Monday, January 4, 2010

Marriage as a Family Affair

Having recently returned from my trip half-way around the world, my experiences with familial relations, where everything about the other is a cultural shock, are uppermost in my mind.

Most traditional popular romance novels have marriage as the Happily Ever After (HEA) goal. In reality, marriage is never simply betwixt two people, but is more a marriage between two families. The more disparate they are, the more problematic and the more complicated the resulting joint family.

It leads me to the conclusion that this is the reason why romance novels frequently eschew parents for their hero and heroine (H/H). While the genre dictates that the focus of the story must be on the hero, the heroine, and their budding relationship, and rudimentary psychology counsels that not having parents in the picture causes the children to mature and grapple with the reins of their lives early on, killing off parents is an easy crutch towards ensuring that.

Take The Proposition by Judith Ivory, for example. It's a historical reverse version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and the movie My Fair Lady (even down to the heroine being a philologist). The heroine is a duke's daughter raised amongst the ton with all the trappings of wealth and privilege. The hero is a rat catcher from a large, poor, country family in Cornwall. The story ends in the inevitable—and completely, heartwarmingly believable—HEA.

But to my mind these questions remain: Would she invite his entire family to her elegant London townhouse for Christmas? Would she journey cross country to his humble abode for Easter, where he shares his bedroom with five of his brothers? What ever would she have to say to his mother? How would she comport herself in their alien surroundings? How would his mother dress and talk for her morning callers and at-homes in town?

What do you think? What would the heroine do? And what of the original thesis?


Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Interesting observation! It made me realize I write a lot of orphans and untethered characters, LOL. They make their own families. None of my books feature the Julia Quinnish-heartwarmingly-close family. Maybe because I was an only child? Now you've made me think on a Monday morning, Keira, darn it. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Gotta start the first monday of a shiny new decade off right. "Think, think" as Pooh likes to say.

My trip over to my in-laws is always a jarring awakening of differences on all levels of thought. And despite having acquired cumulative knowledge over the years, I can at best imitate, not assimilate. That is what led me to thinking about our h/h from disparate backgrounds.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, what a thought provoking post. Actually I agree with you about orphans proliferating in romance - I usually write them, for example! Partly because the character is up against it from the get go and we get to see their strength and courage against a harsh world. Also when they're orphans, it means their reliance on the other major character becomes more crucial. They can't move home with ma and pa!

Stephanie J said...

Ha! I killed off the parents of my heroine. I can't tell if it made it easier to focus on the h/h or if writing about a limited family is more difficult.

I always wondered how it would be having in-laws. I know some people who have terrible relationships with the other side and I just can't imagine.

Keira Soleore said...

Fo and Steph, thanks for your comments here, and to Maggie, also for confirming my hypothesis.

Steph, for personal experience, it's a cold, harsh world out there with the larger family when you don't know the rules, but are expected to operate at optimum efficiency. :)