Byron and David’s Ideals Of Love in Disgrace By J. M. Coetzee
Essay to prompt 3
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee begins with the narrator telling the reader how David Lurie, at age fifty-two has sex solved. It goes on to describe a situation in which one afternoon a week, David visits a prostitute whose real name he does not even know in order to fulfill his Eros, or desire for erotic love in his life. He marvels that sex under his first two marriages used to be so complicated and now it is all so simple. But love and sex, are inevitably entwined within the book each emotion trying to work itself out and figure out how it is distinguishable from the other. David is a professor who instead of writing a book about the poet Byron, decides to write an opera, which seems as much about working out his own issues with love and sex as it is discovering the relationship between Byron and his last lover, Teresa. In seeking to understand and express the relationship between Byron and Teresa, what David subconsciously is doing is endeavoring to understand how love and sex operate in his own life.
“Affection, may not be love,” the narrator says speaking the thoughts of David, “But it is at least its cousin” (Coetzee, 1). David has developed a deep affection for Soraya, the prostitute he has been visiting regularly. He also holds the delusion that their relationship is more than a transaction about money, but that she too has affection for him. Things fall apart for David when he sees the prostitute he has been visiting outside of the apartment where he purchases her services accompanied by her two sons. This window into her real life leads to David needing to face his own life. He tries another prostitute, but is not the same.
David is a man ruled by lust, but he tells himself that he is simply someone who appreciates beauty. He begins by sexually pursuing one of his students, and though this pursing is “Not rape, not quite that, but undesired” (Coetzee, 25) it leads to a huge scandal at the University where he teaches. He leaves the job that he has held for a quarter of a century disgraced and goes to the country where his daughter Lucy lives. His daughter by choice works on a small farm and has a kennel where she takes care of dogs. David is not extremely impressed with her choice of lifestyle and this begins to create a strain in their relationship.
David, though he is smart, and an academic, is not very self-aware. He is not just estranged from his two ex-wives, but he has cut himself off from the world of meaningful friendships. Hakim is a coworker of David’s who tries to help him through the scandal at the college. He used to be his old tennis buddy. He offers kind words of understanding to David, but these are not well received, “but he is in no mood now for male chumminess” (Coetzee , 30). He is also not in the mood to accept real human love, and he strains his relationships with his ex-wives, his former friends and even his daughter. He settles for finding his connections in Byron’s poetry. Byron’s own doubts of Teresa, whom he “stole” away from her husband, reflect David’s problem with intimacy. When it’s transactional, David is fine, he is not paying for love, but for sex. And when he is an aggressor and abuses his power to go after his student Melanie, he also does not need to worry about human connection because she is “Too young. She will not know how to deal with him” (Coetzee, 18).
David projects his own doubts onto the doubts that Byron has towards Teresa. Bev works at the Animal Welfare Clinic near Lucy. She begins to spend a lot of time with David. Bev could be considered a societally acceptable way for David to express his love, and also his Eros, or lust. She is old enough that it would be normal were they to pair off, as they do have sex on the floor of the clinic. But Byron’s doubts towards Teresa becomes David’s doubts towards Bev. David writes in Byron’s voice, “Can he find it in his heart to love this plain, ordinary woman? Can he love her enough to write music for her? If he can not, what is left for him” (Coetzee, 182).
Being able to write music can be considered “passionate love.” This has never lasted for David. He has had two broken marriages, and then thought he had solved sex, and by extension, love by visiting a prostitute. But this was a temporary solution to a permanent love-less problem. Bev may not be extremely attraction, but she has taken a liking to David, both physically and emotionally. David could pursue something with her, but he wonders what he wants is seething, passionate, poetic love—the kind that forces an artist to create. This type of love though, as much as David wants and needs it to be, is not ever lasting. What David wants, is ongoing infatuation, and this is the sort of love that ones you possess it, you no longer have it.
After his assault and the rape of his daughter Lucy, things take a turn for the worse for David. He returns back to his house near campus, but only to find that it has been broken into. He speaks with Bev on the phone and she encourages him to come back. The novel ends without resolution to David’s issue, but with him being where he feels he should be—near his daughter. While there is not an obvious resolution, there is the hope of what things will happen in the country given all of the things that David has been through.
He writes what Teresa wants of Byron, “She wants him to come on the wind, to wrap himself around her, to bury his face in the hallow between her breasts. Alternatively, she wants him to arrive on the dawn, to appear on the horizon as a sun-god casting the glow of his warmth upon her. By any means at all, she wants him back.”
In going back, David is almost assured he will not find the passion that Byron sought. But he is around the people who care about him, Lucy and Bev. Their love for him is genuine, because they both want what is best for him. This is not a passionate definition of intense love, but it is the sort of love that last. So though the novel ends without definitive resolution, it ends with the hope that David will take the love that is given him, and not leave to seek out an ideal of it that maybe only exists in the poetry of Byron.
Coetzee, J. M.. Disgrace. New York: Viking, 1999. Print.