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Monday, October 08, 2007

Theory #39: Readerly Theories: HEA rules

It's Smart Bitches Day!

Someone on Romancing the Blog a long time ago mentioned something that rang a bell with me. She said:
Maybe those who read to identify with the heroine haven’t yet reached what they think of as a HEA so they are still looking for it in books.
This makes a lot of sense, and is an interesting starting point. I'm not sure I'd want to generalize that it's always or only readers who haven't reached their ideal HEA who identify with heroines and look for an HEA in books--it seems a bit insulting, and like the stereotype of the romance reader who lives vicariously through books because her own life is boring or worse. (note: I'm sure that's not what the commenter meant--I'm just clarifying in my own mind.)

It does seem that very often, however, it's not the readers with small children of their own who love the marriage-and-babies-type endings. It tends to be those either without children, or whose children are grown. Or those who have children but don't get to spend as much time with them as they like, or those who have always loved babies, loved being pregnant, thrill to the wonder of spit-up and diapers. (Heh--sorry for the sarcasm, and no offense intended--it's a residual left over from feeling guilty that I wasn't one of those moms.) The readers who have children and love them, but know and remember the stress and sleepless nights don't tend to find that scenario quite as romantic.

I've tried to clarify this theory before--postulating that it's only childless readers who are anxious for Eve & Roarke or Stephanie Plum or Anita Blake to have babies. That theory got shot down pretty decisively, and is obviously overly simplistic.

Still, there are distinct differences between different readers' definitions of what constitutes Happily Ever After, and I think that difference lies in our own experiences and personalities.

In general, it's what we find romantic in our lives that we'll find romantic in books, and the same with those romantic buzz-kills. Not so much what we have or don't have, but what we find romantic, and that's how we come up with our HEA rules.

For example, I can't believe in the HEA if the couple doesn't have mutual respect (which is why I had so much trouble with those paternalistic 80s heroes), and I can't believe in the idyllic babies of romancelandia who only show up when they're asleep or cooing sweetly in pristine pastel pajamas.

Our first child was born 11 months after we married, and between the 9 months of morning sickness, the preeclampsia, the 24 hours of labor, the months of colic, etc., it was anything but romantic. I'm dubious, to say the least, when I read about the h/h being passionately happy about having baby after baby immediately after the ceremony. Even putting aside my own first experiences and knowing it's not always that difficult, I've never been a baby person--I love my kids, and I think I'm a good mom, and I'm extremely glad I have them, but I have very little patience with babies and children in general--and I find it hard to believe the couple can be both completely focused on the baby and completely focused on the romance.

Other readers' experiences, expectations, and personalities may make them see the babies as a bond between the couple or proof of their love (I'm guessing--pretty please, if you like baby HEAs, let me know what it is about them that you like--I'm very curious).

My insistence on equality is easier to understand, I think--my parents were 13 years apart in age, and their marriage was a disaster. They were definitely not partners. I can't believe in the HEA where the hero rescues the heroine. And I can't believe in the HEA where the hero will do anything for the heroine. They have to have mutual respect and dependence.

But I know readers who like the HEAs with what looks to me like one or the other partner on top. Speculating non-judgmentally, I'm guessing that always being the one in charge, or experience with men letting you down might make a rescuing hero more appealing. Likewise, feeling powerless, or experience with men not listening might make a compliant hero more appealing.

And then there are the readers who find any sort of romantic HEA ending ridiculous and unrealistic. I'm suspecting their view of romance is akin to my view of babies--they may have a happy one of their own, but see the hard work rather than the idealized version, or they've had difficult experiences that make them disbelieve the easy outcome in a book.

Now that I've written this down, it seems ridiculously obvious, but the process has helped clarify a few things for me, so I'll leave it up. I'm always fascinated by why we all have different tastes in our reading, so I keep trying to explain it. I know I've been overly general and simplistic, but then, this is just a blog post, not a dissertation.


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When I hadn't yet seen North & South, the Armitage BBC adaptation I love, I checked out the ending on YouTube to make sure it was happy. Coz I want to settle into 4 hours of TV with that promise in sight. My brother did NOT get this when I tried to explain it to him this weekend. He's all about the mystery of it. This has nothing to do with babies, I'm realizing. Oh, so if Margaret & John had wound up holding a baby at the end of the 4 hours instead of happily chugging north on the train, I would've been bummed. Dude! Children are work! Don't spoil all that happy happy feeling with babies! I have two, and they spoil romance every chance they get. I hate baby epilogues. Ok, there--made it about children after all. *rantover*
LOL! Well, it didn't have to be about babies--it's just such a pet peeve of mine that it keeps creeping in. I'm with you, though, about the kids doing their best to spoil romance--our theory was that it's their way of trying to reduce the chances of competition from more siblings. ;-)
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