Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rationalists Ruin Romance

One of the key ingredients, the glue that holds the genre together, is that tension between people in love before they admit it to each other. Forlornly wondering "but does (s)he love me?" is very nearly a staple of every romance novel I read, and that's if the character currently narrating even knows they're in love themselves.

Which is why rationalist main characters make for poor romance novels. In striving to behave rationally, it is imperative to assess one's own emotional state, which would eradicate those doubts about whether one is really in love oneself. From there, if one is indeed in love, that which would most increase happiness longterm is discovering that ones beloved is in love in return, so it only makes sense to ask.

If the answer is positive, the book is over by chapter five. If negative, then it's hardly a romance at all, and the sensible thing for the main character to do is to try to forget that they were ever in love. If the answer is uncertain flailing and ignorance on the beloved's part of their own feelings, then, well, ask again in a week.

There. Happily ever after approached and seized sensibly within a very short time span. But there's no catharsis in this, no sweeping moment of passion where all misunderstandings are forgotten. No encounter in the woods with Mr Darcy, because their engagement would have been announced shortly after Jane and Bingley's wedding, which in turn would have been only shortly after that of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins.

It is one of the more interesting disconnects between literature and life that the most desirable outcome for real people is the least engaging in the genre of romance novels.

This examination was inspired by the Twilight retelling Luminosity and its sequel Radiance by writer and rationality blogger Alicorn. The major departure in Luminosity is that Bella is a rationalist. As you might imagine, it changes the story significantly. One of the ways I've noticed (in hindshight: the two books are now over) is in genre: Meyer's novels are romance, with fantasy elements. The focus is on Edward and Bella's relationship, and when will they finally be fully together? In Alicorn's, while Edward and Bella are still totally and completely in love, it is a fantasy novel with strong relationships in it. The focus is on Bella and Edward's adventures in changing the world.

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