Discuss: Valentine

Title Discuss: Valentine
Description February 13th, 1949 Episode
Message Text As near as I can tell, there are very few episodes that are direct interpretations of or commentaries on historical events. Only "A Red and White Guideon" seems as historically isolated as "Valentine." "In the House Where I Was Born," "Sketch for a Screenplay," and "Berlin, 1945" are more abstract or detachedly reflective. "Meeting at Ticonderoga" is lost, and I have yet to read the script.

I take "Valentine" to be rather unique in that Cooper seems to have been engaged in a larger project of historical analysis. The beginning monologue by Lincoln (as we either guess immediately, or are told later he is) illustrates strong dichotomies of youth and age, the historical and the personal. The immediate goal seems to be to challenge our perceptions of historical personalities in general, and Lincoln in particular, which tend to fix the individual at a particular moment in history, and by extension in his own life. We forget that Lincoln had a youth, a period of innocence, that there may be features of his life that do not appear in the canon of biographical understanding. Indeed, Abe himself seems to understand this, and he wonders aloud in the first minutes of the story whether we expect him to have forgotten all of that as well.

The Anne Rutledge story, as one might suppose even if he has not heard of it prior to listening to this episode, is quite real, though its details are unclear and it remains even today a subject of much debate. Cooper, then, was addressing the fervor of that debate, and likely voicing his own view on it - that Lincoln and Rutledge had indeed been in love, and were even planning to be married before her death from Typhoid in 1835. More to the point, though, it seems that Cooper is commenting on what might push a person to discount the notion of that early romance, namely, a mythologizing of Abraham Lincoln that partial strips him of his humanness, and makes his character and his circumstances more fixed than they could be in reality. And in reality, Cooper seems to suggest, there is always young love, for that is simply a feature of being human. Lincoln says to us then, answering to the debate plainly: "Yes, I loved her. Need you ask?"

Then, to make the point that Lincoln may have been more than the aged historical figure we all recollect him as, there are a handful of lines that contradict that concept of him. The shopkeeper, upon Lincoln's return to New Salem, comments "We expected you'd be wearing a high silk hat," to which Abe replies "Not me." But what we take that to mean in "not yet," as at that time Abe had not yet become that person - he had to develop into it and live out the joy of youth, and have his first sorrows, prior to the war. Suggesting that same, very human development, when Aunt Hannah enters the store, he reassures her: "I'm never gonna forget my people." With the benefit of an historical perspective, though, we know that the truth is that he never returned to Illinois after leaving for the Presidency. Of course, that may not mean that he forgot them, but only that he never had the chance to return, that he became caught up in things much larger than himself, things which never led him to forget where he came from, but which did lead us, his later admirers, to forget it ourselves.

Abe overhears Anne, speaking in that same store, declaring how real was their love for each other. "I know it," she says. "He knows it. The whole world knows it. Must I write it down?" And Abe tells us then how happy that made him. But both of them, before death, before war, before the unforeseen turns of history, are naive, and fail to consider how fully such things, which may seem to them so significant and so clear, can be so fully overshadowed, and ultimately forgotten. And President Lincoln understands at the end that the only thing that can make that long-ago love apparent to history is that, indeed, it was written down.

Any other thoughts on this theme? Or another that I'm missing? The acting perhaps, or any other elements of the production?

And remember that next Friday it is episode #88, "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" that has its sixtieth anniversary.
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Ownership Edward
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Submission Date Feb 14, 2009