Come back, Heathcliff!

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance 7 Comments

Come back, Heathcliff!

I think there is something intensely appealing about Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, even though I’ve never been a big fan of the novel. I am pretty intensely committed to a happily-ever-after, and Heathcliff was a portrait of a self-destructive man whose bitterness ultimately overwhelms him.

And yet…..

I think there is a streak inside a lot of women who long for the idea of the helpless and enduring love Heathcliff has for Cathy. He is not a nice-guy hero. He is stormy, dark, and turbulent…. perfect reading for a blustery autumn day. In real life I would cross the street to avoid someone like Heathcliff, but in a guilty pleasure of a novel? There is a reason Wuthering Heights has an enduring appeal, and his name is Heathcliff.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading 4 Comments

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I have been pleased with the renewed enthusiasm for everything C.S. Lewis these days. Most of it is undoubtedly connected to the Narnia movies, (which I did not particularly enjoy) but are still better than typical fare served to our young people.

A much harder sell to a mainstream audience is the staggering novel Till We Have Faces, widely regarded by scholars as Lewis’s best novel. It had a profound impact on me when I first read it, and with each re-reading I see new insights that further convince me this book is a masterpiece.

The setting is a fictional barbarian kingdom somewhere in the Mediterranean. The time period is roughly 400 B.C., so the spiritual references are entirely devoid of Jesus, although the philosophical principles are there. It is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, although told from the point of view from one of the jealous sisters, Orual. In this version, Orual is an intensely sympathetic narrator. She is the ugly, disfigured daughter of a cruel barbarian king, and the only light in her life is her Greek tutor and her beautiful sister Psyche, upon whom she dotes. Orual despises the pagan gods and all the associated superstition and ignorance.

An intelligent woman, she refuses to accept anything she cannot see and experience. She grows up to become a great warrior Queen, but her hideous face (which she hides behind veils) and her position as Queen mean no one will ever love her. Fear her? Respect her? These she has, but she is also an intensely isolated person. The reader will watch Orual’s journey into old age as she wrestles with questions of duty, mercy, and the battle between faith and reason.

It is a magnificent book. The writing is raw and primitive, a perfect reflection of its barbarian setting. Themes of spirituality and redemption are heavily woven into the text, but so is despair, uncertainty, and the struggles that come along with faith. It has none of the magic or fireworks of the Narnia books, so people hoping for a retread of Narnia might be disappointed, but I found it to be a brilliant combination of a unique plot mingled with profound human questions.

Till We Have Faces also explores the odd combination of joy mingled with longing, which I have written about here.

“Aging Out” of Romances

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance 7 Comments

Is it possible to “Age Out” of romance novels?

I am now into my forties, yet at the beginning of my career as a novelist, I sometimes wondered if there would come a time when I would “age out” of romances….either as a reader or a writer.

I can comfortably answer that question with a resounding No!

And I am not alone. Industry statistics gathered by the Romance Writers of America indicate that the typical reader of romance novels are between 30-54 years old. And yet, the typical heroine of romance novels, both in mainstream and inspirational romance, is in her twenties. Do older women really want to continue reading about this age?

The answer is YES.    A few years ago, Harlequin (the industry giant and master at gauging reader demographics), tried to launch some series lines featuring significantly older heroines. It failed to perform anywhere close to industry standards. I asked some older women who read romance novels why they continue to read about the trials and tribulations of heroines in their twenties. Here are a smattering of responses:

• Books about women my age (60) seem to be “issue books” dealing with illness, aging, problematic adult children, or something equally bleak.
• I don’t want anything that reminds me of my day job. I like the freshness of women in the earlier years of their life learning to grapple with overwhelming emotions.
• “Hen Lit” doesn’t do it for me.

As I writer, I am interested in women as they struggle to define themselves. I want to capture them on that upward arc when they come into their own in terms of their convictions, their hopes for a career, and what they are looking for in a man. To write such a thing about a woman in her 40’s or older simply won’t work… she will come off as immature and not someone the reader will be engaged with.

There is a recent phenomenon known as the “Twilight Mom.” These are women who picked up the book that was all the rage among their high-school aged daughters and got hooked. Why? Because they liked the depiction of unabashed love and the turbulent emotions portrayed in the books. The age of the characters didn’t matter. I am hoping that many of those Twilight Moms eventually picked up other novels in the romance genre and found them equally appealing.

In any case…I can safely say I have no desire to move into “Hen Lit!”

(photo courtesy of Martin Playing with Pixels)