Babbitt, Het, history, Mrs Cromwell, ponderations, present, religious ponderations, women

A Little Commonwealth – some thoughts on romantic fiction

I hate genre romantic fiction and I can’t write it
There, it’s said. I joke about it but I was once signed off work for a month with whiplash, and amused myself by reading the entire canon of A N Other writer of Regency romance. (Who will remain nameless.) The first one, I thought, what a hoot, fluff, frolics and frocks. The second one I was starting to know what was coming. By the third one I was actually rather scared.
See – and this is me being serious – though a straight down the line Dissenter and thoroughgoing Independent, with (dare I say) atheistic leanings, I am increasingly inclined to agree with the Puritans’ view of marriage, to wit, it’s all about companionship and affection and mutual respect. Genesis 2:18 – And the LordGod said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. Since sexual intimacy in marriage was part of God’s plan for man before the Fall, it could not be less so following the Fall, and therefore sex within the confines of a loving relationship was not the ultimate transgression that caused man’s expulsion from the Eden.
And this book – these books – portrayed relationships about as far from companionable, equable, loving marriages as my cats are from bars of chocolate. Brave, feisty, innocent heroine meets arrogant, tortured, handsome hero with a dark past. Misunderstanding in which hero thinks heroine is more experienced than she is and treats her with sexual contempt. Heroine falls in love with this pillock in spite of the fact that she is fully well aware that he’s a toe-rag. Misunderstanding upon misunderstanding, at the end of which tragedy of errors even hero realises that he’s a bloody idiot, does the decent thing and falls in love with the heroine. The End.
That appalled me. Because there is a whole genre of these books, these peddlings of the Cinderella myth – that love is all about passion conquering all, that sexual desire is the be-all and end-all of a relationship, that a man (and it’s almost always a man, as if, poor things, they are little better than beasts driven at the mercy of what my mother discreetly used to call their “urges”…) if he really loves a woman should be made unreasoning by violent passion.
I think I can safely say that my Hollie desires his wife. (Makes no secret of it, the libidinous creature, but then after several months apart, she rather misses having her bed warmed by that lolloping great object as well.) Would he ever be driven to lay ungentle hands on her, shout at her, abuse her in a jealous rage? Would he bloody hell as like. I think – I hope– that there has never been any dramatic will-they won’t-they tension about the relationship of Het Sutcliffe-as-was and her gallant captain. They meet. They like each other. After a while, they love each other. And isn’t it that way for most of us? We meet someone, we like them, one day we wake up and realise that we love them, want to spend the rest of our lives with them. We don’t want to hurt them, or frighten them, or control them, or humiliate them.
And yet we encourage our fictional heroes to be emotionally retarded – to be abusive. To commit acts of sexual violence on women. The number of “forced” kisses and torn gowns I’ve come across in that certain genre, defies belief. It’s a funny thing, but I’m in a line of business where I work with victims of crime. Dealing with a young man at the moment who’s come my way because he “forced” himself on a girl. He didn’t rape her, didn’t hurt her physically, but frightened her and distressed her: he touched her in places she did not want to be touched. In certain books, if he’d been a strong, silent alpha-male, that would be her fault, you see – that the strength of his desire was such that he just had to have her. That she encouraged him, led him on. It’s a compliment, girls. Did you not know that you only have to leave the house for those poor lust-maddened menfolk to be tearing at your clothes, such is the power of your womanhood?
That’s not emancipation, that’s just tricking out an old whore in new paint, and calling it escapism. And life throws up enough intrigue and uncertainty, without a need to invent some more.
I leave you with a quote from the 1598 “Godly Form of Household Government”, by Robert Cleaver –
“Matrimony, is a lawful knot, and unto God an acceptable yoking and joining together of one man, and one woman, with the good consent of them both: to the end that they may dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other, eschewing whoredom, and all uncleanness, bringing up their children in the fear of God: or it is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, not to be broken, according unto the ordinance of God: so to continue during the life of either of them.”
Take out the religious references, if you like. But – to dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other?
In all honesty, can you see Christian Grey and Anastasia in twenty years’ time, one helping and comforting the other?
Because I’m damned if I can. 
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2 thoughts on “A Little Commonwealth – some thoughts on romantic fiction

  1. Good old Puritan talk, and bring back the Birch for those who offend against and abuse women, and the stocks for women who abuse men!! Here you have defined the difference between formulated “escapist” romantic fiction and that of novels erring real life with a romantic theme – whether as a modern contemporary or historical period piece. More and more we see TV dramas erring spiced up easy-going sex (lust on the trot), which has nothing to do with endearing attraction and love as the consequence mutual attraction! Love comes on several layers initially and throughout marriage, and where romance novels feature that arrogant bodice-ripping lip-bruising kind of hero, in reality he's the one most likely to explode and ill-abuse his wife with back-handed indifference, rape within marriage, and worse in some cases. That's not to say a quiet caring hero won't lose his rag from time to time and slam a door or two, and the sweet rosy heroine turned child-bearing wife (several times over) doesn't lock or bolt the bedroom door after having thrown a hissy fit. But too much slamming of doors, hissy fits, and or a man who beats up his wife, that becomes too much like real life and is that an entertaining read? Men can have a warrior spirit and be soldier heroes, and equally of good heart (not necessarily all that principled in any religious sense) and although lust can rise and be sated with stimulus. But even love and compassion are not necessarily one and the same, and recognising the difference in the latter two as separate components is where the romance of a moment may not be what it seems to be, and may fade to the reality that the two parts were not as one as first imagined. Life and love is complex, and some fight to hold to what they have, while others cast it aside: and latterly regretted or not. We as authors can depict love with gritty realism or shroud it in fluff, and for myself, I prefer the former in a historical atmosphere in which the escapism for the reader is a trip to the past. . .

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  2. Great post – very thought provoking. But yes, I can definitely see Christian and Ana helping and comforting each other twenty years down the line. That's what they've been doing through most of book 2 & 3. After all,dear Christian never lays a hand on her without her consent 😉

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