I so hate to disagree with her -- they are lovely over there and I want to stay on their good side! -- but I love angst. It speaks to me. (I'm completely mellow now, of course, but other periods of my life would score pretty high on the Angst-o-Meter.)
So here's an angsty book from my very dim past: The Lonely Shore by Anne Weale (published by Mills & Boon in 1966, and by Harlequin in 1971). Anne Weale (neé Jay Blakeney) died in 2007; she wrote 88 romances from 1955 to just before her death. I like others of her romances, but this one -- still pretty early in her career -- is my favorite.
Clare is beautiful in a not-entirely-implausible way. This may be because her beauty (mostly the result of having, as David's Aunt Leo puts it, "true Titian red" hair) is actually a precipitating factor in her story. David's niece, Jenny, who is precocious, speculates that Clare might end up with the local wealthy playboy, Paul Mallinson. In fact, when Clare first sees David -- "a tall, dark-haired man in his early thirties" -- she thinks he must be Mallinson because she figures her employer will be a middle-aged scholar. Nope, that's our hero entering, stage left.
She meets Mallinson later on; he's younger than David, wealthy enough not to need to work, and quite charming in a rather superficial way. He woos Clare from the get-go, and they're about evenly matched in looks and social skills, but while Clare is amused by Paul, he doesn't make her feel the way David does.
David clearly comes from the Brontë line of heroes: dark, brooding, hair-trigger temper, and with a Tragic Past. Clare finds him unreasonable and difficult, and it often takes a while for him to relax around her, but still there's a crackle of awareness when she's near him that's not there when Paul shows up.
David is smart about botany but stupid about women. To his mind, Clare's looks are damning evidence that she's just like the gold-digger who threw David over when he was recovering from his wounds as a naval officer so that she could marry a richer guy. Clare can see how superficially she's being judged by David, but sexual chemistry & tension is still sexual chemistry & tension, so she falls in love with him.
Now, in real life, a woman in Clare's position really ought to give Paul the heave-ho as soon as she realizes that she loves David, particularly as David has a bee in his bonnet about feckless and inconstant women, and she can see that David is warming to her charms. But she doesn't. And as little as I like that staple of many romances, the Misunderstood Clinch Between Heroine & Other Man, Weale is just a bit smarter than other authors. Yes, David is blindingly jealous, and yes, Clare is fighting off a drunken Paul, and yes David punches Paul out. But when David then turns his rage on Clare, she's chastises him for hypocrisy:
Twice you've forced your kisses on me and then implied that I lured you into it, and last night you lost control again and not ten minutes later you knocked a man down for the very offence which you had just committed. I suppose I should be honoured by your attentions. Well, I'm not! Sincerity comes pretty high on my list of the virtues, Mr. Lancaster, and it seems to me that you are just about the worst hypocrite I've ever met. Simply because you've been jilted once, you've let it warp and embitter you until you see your own cynicism reflected in everyone else . . . "
Wow. She's in love with him, but she's willing to rip into him this way on principle? I like this woman. But it gets better. In the next paragraph, Clare realizes that "[t]o accuse him of being self-centred and hypocritical was justified, but to drag up the past and taunt him with it was a cruelty which just appalled her." All this, plus she's self-aware and self-critical (if just a bit prosy)? Wonderful.
Back to the angst. David's Aunt Leo isn't merely the convenient chaperon who makes it possible for Clare to live-in, she's also an artist. Who paints a portrait of Clare as a mermaid. (It's supposed to be lovely and the best thing Aunt Leo's ever done, but I couldn't get past the image that the description, "the flesh of the face and arms had a faintly greenish tinge" evoked.) And just as Clare (who'd given notice with the whole "hypocrisy" speech) is getting ready to leave, someone throws something through Mermaid Clare's face. Aunt Leo knows David did it but is unperturbed; when Clare assumes it means he must hate her, she tells Clare that David loves her but his pride won't let him show it.
In fact, Aunt Leo challenges Clare to be the one to admit to being in love. Oh, but she just couldn't, Clare protests, and Aunt Leo calls her on it.
"Because of your pride?" Miss Lancaster asked. "One of you must sacrifice that if you are to have happiness. Pride is the enemy of love, my child. Many hearts have been broken because pride was stronger than love."
Now, apart from an unfortunate rhythmic resemblance to the Mother Superior's speech to Maria in The Sound of Music, this seems like pretty good advice -- and it's advice that, if followed, would shortcut a lot of HEAs. But of course our protagonists are not that smart (the best Clare can do is to stare at him one last time with "everything she felt for him . . . written on her face") and she exits stage right.
Fast forward a week. Clare has dreary lodgings in Bayswater and is waiting for word from her brother in Kenya that it's cool to come stay with him. Clare's reduced to walking along the Thames for hours, mesmerized by the swirling water and unaware of much else. She loses track of time and realizes she'll be late getting back to the boardinghouse and thus might be locked out. Sure enough, the door's locked! Before she can knock, Clare hears something from the road and turns . . . and faints. (She'd not been eating properly, silly girl.)
When she comes to, she's at David's brother's flat in London, and David's confessing that he tracked her down through the airlines. He loves her, etc., etc. There's a lovely epilogue while they're honeymooning in Italy: our Heathcliff hero has been replaced by an "ardent and demanding lover." Clare thinks:
[It] amazed her that she should ever have thought him stiff and unemotional. Sometimes she felt that she had married a stranger, for as the long golden days passed a new David gradually revealed himself. She had loved him when he was at his most curt and off-hand, but now she discovered that her husband had an unexpected capacity of nonsense, a boyish hilarity which before he had kept strictly controlled. With other people he was still quiet and self-contained, but with her he was all tenderness and warmth.
She had accepted that that there would always be a part of himself which he would withhold from her, but instead she found herself in possession of his whole heart.
Now that's a happy ending.
Okay, I *know* this book can deliver the angsty goods when required. It's done that for me more than once. But rereading it for this post, I discovered I didn't need the emotional connection necessary to get that drug-like hit of angst. I'm serious when I say it's like a drug -- I wouldn't be surprised if studies show that reading a particularly angsty HEA does stuff to our serotonin levels and affects our neuroreceptors in some way. I just wasn't in the market for that drug this time.
Here's the super cool thing, though. Because I wasn't reading for the angsty goodness, I actually paid attention to what the characters were saying to each other. There are some pretty interesting philosophical debates going on in this book. (It makes for rather clunky dialogue in places, but my eyes never rolled.) My favorite was a discussion between Clare and David about the role of love in marriage. He's being particularly cynical, insisting that women marry for financial security and not primarily for love. Clare, who at 26 has been earning her own living for 8 years, disagrees. "I've known several women whose standard of living went down with a jolt when they married." This is the mid-60s, people. Way to go, Anne Weale!
The other thread that weaves in and out of the book is the role that good looks play in a woman's life. Weale clearly wants us to see Clare as a good person, not merely attractive. Yes, she's beautiful, but when Paul suggests she should have been a model, she dismisses the supposed glamour; girls she knew who modeled ended up with fallen arches and badly stressed; it's not an easy or pleasant job. Clare helps the vicar's daughter, Penny, make the most of her pale English looks, even sewing her a frock for the ball. Penny's in love with Paul Mallinson, of course, but Weale doesn't pair them up by the end of the book. She really doesn't approve of Paul; I suspect she thought Penny too good (and too young) for him. An actual movie starlet shows up for the village fete; she's also lovely, but David's not attracted to her, and Clare's not particularly concerned about Paul's feelings for the woman. When Paul says the actress wasn't very interesting as a person, Clare basically shrugs. She's not surprised because good looks are no predictor of a woman's character, good or bad.
In Weale's philosophy, women's looks and their characters are unrelated, and so Penny isn't a better person when she looks prettier, she's just demonstrating common sense. Clare's beauty stokes David's attraction to her, but it fuels his contempt as well. He fights his attraction (we never get David's POV, but he explains himself pretty succinctly at the denouement) because Clare's beauty reminds him too much of the witch who threw him over while he was in hospital (and who ran off with a war-profiteer -- think Halliburton -- and informed David by letter delivered on the day they were to have been married). That sort of evilness is just what beautiful women do, he thinks; getting him to see Clare as more than a beautiful woman is that last step needed. Oh, and getting past his pride.
Discussion topic: Aunt Leo says, "Pride is the enemy of love." What do we think about this? I could argue it either way, but I suspect I'm building things into the concept of "pride" when I do so.