Findley’s The Wars Essay, Research Paper

In his writing of The Wars, Findley brings to light certain views of romantic love, essentially he says that love is a fleeting emotion, and cannot often hold up to the trials of human life. But when it does hold up, it is stronger than any attempt to crush it could ever be, even the mind numbing horrors of war. This notion of love is displayed in various forms throughout the text of the novel, from the cold cruel love of Barbara d’Orsey for her various heroes, to the warm tender love Juliet d’Orsey had for Robert which he also had for those in need of him, be it his sister Rowena or an abandoned dog and horse in the middle of a battle zone. Through his use of these views of romantic love, Findley has made The Wars a touching and compelling tale of life and love in the midst of a war.

One of the views of love to be found in the novel is the cold, hard, selfish love which is seen in the actions of Lady Barbara d’Orsey. Throughout her flings in the text, Barbara acts very cold to her lovers. She does love them, if only for the attention they attract to herself, but she fails to show an iota of emotion should they have the misfortune of being injured, having no care whatsoever for their emotions. She refuses to even let them hear her voice while they are in hospital, instead she simply stands silently at the foot of the bed, not talking, not touching, not reassuring them, just standing holding her freesia. This shows her to be a very selfish woman with no concern for the lives of those she hurts, which is also evidenced in her willingness to break up a happy relationship because she wants the man only to dump him the moment he is injured as was the case with Jamie Villiers whom she stole from Diana Menzies. Barbara was a material girl in an era when heroes were the most readily available commodity. No matter how many of them she could use up, there were always more coming back from the front. The character of Barbara d’Orsey personifies what Findley feels love often is, but shouldn’t be, because love should be a nurturing and caring experience, not an attempt at recognition and status which it seems to be for Lady Barbara.

Scattered through the text we also see another stronger view of love, that being the powerful lasting love of another which we see in Juliet d’Orsey’s love for Robert. Even though she was only twelve years old when she first met him, she saw that he was a caring, loving man who would go and sit with a dying friend for hours every day. This she recognized as being a display of love, which had a profound lasting impact on her. By witnessing first hand what a person he was, she was able to see and love the real Robert Ross even if he didn’t really know it. Her love for him, though it was never consummated, was a strong and pure love and seems to have been a constant presence with him, as when he survived the bombing on the road to have his kit bag destroyed, nothing but the candle she gave him left standing upright and lit in the road. This shows the strength of her love and how it was able to stand up to the ferocity of a bomber attack.

The third view of romantic love is that of Robert Ross, this is the kind, caring, sensitive love that Robert has for those close to him and weak, and for animals. It seems that Robert’s feelings of romantic love are somewhat limited in the traditional sense of boy and girl, but they tend to be more of an inner beauty that Robert seeks, for psychological rather than physical gains. Rather than seeking an attractive partner, except in the case of Barbara, he tends to stick with those with whom he has been assigned and has formed strong emotional ties. In a sense they have become his family, whom he can love in place of Rowena and his parents, who he feels are cut off from him while he struggles through the war overseas. In the case of Barbara, Robert felt a very traditional physical desire but didn’t feel a very strong romantic or emotional attraction. He had seen how she treated her lovers in the past and he appears to have prepared himself, and not formed a strong emotional relationship, though they did have some romantic moments filled with sexual tension as in the hall outside Taffler’s bedroom. But as with his experience at the whorehouse Robert doesn’t seem to find very much romance, it was more of a primal lust.

For those who grew close to him, Robert felt a very strong romanticized love. For Rowena, Robert felt the purest strongest love he could imagine. She was the first person he had ever seen and he was able to remember what he had thought and how she had looked which shows this to have been very important to him. He felt responsible for her well being and blamed himself when she died, and didn’t forgive himself for letting her down. Her death affected him so much that he left for the war, to try and make himself feel better by helping others to stop pain and suffering, for he thought that was what soldiers do. Yet when he realized the difference he didn’t lose his sensitivity, compassion or love of animals, these traits blossomed in the face of all the death and pain, until his compassion led to his downfall and death. For his fellow officers and friends like Purchas, Harris, and Rodwell, Robert felt a sense of love which was very deep and meaningful. For Purchas whom Robert had known since childhood, he had a strong bond which was evident in the closeness of their friendship. With Harris, he felt a very strong emotional attachment which may or may not have been a sexual love but it was definitely a pure and powerful love. Through the time they spent together in the infirmary, they grew to be soulmates and Robert was crushed when Harris eventually died, a feeling which stays with him much like the memory of Rowena. The compassion which Robert displayed with his loved ones is comparable to that he feels for animals in general, but especially for those unfortunate enough to have been caught up in the war in which they were trapped along with him. For the horses Rowena’s rabbits and even Rodwell’s toad, Robert felt no less compassion and in some cases just as much as he did with Harris and Rowena. His final words after the siege and torching of the barn where he had holed up with his herd of freed horses, were words of concern for the welfare of the dog which had been with him, he had no concern for his own well being, he wanted the animals to be looked after although sadly it was unsuccessful.

Robert had a fairly romantic view of war and many aspects of life in general at the beginning of this novel, yet his perspective was flipped around when Rowena died and he was crushed with the realization that love can’t solve all of life’s problems. But he was able to realize that you can keep on loving someone after they have died and keep them alive in your heart, if not in person. His love for friends and family, and his love of animals and the memories of times they had shared were able to sustain him through the rough periods towards the end of his life, and maybe we will be able to learn something about compassion and love from this piece to sustain us through our own troubling times.

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Wars By Timothy Findley
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