An interesting article in the Telegraph
, (courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily
), all about who is better at writing romantic literature: women or men?
The argument was apparently sparked by BBC television personality Daisy Goodwin saying that men "...don't figure very largely as writers in the romantic fiction pantheon", as she puts it on her website
. She continues:Am I wrong? I'm thinking of Jane Eyre and Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff and so on, as well as the broader field of popular romantic fiction. Of course there are many men writing amazing love poetry, but I can't think of many male prose writers whose work I would term "romance".
I considered the question for myself after reading both sides of the argument presented in the Telegraph
piece--which, not too creatively, were put forward by a man, Ray Connolly, defending men and a woman, Liz Hunt, defending women. (I would have been intrigued to see the opposite, or perhaps better yet, one of each gender on each side. But, as usual, no one asked me. Sigh...)
As far as I could see, Hunt's argument boiled down to the simple fact that women make romance the center of the story, whereas for men, the larger story carries an equal, if not greater, level of importance. Specifically, she writes:...too often male writers get caught up in the story – "Events, dear boy, events" – whereas women writers better understand that they must keep the romance central, that it drives a narrative better and faster than any other device. For women, it is the ultimate reason to turn a page.
I don't know if it's just a native contrariness that makes my hackles rise at that last sentence, but as soon as I read it, I began thinking of other books that I deemed "page-turners" and how few of them were necessarily because I wanted to know the outcome of a romantic relationship. Today, for instance, I couldn't stop reading The House of Sand and Fog
, and believe me, the "romance" in that book was, well, questionable. What drove me to keep reading was the escalating tension, the very separate worlds of the groups of characters moving inexorably toward each other until they collided with fatal force.
In my mind, the reason to turn the page hinges on the nature of the conflict presented in the story. That conflict, if the book is a romance, will necessarily involve the two people caught up in their love for each other, but the story will necessarily be bigger than the two of them. Otherwise, one may just as well pick up the Harlequin, right?
Hunt further damaged her case with this incriminating paragraph: The Da Vinci Code, though thinly written (by a man), was attention-grabbing enough with its mutilated curator and self-flagellating albino monk, but I persevered with it because – I'm ashamed to admit – I was curious to find out what would happen between the hero Robert Langdon and his sidekick Sophie Neveu.
Is she kidding? That was absolutely the LAST reason I persevered with that book. Why? Because there was so clearly NO romantic chemistry between those characters anywhere in the pages. There were about as many sparks flying between Langdon and Sophie as there are on a dud firecracker. Give me a break.
In this case, I have to side with the man, Ray Connolly. Mostly because I just can't swallow the sort of wild generalization that Goodwin (and Hunt, by defending her) embraces. Connolly is right to point out that Goodwin "really is talking through a prism of prejudice and stereotype." He concludes:It seems to me that we're all romantics, and the idea that one sex is simply emotionally incapable of understanding the way the other thinks is to deny everything men and women share – and, worryingly from a creative point of view, to deny all authors the possibility of understanding anyone of the opposite sex. And I can't believe that.
I agree. Who cares if romance isn't at the center of a story, or if it is? What makes "romantic" literature romantic is far more than the question of "is the boy going to get the girl" or vice versa. Romantic literature is about love and loss and possibility and missed opportunities and sometimes, the world and its circumstances are a participant in the story of necessity, because history and its events conspire against love and possibility in all sorts of ways, when they are not being complicit in it. A good writer of romance, man or woman, will understand this and write accordingly.
And a bad writer of romance will take refuge in the smoky pools of a rich, devastatingly beautiful Contessa's eyes, tucked away between Fabio-laden covers.