The Making of Romantic Love


The Making of Romantic Love:

Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE

William M. Reddy

published by the University of Chicago Press, fall, 2012


Awarded the David H. Pinkney Prize for the best book of 2012 in French history, by a U.S. or Canada-based scholar, the Society for French Historical Studies, April 2013.




“Let the debates begin! Drawing on an astonishing panoply of sources, from European courtly and troubadour literature to Heian Japanese poetry, from canon law to Puri temple dancing, William M. Reddy’s important new book, The Making of Romantic Love, challenges our basic assumptions about eroticism, heroism, the nature of marriages, and the legacy of the Middle Ages in modern culture. Is there a ‘sex drive’? Or is this, too, a western construct? Like one of Reddy’s ‘emotives,’ reading this impressive study will leave you a different person.” -Barbara H. Rosenwein | Loyola University Chicago


The Making of Romantic Love is the first serious attempt to situate three richly documented traditions of romantic love—developed in medieval France, India, and Japan—from a critically informed, yet historically sensitive, comparative perspective. William Reddy’s analyses range across contexts with impressive dexterity and erudition bringing brilliant insight to these cultural formations and connecting to the wider history of emotions and sexuality. The book will be as relevant to historians and literary scholars as to cultural critics and anthropologists.” -Daud Ali | University of Pennsylvania


In twelfth-century Europe, for the first time, church authorities attempted a thorough-going reform of marriage and sexual behavior aimed at extirpating sexual “desire” from Christian lives. “Courtly love,” the medieval form of romantic love, was devised as a response to this campaign. Relying on a courtly culture that was already preoccupied with honor and secrecy, poets, romance writers, and lovers devised a vision of love as something quite different from desire. Romantic love was born as a movement of covert resistance.

This love was a profound devotion that could regulate selfish desire and render it innocent; proof of such devotion could be found in heroic acts of self-sacrifice or self-denial. However, such heroic acts included heroic adherence to gender norms and gendered ideals of self-presentation and self-discipline.

These facets of the twelfth-century making of romantic love in Europe stand out clearly when one sets European developments in a comparative framework. In twelfth-century Bengal and Orissa, and in eleventh-century Heian Japan, there was no doctrine of desire, no notion of sexual “appetite,” as the Christian theologians called it. As a result, there was no need to elaborate a heroic vision of a love capable of regulating appetite and cleansing it. In some Orissan temples, sexual love, shringara rasa, was regarded as the most sacred facet of the relationship between humans and the gods. In that strain of Buddhism most popular in Heian Japan, all wishes and longings were regarded as frustrating, as the very cause of suffering. Like Amida Buddha, Heian lovers sought to offer each other compassion and a taste of that elegance that shone in the court of the semi-divine emperor.

The form of heroic mutual devotion characteristic of Western romantic love was made, at a specific point in time, by individuals seeking a refuge from the blanket condemnations by the Church of a kind of “desire” which, itself, did not admit the possibility of love. If romantic love lives on in a similar form today, it may be in part because various doctrines of desire continue to deny its possibility.


University of Chicago Press, fall 2012









Part I. The emergence of courtly love in Europe


1. Aristocratic speech, the Gregorian Reform, and the first troubadour


2. Trobairitz and troubadours and the shadow religion


3. Narratives of true love and twelfth-century common sense



Part II. Points of comparison


4. The bhakti troubadour: Vaishnavism in twelfth-century Bengal and Orissa


5. Elegance and compassion in Heian Japan