07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thus, with a kiss, I die

Many of the most celebrated 'love stories' in literature are actually tragedies.

Romeo and Juliet. Wuthering Heights. Lancelot and Guinevere. Abelard and Heloise. Antony and Cleopatra. Even the movie Titanic. Someone dies at the end, or goes mad, or has happiness snatched away in some other mean and untimely manner.

How is all this suffering fair? And how is it romantic?

Well, life's like that. We can't always have what we want -- and there's something emotionally satisfying, if not uplifting, about the 'perfect love' cut short. So long, of course, as it doesn't happen to us.

"'Tis better to have loved and lost / than never to have loved at all" wrote Tennyson.

Or, in the words of the immortal rock band Queen: "Just one year of love / Is better than a lifetime alone." Queen have an eye for tragedy; they also sang Who Wants To Live Forever? from the movie Highlander -- a song about an immortal man with a mortal lover. Yeah. That's never going to end well, is it?

And if even a horrible movie like Highlander can make us cry, in that scene where Connor's mortal wife dies in his arms, an old woman, while he lives on, forever young... well, it just goes to show that there's nothing more desperately romantic than love that dies untimely.

Why is that? Is it because we want to believe that true love lives on after death? Do we like the idea of love so obsessive it can defeat even that most final of endings? Do we all secretly wish for the kind of love that's so wonderful, we might as well die right now, because this is as good as it gets -- the idea of love so perfect that without it, we'd rather die?

Or do we just adore a tear-jerker? What do you think?


Judith Ashley said...

Well, Erica - while I have heard Tennyson's line and I have Romeo and Juliet, etc. The movies? Nope. They are not even on my TBS list (to be seen). Guess I'm more of a traditionalist because I like those HEA's. What I also appreciate is everyone is not like me and the world of arts and entertainment is broad and flexible and creative enough to produce something for everyone.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hmmmm...good question Erica.

I think part of the allure is the chance to vicariously experience the death of a loved one. Many people read to broaden their experience and understanding of life.

On the other hand, some people may be looking for the catharsis of a good cry. Personally, I prefer happy endings!

Christy Carlyle said...

Great post, Erica!

I love happy endings. Why else would I write romance? However, I have to admit to loving the epic tortured-ness of Victorian literature too.

You mentioned Wuthering Heights. Oh my gosh. Heathcliff's words when Cathy is dying: "Haunt me. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul."

That's heart-wrenching drama, and as a reader it grabs me, twists me, and leaves me just as emotionally engrossed as Emily Bronte ever dreamed a reader would be.

Personally, I think there is something compelling about a love that survives death.

B. A. Binns said...

The thing I keep remembering is something one of my romance writing teacher told me when I tried to call my story about the hooker and murderer a romance - all romances are love stories, but not all love stories are romances. Many love stories have that strong romantic element that is no longer part of RWA, and we adore those stories (give me the scene where Rhett walks out on Scarlett any day) but they are not romances.

Once I accepted that, my couple lived happily ever after, outside the anals or romance.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing what your teacher said. I had never but it together in quite that way but that is so true.