Normative cultural narratives may maintain that “Love conquers All,” but this panel explores the myriad ways that love relations, especially those between non-normative couples, have highlighted societal and political fissures. They have provoked anxieties regarding the viability and moral state of nation as well as empire. Indeed, rather than affirming the transcendent dignity of love, the relationships analyzed in this panel have raised questions regarding the strength and value of romantic attachments, while stoking suspicions regarding the destabilizing, hence destructive, power of affective bonds. All of the unions discussed here melded the intimate with the political in highly charged and complicated ways. They were also read in distinct ways by different populations, and held a variety of meanings for different audiences. All of them had at their core an ideal of how romance and love should work, yet all also suggest the many ways this ideal did necessarily work in practice. Indeed, state and empire depended on them not always working, even as they privileged enduring unions. Such couples often found their romance made them run afoul of authorities and their own complicated loyalties.
Whether the unions of Native American women and British men struggling to maintain relations and loyalties in times of war, the union of a Native American/African woman with an Anglophone trader, or the school girl intimacies of young Chinese women, all of these relationships show the enduring politics of the intimate as well as their contested nature. The papers also raise issues about the development of modernity across an array of settings, where heterosexual monogamous same-race unions were considered the social ideal. Despite this model, and many attempts to impose it, many couples, both factual and fictional, subverted such unions. With a comparative lens, the panel seeks to clarify what has been at stake, for individuals, societies, nations, and empires, in love gone wrong. The authors also offer a methodological point, about the importance of narrating intimate relations as a means of elucidating and indeed humanizing the nature of state, empire, and modernity.