Give a warm welcome to today’s guest poster, my dear friend and Fountains of Carrots partner in crime Christy Isinger!
Like all beautiful, mysterious, and true things in life marriage is a thing that never fails to disappoint in providing surprisingly new and interesting revelations. And I’m not just talking about my own marriage.
Lately I keep seeing a common trait of marriage appearing to me which I can’t stop loving. It’s this remarkable way in which one partner so compliments the other that a new level of creativity and passion, love and happiness results.
I think the perfect example of this happening in a marriage is the marriage of G.K. and Frances Chesterton. In her remarkable biography, The Woman Who Was Chesterton, Nancy C. Brown shows the picture of the Chesterton marriage to be one of intense self-giving on the part of Frances that not only supported G.K.’s famous writing career but provided him with inspiration, stability, and a shared purpose between the two.
It wasn’t as if Frances was forced into a raw deal where she was her husband’s servant and typist, but it was as if her talents and skills when devoted to G.K. opened up his world. He was free to write without the worry of practical matters like directions to the train station or the time of his next lecture. She was his support and constant stability that his personality so desperately needed so that he could express his genius through writing.
His love and devotion to her was also clearly evident, he didn’t take her for granted he loved her and knew completely how much he owed to her confidence in him. Together his work became important and timeless. Their marriage a bulwark of creative force as much her accomplishment as his.
After reading that incredible book I thought that maybe a marriage like the Chesterton’s is a one in a million thing only happening once in a generation when the stars align properly. But more and more I see this mutual self-giving in the lives of famous creatives. It may appear as if only one spouse is reaching great heights in their chosen field, but when we look behind this genius we see that it is as much the accomplishment due to the one as the other spouse.
I recently watched the terrific documentary series Chef’s Table and in the episode telling the career of famed Italian chef Massimo Bottura I was moved by the story of his marriage. He described his wife in the same touching and heartfelt devotion of G.K. talking about Frances. His wife Lara is the heart of his restaurant, his inspiration in his cooking, and the one who wrote down his new recipes, and chose the paintings for the dining room. It was the same mutual love that fostered amazing creativity.
It wasn’t as if there was simply an amazing woman behind a talented man, it was as if their marriage and love fuelled Battura’s talent to a new, previously unseen level as a joint accomplishment and shared goal. Battura closes his episode in commenting that it’s not simply important for him to create and succeed as a chef, but that his creativity and success is shared in the love of his wife and family.
And of course there’s Hamilton. (Everything comes back to this amazing musical for me right now.) The marriage of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton is not a perfect one. Alexander carries on an affair, then consequently publicly admits it to Eliza’s humiliation, but Eliza forgives Alexander in an amazing example of love and reconciliation. The conclusion of the play ends with the dramatic song sung by Eliza about how she carried on her husband’s work after his death and hoping that she did enough for history to see his legacy.
I’m moved by the way Eliza devoted herself to Alexander and to his work. Her virtue and love for Alexander is known by Alexander himself and it’s vital that this support was behind him over the course of his tumultuous career. Would he have been able to do as much for the country at such a crucial time in history if he were without this marital love? Would he have had confidence in himself through various disagreements and discouragements if he didn’t have such a wise, insightful confidant in Eliza? Eliza was fully committed to her husband’s work and to him as a person even when he betrays her, it is an intriguing example of how the virtue of one spouse bolsters the other even when they fail.
I think these marriages are singular examples in the type of talent and historical importance they achieve, but that creative force that these marriages foster is something that should be the goal of all marriages.
We all want marriages in which we work together for a common goal. It doesn’t have to be a trendy career path, it can be the passions we have for our families, communities, hobbies or faith. But we all want to be that completely supportive inspiration to our spouse. We want to be that core support that kindles love and inspiration in what our spouse does and how they live. I think that’s possible for all marriages, but it’s inspiring to see it in action in the lives of creative geniuses and historical figures.
Christy Isinger blogs random thoughts about family, books, living the Faith, and the joys and tribulations of keeping five kids aged 9 and under alive everyday. She has a penchant for Chesterton, mystery novels, British drama, and most alcohols. Come say hello at fountains of home or on Facebook!
This was a fantastic guest post – so many good words here. I LOVE that you referenced Massimo and Lara in Chef’s Table – I said “AHHH I love them! I want to be friends with them!!!!” out loud to my husband probably 5,000 times during that episode.
I love Chef’s Table so much, but I was in tears in Massimo’s episode. It was just so beautiful!
Bianca @ alleluiaisoursong.com says
I love this! I’m a music director at a parish and do alot of singing, piano playing, and leading choirs. My husband does A WHOLE LOT of support for me behind the scenes in tangible ways like important admin stuff that I would otherwise really struggle with, taking care of our babies during the many Masses I sing each week (then in between Masses I meet up with them to nurse babies, etc!), makes sure I’m not forgetting to stay fed/hydrated – esp since I’m pregnant – and provides moral support too. He still has a day job while I get to be a stay @ home mom during the week. I def couldn’t use my creativity if it wasn’t for him! Thanks for this post! 🙂
Oh, that is so nice to hear! I do the music at our parish as well and my husband always jokes with me that I don’t even know how bad the kids are in Mass because I only sit with them during the homily – he says I’ve got it easy – but it definitely wouldn’t be possible without him, I’m really thankful!
Yes! This is so great. My husband is in residency and I feel like I can relate to this a lot. And I loveeeed Massimo’s chefs table episode!
Yes! A residency definitely qualifies for helping out your husband’s efforts and requires so much work on your part too. I’m always amazed at how much wives go through for their doctor husbands!
I love this and I think it’s very true that so many famous creatives were supported and inspired by their spouses–that their work would not have been possible without a collaborative life with another. However, it seems that all of these examples focus on couples where one spouse is the creative and the other takes on the practical details of life to support them.
What about a marriage in which both spouses have creative ambitions independent of one another? It’s something that is the case with my own marriage and that I think about frequently (Though neither of us have the time or mental space at the moment to devote to our creative interests–my husband because he’s working a corporate job to support us and me because I’m running the household and mothering.)
I think without outside support (such as a housekeeper or a nanny), it’s very difficult for two independently creative people to be able to both really apply themselves to their art. Dividing up the household/childcare tasks equally and financially supporting the family and finding the mental space and the time to be able to equally pursue things like writing or art seem immensely difficult and in some cases, impossible.
Maybe it’s a seasons of life sort of thing. For instance, in the marriage of lesser known poet, Joyce Kilmer and his even lesser known wife, Aline Kilmer, she took on the burdens (joyfully!) of managing the household and staying at home while he pursued his writing career. After he died in WWI, she developed her writing and was able to publish poetry and children’s books. But it does make it seem as though coexisting as creatives while still being firmly planted in the very real details of home and family life presents challenges to producing great work.
There are two articles that have resonated with me on these issues of marriage, parenthood, and the creative life:
Neither of them are written from a Catholic perspective and so I think there is some bitterness towards homemaking and the time-consuming menial tasks of motherhood that might be healed if the writer were to understand the those menial things as potentially sanctifying acts of love.
And yet, so many of the sentiments are painfully legitimate, I think. For instance, in the first article, I think this excerpt illustrates what I’m trying to get at of the near-impossibility of two creative drives supporting one another:
“My own mother wanted to be a writer, still wants to be one. She has not published a book yet. Occasionally people will tell me I am ambitious or productive or unusually driven, as though my accomplishments were my own. But I know that at every moment I am standing on her shoulders. I am, moreover, achingly aware of what this has cost her. She raised me alone…[She] paid for four years of college, and supported me again and again as I tried and failed and tried to have a career as a writer. I have lost count of how many times I have moved back into her house. I am living there now with my husband and children! And she has not published a book. And I have published two. It is not because I am a better writer. It is because…if I came first, she came second.”
Sorry for the novel of a comment, but I would love to hear yours and every and anybody else’s thoughts on this. Sometimes, I feel as thought I just have to repeat J.R.R. Tolkien’s beautiful quote to myself and remember that this life is not all there is and if I don’t get to produce great work it doesn’t mean my creativity is wasted: “There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.”
Interesting thoughts, Dominika. I think that quote to myself a lot, as well.
I guess I didn’t want my perspective to come across that only one of the spouses is expressing themselves creatively but that both spouses contribute to the work and creativity, even if the other’s name isn’t on the page or it’s not their hands plating the food.
I understand when both people have creative passions, Frances Chesterton herself continued to write and publish stories and plays while being married to Gilbert. I don’t think she thought of herself as sacrificing herself for his betterment, but contributing to what he was doing. She was vital to the writing and his thought process and probably contributed to his writing in a great deal when it came to editing as well.
I think we have to stop thinking of our spousal desires to create as in competition to one another. Like you say, it’s pretty much impossible to have both spouses working full time and pursuing their creative outlets while running a household and raising children. But that doesn’t mean the creativity stops, it’s probably going to mean that there are shifts, seasons when one produces more than the other, times when one spouse is putting in more physical work or running errands more than the other. I don’t think we necessarily should think of these “geniuses” of having a glamorous lifestyle where one spouse is at the beck and call of the other 24/7. It’s hard work on the part of both of them.
Like everything else in marriage, the pursuit of one’s passions, whether it’s one spouse or both, will require sacrifice in some degree on both sides. It really comes down to properly ordering our passions and pursuits within our vocations. We may have a calling towards an art form, but our vocation to holiness is part and parcel with our vocation to marriage. We cannot let our passions and pursuits overtake our marriages. I think when we see these discussions outside of a Catholic perspective it’s really easy to become bitter, and believe that sacrifice within a marriage is coming from only one side, but within a Catholic viewpoint on marriage it should be a mutual self-giving that enables creativity to flourish, but not at the expense of a spouse, the marriage, and the family.
I’m not sure if this is speaking to what you were saying, it’s a really complex topic and of course plays out very individually within marriages itself. We really can’t know everything that goes on in any marriage, so I hope that I was bringing to light just a few aspects of these creative marriages that I found inspiring.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply! I really appreciate it. A lot of where I’m coming from is my own experience trying to find my footing as a newlywed (two years still counts, right?) and a new mother and reconciling those roles with a lifetime of desiring to create art. But I think this point you made is probably the most significant takeaway for me: “It really comes down to ordering our passions and pursuits within our vocations.” After all, we’ve made marital vows in front of God and man, not professional ones.
I agree with you about shifts or seasons of creativity for each spouse. I struggle sometimes to see the big picture—that one day I might actually have quite a bit of personal time and freedom once my children are all grown up. However, I do think that the very real possibility of not producing art (great or otherwise) because of the constraints of family life can be in itself a source of grace. When my husband made the switch from the academia in the liberal arts to accounting, well-meaning friends frequently told us that he ought to be using the talents God has given him and acted as if he had sold out to the business world somehow. But I believe sometimes God calls us to sacrifice the exercise of the talents He has given us for a greater good (an idea which I think most secular individualists would balk at—the American dream of creating yourself and all that). I think a good analogy would be priests and religious sacrificing sex to more completely serve God and His Church in their vocations. (Then again, most secular individualists would balk at that too.)
My husband and I were talking more about this topic and how that to be a great artist, to be a prophet of a kind, very often means to be alone—to essentially be married to your art. I think this is why so many artists throughout history have been unmarried or childless (Dante, Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis—although an excellent example of how his marriage later in life profoundly affected his creative work—he wanted his wife to be credited as a co-author for Till We Have Faces) and frequently those that were married and have children didn’t really order their artistic pursuits to their vocations and ended up being neglectful spouses or parents (Shakespeare, Faulkner, even Waugh sounded like a terrible father even those his prose is one limitlessly delicious.)
I’m rambling and mainly speaking to myself at this point, but you’ve given me good things to think about!
Angela Peters says
Another extremely interesting (and Catholic) couple that reminds me of what you write here is Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand!
A really good example Angela! I always keep meaning to read more about their married life.