|The ultimate poor-me romantic!|
The best reality-check for "but luv solves everything!" thinking is Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility (you go, Austen!). Willoughby is that guy who always thinks something else would have made him happy. Once he gets the cash, he starts to think that maybe romance was the way to go. But Elinor easily and correctly deduces that if Willoughby had gone for the romance, he would have regretted the cash. In Persuadable, I have Mr. Elliot meet up with Willoughby and deplore the other man's fulsome and pointless regrets (a good con artist knows when to let go and collect).
|Anthony as a great example of a romantic character.|
I don't necessarily agree with Anthony's morality--I will do everything for my boss--anymore than I necessarily agree with the morality of starship crews who agree to follow their captains into any situation. Elementary's characters, in comparison, have more complex moral codes with Watson, in particular, putting her personal integrity first: I'll do everything for you . . . to a point.
Even though I don't agree with Anthony's morality (what I call chivalric loyalty), it doesn't bother me the way Romeo and Juliet romance bothers me. I've tried to parse the difference and came up with the following:
|Grant's Devlin puts himself at risk for Bergman's Alicia:|
|chivalry at its best; after all, he doesn't rescue her|
|until the case is completed!|
2. Chivalric loyalty depends on the giver's values, not the taker's. Anthony decides to serve Elias because of his own personal code. He isn't badgered into serving (Elias wouldn't trust him if that were the case). In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth decides to love Darcy because she realizes that her values match his, not because he overwhelms her emotionally. Likewise, in Jane Eyre, although Jane is overwhelmed emotionally by Rochester, her eventual decision to rejoin him is based on what she wants to have happen, not what she has been pushed into wanting. Even in Bronte's writing, there is a kind of cold objectivity at work--the characters act; they don't simply react (oh, I can't help how I feel--blech!).
3. Chivalric loyalty is about serving the other person, not about living through him or her.
Sayers tackles this problem directly in Unnatural Death. She argues against partners trying to find happiness by subordinating their wills to the other partner's needs. Sarah Caudwell, another British mystery author, makes a similar argument with her book The Sibyl In Her Grave though from a slightly different perspective. Sayers describes the harm that people can cause to themselves and others when they try to live through someone else--the wife who tries to achieve happiness through her husband's fame as an artist ends in "consuming" both him and herself: nobody is happy.
Caudwell emphasizes the sheer destructive power of a person trying to live through others, reminding the reader of the adage "crazy people make even sane people crazy."
In sum, characters who sacrifice themselves thinking, "I must make someone else happy!" or "Someone else should make me happy!" don't make for good narratives (at least, not narratives that a person doesn't want to throw across the room--you know, anything by E.M. Forster).
Characters who sacrifice themselves for a belief or a person out of their own belief or love make for good narratives.
- Sam sacrificing himself for Frodo: good narrative.
- Bones kicking Booth out of the house for gambling, then taking him back when he shows a desire to reform: good narrative.
- Beatrice and Benedict writing letters of mutual approbation (and Benedict never actually following through with Beatrice's desire that he kill his best friend): good narrative.
Any character anywhere giving up a job or a hobby or a belief system for the sake of another, not out of the everyday need to compromise but out of the mistaken belief that the so-called noble sacrifice will save the relationship: stupid.The difference may seem subtle on the surface. How deep the difference goes!