Sunday, April 10, 2011

After the HEA

I recently started World War III uh, had a disagreement with the lovely habituées over at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.

(If you want to get some popcorn & a suitable beverage to watch the "Waldo Smackdown" uh, read the comment thread, you can find it here.)

But basically, it comes down to a fundamental disagreement about whether it matters what life is, or will be, like after the HEA.



In the Betty Neels' romance, The End of the Rainbow, the hero, Waldo, rescues the heroine, Olympia, from indentured servitude with her nasty aunt, who runs a joyless nursing home and needs Olympia's nursing skills at slave wages.  Basically, think Dickens crossed with Cinderella, and you have a good idea of Olympia's life pre-Waldo.  By page 70, he's whisked her away to be his wife and step-mother to his 5-year-old daughter Ria.

On page 178, Waldo utters the divine words, "I deserve to be shot," in his groveling apology to Olympia.

Wonderful stuff -- and to all the other "Bettys" that's what makes The End of the Rainbow so delightful.  (One aficionada confessed to being on her third copy, that's how much she loves the book.)

I had a problem with the 100+ pages between the marriage of convenience and the rapprochement.  Basically, Waldo's a crappy husband and not much better a father.

In trying to see the alternate perspective, I realized that the HEA for the other readers is when Olympia is rescued.  For me, the far-shakier HEA is at the very end of the book.  By then, I was no longer convinced that Waldo was good enough for her.

So -- is Waldo Prince Charming, marrying Olympia out of hand and thus rescuing her from her miserable existence in the basement of her aunt's nursing home?

Or is he Mr. Rochester -- rescuing Olympia from poverty and loneliness but then dropping her into the fire of a seemingly doomed romance with a man who's not quite the hero she expected?  And if this is the case, is tossing off "I deserve to be shot" without a lot more self-awareness enough to rehabilitate him as the hero?

Over on Twitter, some people are discussing Joan Wolf's classic Regency romance His Lordship's Mistress.  Because Jessica and the Earl of Linton in effect live together, we get to see how they interact.  There are undeniable barriers to their happy ending (for more on this book, read Janet Webb's wonderful discussion over at Heroes and Heartbreakers) but we never doubt that they make a good couple.  And we certainly don't doubt Linton's worth as a hero.  Our concerns for their HEA all come down to how they will survive any social solecism resulting from the unconventional way they met.

But with Waldo -- the more I pored over those problematic (for me, at least) 100 pages, the more I became convinced that he needed a lot of reclamation.  I'm encouraged by Olympia's fortitude that they might have a chance, but I wanted better for her.  I wanted her to be with a guy who would see her, believe her, trust her, know her.

At the end of Jane Eyre (spoiler alert), Rochester is blind but finally free to love.

At the end of The End of the Rainbow, Waldo may still be blind.

4 comments:

  1. His name is Waldo? How can you not spend the entire book picturing Where's Waldo?

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  2. Funny thing about that -- after I'd read this post to Brit Hub 2.1, he mentioned that in the UK "Where's Waldo?" had to be renamed "Where's Wally?" because the name Waldo isn't funny over there the way it is here.

    "Wally" on the other hand is a slang term for "a stupid, inept or despised person; generally, a fool." (That's from Chamber's Dictionary.)

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  3. I've read none of the books mentioned, although, per your recommendation, I plan to find Wolf's book. As to the HEA, I think readers of romance fiction are almost forced to look upon it as an entry into a new Eden for the protagonists, a halcyon existence into which no rain falls. That's why so many end with epilogues, I think, to make sure we get the point; or the protagonists show up in subsequent books, still ga-ga over one another and also over the resulting child. That's what the "ever after" means, isn't it?

    dick

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  4. You have to check if the nursing home is credible, ask their patients if there are any problems or what not.

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