Sue Grimshaw, the romance buyer at Borders, has an interesting discussion up on her blog today, in conjunction with her review of Sarah MacLean‘s upcoming adult historical romance debut, NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE. She asks at one point:
As a modern woman, I’ll admit, I may have pined at one time, but not for 8 years! Good God! 3 months maybe & then have moved on. I realize in the 1800’s a woman is probably more apt to pine for a longer period of time, but to relate this story to today’s reader, isn’t 8 years a bit much?
Because Sue, you see, is obviously very well-adjusted. But we don’t read romances for well-adjusted people. We want larger than life! We want drama! We want desperate, star-crossed lovers fighting against all odds to make it work!
Let us look at my favorite story of long-term longing and deliciously painful pining of the first order: PERSUASION, by Jane Austen. If I want a nice cathartic cry, I pull out my dog-eared copy of Persuasion and turn to Captain Wentworth’s letter. Or I watch the movie. ANY version of the movie. Waterworks. In fact, nothing is guaranteed to produce waterworks in my as quickly as that scene in Persuasion except for that scene in Before Sunset where Julie Delpy goes off on this beautifully wild rant about the reason she never tried to have romance in her life again is because she was afraid it would never live up to the fantasy she’d created in her head about the boy she went to Vienna with that one time — which, you will note, is also pining.
Now, part of the pathos of PERSUASION is that, well, though both Anne and Wentworth are pretty intelligent, practical people (compared to the rest of their acquaintance), neither of them have the chance to act on their well-adjusted impulses, because their community is just too small. There is practically no one else that Anne can marry in her neighborhood, a point that her friend makes to her whenever she starts bringing up Wentworth as The Perfect Man She Never Got Over. Well, he’s not perfect, he’s just way more suited to you than that Musgrove dude you foisted off on your sister. If you ever met a nice guy (the friend argues), maybe you would have gotten over Wentworth and married some other perfectly nice guy.
And Wentworth spends the whole time at sea.
So, Austen cheats — or, to be more polite about it, she crafts a supremely awesome and skillful complication. She gets her perfectly well-adjusted characters and she gets some seriously emotional pining. And then she tortures her characters even further by putting them in the path of some perfectly nice people that they could probably be perfectly happy with — Louisa Musgrove and Captain Benwick — were they not simultaneously in the presence of their One True Love, who, by comparison, no one else will do. Which is when the pining really ratchets up, because what’s worse: wanting something when there’s nothing on the horizon and the whole concept is just kind of vague and impossible, or wanting something when there’s something okay there, but just beyond it, a little ways away, untouchable but so infuriatingly close, is the thing you really, really, really want?
And these guys pine for years. YEARS. Anne’s pining is right up there with Penelope of Ithaca’s. Pining is the backbone upon which romance is built. If you get over someone in three months, it wasn’t a love for the ages, was it?
I for one can’t wait to read NINE RULES. Pine away.