As Saint Valentine’s day approaches, shops and other commercial venues in the UK and further afield are being swamped by red hearts of all makes and sizes, soft teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, colourful flowers, piles of cards and thousands of suggestions on how to celebrate the day with your chosen one. Anyone with a bit of commercial sense finds a way to profit from the stickiness and sweetness of this feast of love. In fact, the origins of this festival take us back to Ancient Rome and to the very confused story of three Christian martyrs with the same name. The most accepted version (see BBC website) seems to be that in the year 496 Pope Galasius declared the first celebration of the day in remembrance of Bishop Valentine, who, around 270AD, continued to marry very young people in the name of love despite Emperor Claudius’ ban of such practices (apparently, married men made bad soldiers). Bishop Valentine was harshly punished for his belief in love as God’s will but, before being beheaded, he had time to fall in love with his jailer’s daughter and write, for the first time, a love note signed “from your Valentine”.
Whatever our reaction to the yearly dose of sentimentalism that this festival brings, the commercial success of this celebration could have not been built and maintained without the appeal of human emotions. In a recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Steve Pile (2009) offers an engaging overview of the revival of affects and emotions for human geography researchers. In his piece, Pile critically analyses the two main current approaches to this subject, affectual and emotional geographies, exploring their commonalities and fundamental disagreements and suggesting some ways forward. Despite the struggle between the politico-ethical approaches of these two strands of research, they remind us that emotion, affect and feelings matter and they matter because of their power to inspire, dissuade, influence or even manipulate people. How they do so is a matter for further geographical discussion.