Romantic Heroines: The Problem With the Present Moment

I realized yesterday, as I began thinking about a follow up to Wednesday's post about romantic heroines, that I had opened ye old proverbial can of worms.

It also strikes me as an odd coincidence that I became interested in romantic heroines just as my series about the state of the modern male reader is winding down. I think we're going to have to talk about this romantic heroine thing a little more.

Let's start at the beginning of the life cycle of a romantic heroine. One common thread I found in the classics that I've been dipping back into is a well-developed distaste for the present.
The issue with the heroine's present might stem from living somewhere especially unfortunate. Eustacia Vye, my favorite heroine and the main character of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, lives in Egdon Heath, a rather dreary and isolated (fictional) part of England. In fact, just like Emily Bronte did with the moors in Wuthering Heights, Hardy plays them up for all their dark glory:
The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it.
No wonder that Eustacia is prone to unhappiness - Hardy has his character mimic the landscape and vice versa. Yet, Eustacia's naturally outsized personality has no fit on Egdon and she suffers for it:
But celestial imperiousness, love, wrath, and fervour had proved to be somewhat thrown away on netherward Egdon...Egdon was her Hades, and since coming there she had imbibed much of what was dark in its tone...
Or perhaps, as is the case with Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen from D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love), the romantic heroine(s) has options but is undecided as to what the next step in her life should be. The sisters are educated and intelligent. They are of an age where one must marry but being modern women, they wonder whether marriage is a necessary experience and whether love is truth or fiction. All they do know is that they hunger for their lives to begin and to show them wonders that they feel exist but can't begin to put words to:
Ursula having always that strange brightness of an essential flame that is caught, meshed, contravened. She lived a good deal by herself, to herself, working, passing on from day to day, and always thinking, trying to lay hold on life, to grasp it in her own understanding. Her active life was suspended, but underneath, in the darkness, something was coming to pass.
OR perhaps the problem is that love, once obtained, becomes banal and then one has to cope with ennui and disappointment. Here I need to introduce THE quintessential old school romantic heroine, Emma Bovary of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. By no means do I respect this crazy b*tch but she certainly is a force to be reckoned with:
What exasperated her was that Charles seemed to have no notion of her torment...And so she directly solely at him all the manifold hatred that sprang from her ennui...Domestic mediocrity drove her to sumptuous fantasies, marital caresses to adultrous desires.
Whatever is the source of the romantic heroine's dissatisfaction with the state of her life, it undoubtedly takes its toll on her mental and even physical well-being. Because the heroine has not achieved her heart's only desire (passionate love), she feels like her ordinary life is invalid. It's all or nothing with these heroines! Life must be full or it vanishes into nothingness. From my favorite book ever, Lady Chatterley's Lover:
And thus far it was a life: in the void. For the rest it was non-existence....The oak-leaves were to her like oak-leaves seen ruffling in a mirror, she herself was a figure somebody had read about, picking primroses that were only shadows or memories, or words...Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Sufficient unto the moment is the appearance of reality.
I think writing about this romantic heroine stuff is therapy in itself because when you take the quotes together, something just doesn't smell right. Still...the yearning! Next time I'll look at the connection between the romantic heroine and the natural world.


Hubert O'Hearn said...

What a completely enjoyable short essay. Fine research and funny too.


B.Kienapple said...

Thank you so much for your comment Hubert! Much appreciated.


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