Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Drowning in the Sea of Love

One of those delightful women who make The Uncrushable Jersey Dress such a fun blog recently wrote that she didn't like angst in a romance.

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 Drake wants to get away from London, so she accepts a job as the secretary to David Lancaster, a botanist working at his home in Norfolk on a book about coastal plant life.  (I've been to Norfolk -- it can be pretty desolate and very beautiful.  The Norfolk fens are pictured here.)  He's a difficult employer who's had trouble keeping secretaries; Clare's predecessor was Miss Winifreda Bunberry -- you have to love a author willing to reference Oscar Wilde -- who burst into tears at the first sign of David's temper.  Clare figures she's up for the challenge.

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.
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13 comments:

  1. "Aunt Leo says, 'Pride is the enemy of love.' What do we think about this?"

    I didn't notice "an unfortunate rhythmic resemblance to the Mother Superior's speech to Maria" but I did think of 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7:

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Admittedly that's from the NIV version, which was published after this novel was first published, so Aunt Leo can't have been thinking of the NIV version of the passage.

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  2. I'm no Bible scholar (I leave that to my unbaptised ex-husband who got the full CofE education despite his lack of faith and knows everything!), but I rather imagine that authors like Weale would have been more used to the King James version, which refers to Charity instead of Love.

    Which suggests to me one of these tricky translations from the Greek: Eros (physical or sexual love), Agape (affection or "true love"), and Philia (the virtuous but dispassionate love). I have no idea what 1 Corinthians 13 says in the original, but you can well imagine someone opting for a more "charitable" version of love in that text, rather than anything smacking of physical or emotional love.

    But I'm still not sure about just the idea that "pride is the enemy of love" -- either it packs pejorative meanings of self-importance into the word pride, in which case it's trivially true, or it suggests the extreme in the other direction, namely that if you truly love another, your own needs and concerns must take a back seat.

    And if it's the latter, then I think you may be right and it's a distinctly (but not exclusively) Christian concept of love. But then is that really the model we need for romantic relationships? Don't Christ's admonitions about love get us back to charity rather than romance?

    Fascinating stuff; I wish I were a lot smarter about all of it.

    Edited to add -- I did call Henry. He says they used the Revised Standard Version in all his studies in the 60s and 70s. That has 1 Cor. 13, 4-7 using the word Love, but doesn't use the word Proud. Instead, it would read "Love . . . is not arrogant," which rather fits my argument about the triviality of Aunt Leo's statement. If pride = arrogance, then of course it's the enemy of love.

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  3. "either it packs pejorative meanings of self-importance into the word pride, in which case it's trivially true, or it suggests the extreme in the other direction, namely that if you truly love another, your own needs and concerns must take a back seat."

    I think my medievalist tendencies are going to show here, but I can only think of "pride" as one of the seven deadly sins, so obviously it has pejorative connotations for me. But perhaps more relevantly to the romance genre, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice illustrates how Darcy, who is proud, can only win Elizabeth after he's been "properly humbled." Of course, Bingley and Jane went to the other extreme and were so modest and lacking in self-esteem that their courtship didn't run smoothly either.

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  4. I plead guilty to about not caring for a lot of angst in romance. In my defense, I've had years and years of unrelenting (although, thankfully, not extreme)teen angst at my house. In my world angst = drama...and I'm not a big fan. Usually.

    I agree with Aunt Leo that "pride is the enemy of love". I'm thinking of the kind of pride that puts self before all others. It's hard to really love others if you have selfish pride. In my book, selfish pride is arrogant. Hmmm.

    Jane Austen addresses pride in Pride and Prejudice (duh) and talks about the notion of "improper pride". I'd look it up, but I need to go make a birthday cake for my youngest teenager, otherwise we might have some angst at my house.

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  5. I've poked at Henry to chime in on the Biblical scholarship, so I'll save some rhetorical space there for him.

    With regard to Aunt Leo's statement, I have a couple concerns. Obviously, it's easy to see that getting all relevant information out in the open is a good thing in most situations, but it's also easy to see why two people frightened about making themselves even more vulnerable to pain and humiliation would avoid baring their souls even farther.

    And here's the scenario I can imagine for Clare and David: Clare waits until the very end -- standing at the side of some B-road in Norfolk, waiting for a rural bus to collect her -- and then, just as the bus pulls up alongside them, tells David that she loves him. What's he likely to do? Immediately process that statement, weighing its probable truth against his imagined certainty that Clare's unreliable, and then do a volte-face and declare his love for her? I don't think so. I think he'd be frozen with indecision, and would let her get on the bus.

    Her pride, then, is perhaps an adaptive behavior in that situation. To be rejected because a) he's not being reasonable and b) she's not disclosed the full extent of her feelings (which is a bit like giving a present to someone who may or may not want it, but who will be obligated to respond in some way to the gift), is just barely tolerable. To be rejected after she's told him she loves him -- that's a far bigger deed. And how much groveling will he have to do to prove that he was a right charlie when she said that to him and he didn't snatch her off the bus?

    Oh, and why is it that Clare has to abandon her pride? Why doesn't Aunt Leo lecture David about pride being the enemy of love? Why's it always the woman who has to bend herself into a pretzel to make these things work out?

    I'm on Clare's side here. She has no reason to think telling him she loves him has an acceptable probability of success. She's got a sense of how much pain she's going to be in leaving him even without that final disclosure, so why add to that pain?

    I would argue then, that it's the self-preservation meaning of pride that is at work here. And for a woman in the mid-60s, not necessarily a bad thing. Pride isn't necessarily the enemy of her love for herself.

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  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13 says the original Greek is "agape," and interprets "agape" as "sacrificial love." The King James editors might well have chosen "charity" to avoid the romantic overtones of "love," though it makes a difficulty in Verse 3 "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor ... and have not charity, ..." which then requires a quite subtle interpretation. Remember that the King James was "appointed to be read in churches," and the editors saw that the bible reading, as much as the formal sermon, was a way of preaching to the congregation: so the KJB has a lot of catchy sound-bites, and never lets historical accuracy get in the way of the message.

    Incidentally, how do you know Aunt Leo doesn't give David an equal lecture on "Because of your pride?" Miss Lancaster asked. "One of you must sacrifice that if you are to have happiness"? I get the impression this book is mostly written from Clare's viewpoint, so if Leo rips David up after the bus has left, it would be off-camera.

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  7. Henry -- Thanks for the Biblical stuff. I do so love that you know everything (or at least a great many things).

    I thought about the scenario in which Aunt Leo lectures David. I had two problems with it. First, David's not left quite the abundance of clues to his feelings as Clare had done. So Aunt Leo would have had to tell David she knew he loved Clare, and if he'd denied it, she wouldn't have had much of a comeback. ("Ah, but you destroyed her portrait, so I KNOW you love her" lacks a certain Aristotelian logical connection.)

    Second, she's got to live with him (or maybe she doesn't, but with Jenny there, it's best if Aunt Leo stays), so Aunt Leo has to weigh the value of having that conversation against the risk that she'll upset the present arrangement in the house.

    Of course, you are absolutely right -- she may well have subtly reminded David that the reason he's miserable is because Clare has left. She could even have told him that Clare loves him, something she knows to be true. David doesn't tell Clare the whole story at the end; in fact he says there's a great many things he needs to say, but the only one that has to be said right there and then is the story of how Evil Witch Former Fiancée ditched him. So maybe one of the "I'll tell you later" stories is how Aunt Leo read him the riot act.

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  8. You had me at 'serotonin levels and neuroreceptors'...

    As to pride: I once had a college roommate who had bucket-loads of pride--so did her boyfriend, later husband, later ex-husband.

    I think their relationship was doomed from the start because of an unwillingness to be courageous enough to be vulnerable. In a lot of instances, pride is the coward's way.

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  9. But -- and here I'm revealing myself as the wife of a word nerd -- pride has both positive and negative connotations.

    Here's the definition from Chambers:

    pride n: the state or feeling of being proud; excessive self-esteem; haughtiness; a proper sense of what is becoming to oneself and scorn of what is unworthy; self-respect, personal dignity; a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction on account of something worthily done by oneself or someone connected with one, one's family, possessions, etc; something of which one is proud; splendour; magnificence; beauty displayed; ostentation; exuberance; prime, flower; high spirit, mettle; a peacock's attitude of display; sexual excitement in a female animal (Shakesp); a company of lions . . .

    So, arrogance or self-respect? Of course we *know* what Aunt Leo means in the context, but what about the case of Magical Thinking Romance Theater, where a girl (it isn't always the girl, of course) has convinced herself that the guy really is that into her and so will do or say anything in furtherance of the romance. We can imagine her best friend saying, "Where's your pride?" meaning that the girl shouldn't abase herself. She should have self-respect.

    I worry that we're seeing Aunt Leo's speech in a rather rosy light because we know there's an HEA in the offing. But if we didn't know that -- if it's a speech in a genre that doesn't promise an HEA -- do we still endorse what Aunt Leo is saying? I think there's a thin line between Clare's motive in telling David because she hopes he requites that love, and Clare telling him because she's desperate.

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  10. Usually someone's got to make the first move (it's possible for both to make a move simultaneously, but I'm not sure how often that happens in romances) so perhaps the person with pride in the sense you're thinking of, of "self-respect," would actually find it easier. After all, if you have self-respect, surely a rejection is going to be less problematic for you than for someone with low self-esteem.

    It seems to me that it would be "pride" of the negative sort which would get in the way of making a declaration. I'm thinking now of pride in the sense of someone who chooses never to stoop (and who feels that revealing their emotions is a sort of stooping because it makes them appear as a suppliant). In other words, "We can imagine her best friend saying, "Where's your pride?" meaning that the girl shouldn't abase herself. She should have self-respect."

    I think that's a negative form of pride because there's no stooping or abasement involved in stating "I love you." There would be abasement involved if someone said "I love you, and I don't care if you mistreat me and scorn me, I'd just be happy to be your doormat." But someone with pride of the negative sort might not acknowledge the distinction.

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  11. Just generally:

    I LOVE angst in romance novels. MUST. HAVE. ANGST.

    See, I keep my real life as boring as possible, on purpose. No real-life drama/angst/whatever. It's banned from the house. And what there is of it is of the financial variety (e.g., 15 feet of new pipe in the basement, necessitating concrete being torn up, and a dead fridge the same day)--and who wants to read about THAT? *snooze*

    So yeah. I get my angst via romance novels and I like it like that.

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  12. Laura -- I think there's an element of intelligence and honest self-awareness sneaking into this discussion. Take, for example, the deluded applicant who wishes to be on American Idol but who really really can't sing. When she's booted out at the audition with the judges, she swears to Ryan Seacrest that the show will have lousy ratings if she's not on it. She's got pride, but she's hopelessly confused about what people think of her.

    In Magical Thinking Romance Theater, the role of the deluded suitor is played by someone similar: he or she may have sufficient pride to feel really good about declaring his/her love for the other, but has totally missed all the overwhelming evidence that the other is just that not into the relationship.

    So a woman in Clare's position has to evaluate two things at once: 1) Can I afford to get rejected (that's your healthy pride), and 2) Have I misjudged the situation entirely and he's just not that into me? Even with healthy pride (which Clare may not have had), the worry that perhaps David doesn't feel at all the same way could prevent her from acting.

    I feel that a smart woman with healthy self-esteem might still hold her tongue in that situation if all the messages from David had been equivocal, or even rather negative. It's not that she's afraid of making a fool of herself, but declaring your love for someone is a very delicate proposition because it's such a huge emotion. Declaring your love in a situation where it's inappropriate is potentially hurtful to both parties.

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  13. Moriah -- I will admit I loved angst even (especially?) when my own life was angsty. In fact, when I came back from spending the holidays with my English cousins (whom I'd known for almost 30 years -- and whose son was my "what-if" guy), it was reading a semi-angsty scene in a Susan Elizabeth Phillips that made me sit up and think, "Oh, so that's what I'm feeling! I'm still in love with him." We were married a year later.

    Who says you can't learn something from romances?

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