Monday, August 23, 2010

Reports of My Death (& Other Great Exaggerations)

I'm not dead.

Sorry for inadvertently taking a two-week break from blogging.  Want to know what I was doing that was more important than blogging?  Cleaning for guests, collecting guests from the airport, entertaining guests, cooking for guests, and (finally) recovering from eating all that yummy food I made for my guests.  Was there a moment when I could have blogged something?  Yes, undoubtedly.  I suspect I slept through it, though.

Here's someone who's dead: Ophelia.  She had a lot on her mind, poor dear.

I read this account of Harvard's annual showing of Erich Segal's Love Story (the movie) aloud to my husband this morning.  What is it, I asked him, with men writing "love stories" that end with death?  I was, of course, thinking of Nicholas Sparks' books.  I've never read any of Nicholas Sparks' books.  Nor have I seen any of the movies made from his books.  I take some pride in that, based at least on this account of what's in the books and the movies.

Basically, none of these couples have an HEA.  And here's my theory of why:  because to a guy, Being In Love means one of two things: Great Sacrifice (as when your best beloved dies of cancer and you are brave and resolute in the face of her death) or Love That Conquers All But Doesn't Have to Last (because Falling In Love is romantic, but building & maintaining a relationship is girly and stupid).

Clearly, there's some weird-ass Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus crap going on here.  Why wouldn't a man want to see love the way most romance novelists see it, namely: Hero & Heroine meet, have conflict and/or misunderstanding but fall in love anyway, resolve their conflicts and then Live Happily Ever After?

I think it's because men don't see the narrative of being in a committed, monogamous relationship as a Happy Ending.  In real life, I suspect a lot of men (most men?) like being in a committed, monogamous relationship just fine, but the fiction that they gave up their freedom and options to have that relationship is still a powerful idea for some men.

So, if you're a guy and you want to experience Romance and the Resolution of Conflicts and a Love Story, but don't want to feel hemmed in by the prospect of minivans and carpools and Pop Warner League games and dance recitals and 25th wedding anniversary presents -- well, then why not imagine that the Great Love of Your Life dies?  It reinforces your ability to give your whole heart without being tied to one woman for very long.

What boggles my mind -- and I doubt I'm the only woman in this camp -- is the notion that you can meet the Great Love of Your Life and not want, oh, I don't know, to have her around for a decade or so?  Don't men watching Love Story or a Sparks movie think, "Gosh, that's sad.  She's perfect for him, and now he's going to be so lonely"...?

Oh, and here's another question.  Why do women love Sparks movies?  I love to cry at movies as much as the next person, but none of the Sparks movies strike me as worth catching even on Lifetime.  (I'll admit here that I have never watched any of the Lifetime movies made from Nora Roberts stories; romance novels don't translate well to the screen, in my opinion, but that's a whole other theory.)  What do we get from the tragic love story?

Well, I think it's that we see the tragedy as heightening the romance.  The tragedy is worse because they are so much in love.  We are happy they fall in love and conquer parental opposition, but when a character succumbs to cancer, we see that not as authorial pique (or worse, a calculated ploy to bring men's fantasies into play) but as Fate picking on the lovers.

Here's a clue to the male psyche.  My husband is (as far as I know) perfectly happy being married for ever and ever.  But when I read the New York Times piece out loud to him, and then asked why do men writing love stories have to kill off the heroine, he said immediately, "Oh, it's like opera.  And Dickens."  Only when I pressed him for the names of the Dickens' stories where a character is left bereaved and bereft, he thought of A Tale of Two Cities . . . and that was about it.

Even he clings to the notion that much Great Sacrifice is necessary for True Love.

P.S.  I fully concede that all our favorite operas result in death.  We like La Cenerentola (which has a happy ending) well enough, but we both happily shed tears at the endings of Madame Butterfly and La Traviata.  The soprano dies at the end of each of those operas, of course.


  1. Janet W: With the exception of the movie with James Garner since I have a powerful love for JG, I hate Nicholas S novels movies short stories interviews: blech! I was stunned to find out (shows how well versed I am in the classics ... NOT!) that the Count of Monte Cristo ended with a dead heroine. What fun is that? I'm glad the makers of the movie changed that ending. Interesting blog! And of course, "it's not over 'til the fat lady sings!"

  2. I've never enjoyed a Sparks movie or book, so don't ask me what the appeal is. He thinks he's pretty hot stuff because he kills off his protagonists, though.

  3. DO men read/watch Sparks and Segal, though? It seems like this is some men's idea of what WOMEN want. (And obviously they're right about a lot of women, and weeping all the way to the bank). Not that I'm exactly disagreeing with you, but this isn't quite a male fantasy about love FOR MEN--right now I'm having trouble thinking of a love story by a man for a male (or general) audience. Nick Hornby, maybe?

    I expect your husband was thinking about Dickens' sentimentality. But it's usually children who die there.

    I read that Harvard story too; it made me glad that MY college's movie is The Philadelphia Story. Funny without audience snark!

  4. Janet -- I'll confess, I don't know The Count of Monte Cristo much at all -- and based on this Wiki article, its roster of characters and their stories needs a road map to decipher! -- but I loved The Three Musketeers, largely because guys having adventures was romantic in another, but still valid, way.

    Heidenkind -- Here's what I love about the juxtaposition of the New York Times article with the piece: it is so obvious that Sparks' first book is a thinly veiled rip-off of Love Story -- and still he has the nerve to suggest that he's the only author out there doing "real" love stories. Asshole.

    Elizabeth -- Ooh, which Philadelphia college/university did you go to? I went to Penn for law school, but my parents were both Swarthmore alumni

    I agree that men probably don't go to Sparks' movies on their own, or even willingly. ("It's a chick flick...") But Sparks is a man (I've not heard differently), as was Erich Segal. Oh, and think about The Bridges of Madison County -- there's another guy-generated romance that doesn't strike me as romantic as much as it was sad. (And manipulative, etc., etc.)

    So regardless of whether men read/watch these stories, men generated them, and thus they reveal something about the guy-perspective on Love, Romance, and how a Dead Woman is more Romantic than a live one.

    For some reason, this reminds me of The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy's story of the hero's love affair with his twin sister's psychotherapist. Barbra Streisand made the movie, and while I'll admit I didn't read the book, the movie made me hopping mad.

    Bluntly, no professional woman should be sleeping with her patient's twin brother. I don't care what profession it is, there are ethical rules in almost all of them that precludes that sort of line-crossing behavior. But psychotherapy? Worse and worse. And both protagonists are married? Oy veh!

    Here's where I can't be gender neutral about the author -- how dare a man write so callously about a professional woman and still expect us to care about her? Admittedly, that character is vastly expanded in the movie -- directed by Streisand, who played the psychotherapist -- but still Conroy co-wrote the screenplay.

    I just think men have really skewed images of what a romance is, and real life need not apply.

    As for love stories written by men for men, I need look no farther than Louis L'Amour -- they are structured precisely like a romance novel, only the HEA is usually the cowboy & his horse. (In a non-sexual way, of course.)

  5. Bryn Mawr. (But I did seriously consider Swarthmore).

    I do know what you mean about this particular male fantasy (Bridges of M.C. occurred to me too). But if you think of, say, pop music you get a much wider range of male ideas/fantasies about love--maybe that's why Nick Hornby occurred to me.


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