What C. S. Lewis Said About 'Affection'

Affection is defined by the dictionary as ‘a gentle feeling of fondness or liking’. It comes from Middle English, via Old French from Latin affectio(n-), from afficere ‘to influence’.

The Greek word for Affection, ‘storge’ almost rhymes with ‘Corgi’ and means ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring or vice-versa’. In that sense, we can see the two categories of love at work immediately in the Need-love of the child, the puppy, the kitten, and the Gift-love of the mother. As Lewis points out, in his book The Four Loves, though: ‘On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.’

Affection can also be described as comfort, satisfaction, cosiness. It embraces just about anyone or anything, ignoring all barriers of age, sex, class and education. Animals feel it, as human beings feel it, not just for their own species but for others; we can feel it for objects and places as well as for living things. It has much to do with familiarity; when we feel it, it seems to have been going on for a while, unmarked; it feels as though it has ‘always been there’. Those that we love in this way, we also take for granted. We do not boast of our affections in the same way that we are proud of our romances. Affection is quite, comfortable, private, child-like.

Affection also spreads and embraces the other loves: our romances may start off full of erotic passion, but they bend towards comfort and homeliness more often than not. Friendships often become affectionate - indeed, we may find things attractive in our friends as points of endearment, outside the remit of the original friendship. In this sense, affection is not ‘driven’ in the same way as erotic love: it appears to fulfil itself and does not require energetic pursuit. If we ask the question ‘What will happen next?’ of Affection, the answer would most probably be ‘More of the same, but quietly, please.’

Lewis points to the kiss as an interesting outward sign of both Eros and Affection: ‘To be sure, you may say that the kiss of Affection differs from the kiss of Eros. Yes, but not all kisses between lovers are lovers' kisses.’

Affection is indiscriminate. In fact, as Lewis points out, it can bring together people and things that would otherwise be alienated from one another by their natures:

We may say, and not quite untruly, that we have chosen our friends and the woman we love for their various excellencies - for beauty, frankness, goodness of heart, wit, intelligence, or what not. But it had to be the particular kind of wit, the particular kind of beauty, the particular kind of goodness that we like, and we have our personal tastes in these matters. That is why friends and lovers feel that they were ‘made for one another’. The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other.

Affection can lead to admiration for a person’s qualities: in seeing someone in an affectionate, close context for a period of time, we may come to appreciate them in other ways. It can lead to an unselfish appreciation of things that we would never otherwise have noticed or had anything to do with. As Lewis says, Affection broadens the mind: ‘of all natural loves it is the most catholic, the least finical, the broadest.’ It introduces us to people, things and experiences that would normally be foreign to us and rejected by us:

In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there’. Made for us? Thank God, no. They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed.

In this way, Affection can act as a bridge, taking us out of ourselves and our Need-loves and showing us other worlds: ‘Affection opens our eyes to goodness we could not have seen, or should not have appreciated without it.’ In fact, Affection begins to look like the highest form of Love that might exist, it is so easy, so natural, so all-encompassing and so common.

The problem with Affection, Lewis believes, is that nearly ‘all the characteristics of this love are ambivalent. They may work for ill as well as for good. By itself, left simply to follow its own bent, it can darken and degrade human life. The debunkers and anti-sentimentalists have not said all the truth about it, but all they have said is true.’