Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part II
Last week, I argued that healthy, functioning romances (which we’d probably all enjoy in real life) have trouble generating the kind of conflict that drives romance novels. Logically, the next step would be for me to look at some famous literary romances and see if they were healthy or not. Here goes:
Romeo and Juliet
First of all, they’re teenagers. Juliet is thirteen. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for being clear-headed, or having well-thought-out romances with each other. Besides that, the two of them get married after knowing each other for a day. A day, and they’re supposed to be desperately in love with each other. Let’s examine their conversation before they tie the knot:
– a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet
– Oh no, you’re a Capulet/Montague!
– Parting is such a sweet sorrow
Does Juliet know Romeo’s strategy for dealing with a crisis is to bawl his eyes out in the friar’s cell? Or run through her cousin with a sword? Wouldn’t you kind of want to know how your husband acts in a tough spot before you marry him?
She doesn’t know him well enough to realize he’ll lose his head if he thinks she’s actually dead, and agrees to a plan where absolutely everything can (and does) go wrong. Which is why the story ends in tragedy.
Yeah, I’m kicking a book when it’s down here, because NO ONE’s going to argue Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is healthy. But their destructive conflict certainly drives the plot. On one hand, Catherine marries another man because to marry the one she loves would be ‘degrading.’ In other words, pride trumps treating another person well. Of course, Catherine claims she’s marrying for money in order to better Heathcliff’s life, not bothering to think maybe it’d be downright humiliating to be rescued by the husband of the girl you love. On the other, Heathcliff marries another woman to spite her, holds a grudge, and gets revenge any way he can. In other words, he doesn’t exactly follow the “keep no record of wrongs” part of loving… Well, that’s enough about that.
Gone With the Wind
Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and pretty blind (it takes her till Chapter 63 of a sixty-three chapter book for her to realize she loves Rhett, and she’d been married to him since Chapter 47!) Of course, Rhett never tells her he loves her until he’s quit loving her… that lack of communication again. The central problem is that she is so self-absorbed that if he’d told her, she would have cast him away like an old rag. But in spite of it all, he’s the old who sees her as she really is – “hard and greedy and unscrupulous, like me.” This dysfunctional romance is truly a result of two self-centered people loving each other.
So that’s that for three of the most famous literary romances I can think of. Any other novels you want to throw out there?
By the way, yes, I did run out of quotes to post this Wednesday.