So, I was thinking a lot about romantic novels–not to be confused with romance novels, which a are a completely different, wonderful thing–and became increasingly horrified when I realized what novels were considered to be romantic. Like, I’m a big Pride and Prejudice fan. There’s that dollop of sexism in there that can’t be ignored, but as far as romance goes it’s pretty great. You’ve got your strong independent female lead, and nobody is getting raped in there(close calls!), and the hero of the story doesn’t have a secret wife or revenge plot, great love story! But after doing a little google search, I found some horrifying news in the form of three novels that are decidedly not romantic. They are definitely about human condition and interaction, they might be about the idea of love and how fragile and delusional that really is, but they are certainly not romantic–or not romantic in anyway I, or anyone I know, would want to be romanced.
Let’s start with my pick of least romantic novel of all time:
I don’t know why everyone keeps acting like this is the greatest love story of all time, when it is really the story of two bratty petulant children who grew up to be bratty petulant adults. If I wanted to think of a love as two over indulged children growing up and being pissy about not getting what they want I would watch a lot more reality TV.
The only romantic part of this book is when Catherine II falls in love with the stable boy because she is being forced to be an indentured servant and he is her only friend that she is teaching how to read. Let’s let that sink in. The most romantic part of the book is about a girl who gets kidnapped and basically falls in love by proximity. But far be it from me to discredit Heathcliff’s surly passions.
I really blame Heathcliff for hipsters. Heathcliff was the originally broody man-child that haunts my twentieth century dating dreams. This dude was an orphan who gets taken in by a semi-rich man and lives with his two kids as their brother. So it is creepy enough that he falls in love with Catherine the First to begin with, but creepier still that when she is like “no thanks Heath, I’m actually kind of a spoiled brat and I am going to marry rich Edgar so I can be a real lady,” that he doesn’t just get over it and move on. Like, I get it dude, we have all been in love and all had our first rejection and it’s crazy painful–but all us non-crazies get over it. We move on with our lives and do not spend 20+ years sulking around plotting revenge.
I mean, his revenge literally spans generations. He marries Edgar’s sister and is such a D that she has to move away. He tricks his foster brother into leaving him the house they grew up in, and then tricks Catherine II into marrying his little whiny beast of an offspring so he can get Edgar’s house too and keep Catherine II as, basically, a slave. That. Is. Insane.
But, I guess if you throw in one sobbing speech about how you wish Catherine the First could still walk the earth even as a ghost because you can’t bear to be without her in this world, suddenly it’s the most romantic novel of all time.
One creepy stalker speech does not a romantic novel make.
Equally disturbing in it’s ability to incite the passions:
Now, you all know that he kept his first wife in the attic, right? Like, I just want to make sure that we are all on the same page and we just didn’t forget that about the fact that he knew his wife was in the attic and then lied about it and tried to marry another person.
I mean, I know dude is super smoldery with passionate dark eyes, but I don’t think we can just pretend like he didn’t just do a super horrendous thing.
I mean, I can’t.
Let’s all just take a minute to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and we can meet back here and talk about how romantic Mr. Rochester is.
There is nothing, I repeat, nothing romantic about being tricked into polygamy, people.
Just because Jane is a sad little orphan girl desperate for affection does not mean we get to use her desperation to erase our current wife. Not cool Rochester. Lying is not cool. Sequestering people into attics to live out the rest of their lives is not cool . Driving them to crazy town so they keep burning buildings is Not. Cool.
This book is not romantic, it simply has elements of romance, and shows how badly things can go wrong and how easily people are duped. I suppose, in the end, Jane comes into herself and makes her own decisions, but the fact that she returns to Rochester, even after everything that has happened, makes me more sad for her than happy for love.
Poor Jane is just an orphan who wants affection. She thinks she finds it with with Rochester, who is pretty much just a giant con man willing to take advantage of a sad girl desperate for love. When she finds out he is a super liar, she runs away and encounters some modicum of luck. You think learning your beloved trapped a woman in an attic and lied about her existence and ultimately didn’t care about you enough to tell you the truth would be enough to keep her from hanging out with crazies for the rest of her life, but Jane just can’t help herself. When Rochester’s first wife does in fact succeed in burning down the house and almost taking Rochester with her to death, you think Jane would be like “ sucks to be you fool, you got what you deserved”, but instead she’s like “rad, now we can get married”, and they do and have a kid to top it all off. So, I’d say the depth of Jane’s delusion is pretty frightening. All Jane seems to learn is that you need to make sure your soon-to-be husband’s first wife isn’t alive and kicking. Jane seems to be cool with it, however, maybe she will enjoy lording that over him for the rest of her life.
I’m going to go ahead and mark this novel down as the opposite of a love story. I’m 90-100% sure that great romances are not based in lies and the knowledge that at any given moment your S.O. will be perfectly content to lock you in an attic for the rest of your life.
This leads me to the most surprising find in my search of the romantic novel
Tess of the D’Ubervilles
I just want to put this down to ignorance of the plot. Like, maybe people just read the book and, you know, forgot what it was about because they were bored or something. Seriously, if this book is romantic to you, let me direct you to the works of V.C. Andrews.
Let’s just do a synopsis, shall we.
So, Tess goes to work at her cousin’s house and they are super rich. She’s pretty hot and her cousin, Alec, wants to get up in that. She refuses and he rapes her because, you know, he can.
Tess gets pregnant and has to peace out because whore-dom from being raped out of wedlock.
She raises the kid for like a year or something on this far where she meets a pretty nice dude named Angel or something equally ridiculous (it is, in fact, Angel)_) and they fall in “love”. This will be the only part of the book I can even begin to consider romantic, and it’s really more of a plot point.
So at some point before or after Angel and Tess falling in love Tess’ kid dies and that is pretty sad, but Angel is like “I’m super amazing and my name is Angel which kind of means i must be the most pure and wonderful person ever, so lets get married” so they are going to get married
Tess is super distraught because Angel is, you know, amazing, and she is like the worst ever for getting raped under the trees by her rich cousin, so she writes a confession to him. Angel, being the most observant person in the world, does not find her note and she marries him thinking he knows her dark secret, and he marries her thinking she didn’t get raped.
Fast forward to the wedding night where Angel, the pious and good, tells Tess how he had a fling with some lady prior to their marriage. Tess is like “it’s cool bae, remember how I got raped? That is somehow the same as you having consenting sex, so you shouldn’t feel bad because I am also unclean. Even though the sex you had was consensual and I was raped while I was sleeping and then got pregnant and had a baby that died, it’s totally the same situation so you don’t need to feel bad”. Which, is pretty cool of Tess to be so understanding.
So, like, you would expect good sweet Angel–hello Angel!– would be this super rad dude and be really upset over the fact that the love of his life got raped. You would expect Angel would be all like “what I am going to destroy that guy, I can’t believe he’d do that to you!” Right? Oh-ho, turns out no. Angel is like “What!? You’re a whore and I can’t believe you tricked me into marrying you and thinking you were a good person,” and then he peaces out and Tess is really, understandably, upset and ends up killing Alec (good for her).
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
So eventually Angel is like ”Oh, they should have named me Big Richard in this book because I am being a huge dick” and goes to tell Tess he is sorry. Turns out even though nobody gets in trouble for rape, killing people is still a big no-no and Tess is about to get hanged. Tess, in all her wisdom, tells Angel that it’s cool that he was such a d-bag to her, and he should just marry her sister instead.
So, yeah, I guess if you think incest cousin rape, baby death, and murder, and sleeps with my sister is romantic–then that is a romantic novel.
These are stories of people who are stunted in their abilities to be complete people. They are desperate for love and find it in the wrong places, at the wrong time, and they are unable to move on from that. Heathcliff can’t move on from Catherine, Jane from Rochester, and Tess from Angel. They are all wrapped up in their warped ideals of love and those people who had said they loved them were false in their declarations. Sadly, none of these characters were ever able to find the true love they may or may not have deserved. Just because some of it turns out as a happy ending does not make it a love story, and the tragic ending doesn’t make it a tragic love story. These are stories about love, but they are not romantic. I think it’s time we learned the difference.