectability closing in on her.
It is interesting to speculate why a "sensible" woman like Sarah Durham would be so drawn to a deeply romantic figure like Julie Vairon. Perhaps she was able to live (if only briefly) the kind of unfettered creative and erotic life that Sarah secretly pines for. Adapting the facts of Julie's life into a play which features her haunting musical compositions, Sarah and her collaborator Stephen inadvertently create an alternate world, so powerful that it seems to suck in everyone involved with the production: "What is it about that bloody Julie," Sarah wonders. "She gets under people's skin; she's under mine."
Aside from love and all its complications, a main theme in Love, Again is the uneasy relationship between art and life, and all the ways in which the two can either mirror one another, or provide a sharp contrast. When Sarah is attempting to condense Julie's colorful life into a play, she finds "there was too much of everything; too many ragged ends, false starts, possibilities rejected—too much life, in short, so it all had to be tidied up." Though Julie Vairon is Sarah's creation, something over which she thinks she has complete control, the production takes on a life of its own, spawning a host of love affairs within the cast and crew. It is as if everyone involved has fallen under Julie's spell. The most extreme example is Stephen Ellington-Smith who has been obsessed with Julie for years. The play intensifies his yearning for a woman who has been dead for eighty years until it actually begins to undermine his mental health. In fact Julie's world becomes more real than his own, and the play an escape from a reality which he can no longer bear. Sarah at one point wonders "what witchery that woman must have had to influence people so strongly after she was dead." It is as if something almost supernatural is happening at a group level, a vivid illustration of the power of art to deeply affect, change and sometimes even damage human lives.
Another important theme in the novel is the weight of responsibility, particularly within families, and how unevenly distributed this weight can often be. Lessing emphasizes that Sarah Durham ("a good sensible name for a sensible woman") has always been perceived as solid and dependable. She has a younger brother named Hal, clearly the family favorite, who has a successful career as a doctor but seems to have abdicated all responsibility for his wayward...
(The entire section is 1373 words.)