Thursday, April 28, 2011

Literary Blog Hop!

Literary Blog Hop

Okay, okay, so I've found yet another weekly meme thing. You have to admit, however, that I've at least been consistent in posting every day because of them. :)

The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase and it's for book bloggers whose tastes run a bit more toward the literature side of the book spectrum. Each week a prompt is given and participants give their answer to that prompt.

This week's prompt is: Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples.

My answer:

There are so many ways to use sentimentality and romance in literature. Some are better than others. Personally I find that emotions are much more effective when they develop gradually instead of appearing instantaneously as if by magic. I get really annoyed by the constant barrage of "love-at-first-sight" and "I love you because we were thrown together in a difficult situation" storylines that permeate novels. I also hate the "I'm angry or sad but my author is bad at writing these emotions" scenarios. As you'll see, it isn't just romance novels or "chick lit" that do this. These kinds of ridiculous notions abound in all forms of literature. There are, however, a few novels that get it right.

The Losers

Harry Potter

I love the Harry Potter series. They're fun, exciting, well-written. There's just one thing that J. K. Rowling seems to not be able to do--write a convincing love story. I enjoyed watching Ron and Hermione squabble themselves into a relationship. I think that their romance developed at a nice pace, with plenty of bumps along the way. Two other love stories in these books did not.

What the heck was with Lupin and Tonks? Lupin is one of my favorite characters in these novels and I quite liked Tonks when I first met her. Put the two of them together, however, and it just spells disaster. I couldn't find them believable as a couple. She was lovesick and he seemed to only be obliging her. He didn't even want to stick around after he married her. It was, frankly, a bad move on Rowling's part.

No. I don't particularly like Ginny, to be honest, but this whole relationship just seemed fake and forced. It was like Rowling was just trying to give Harry someone else to care about that he could possibly lose. I never got the feeling that they really cared about each other and it all happened so suddenly that I couldn't take it seriously. Development of a relationship is just as important as snogging, even in a children's book.

Wuthering Heights

If I ever found two characters I hate more in literature than Heathcliff and Catherine, I'd probably send the author of that book a fruit basket. She's whiny and vindictive, he's an abusive emo kid all grown up. It wasn't so much their love story that I minded; instead, it was Heathcliff's reaction to her death. Angry and grief have their place in literature, but these are both emotions that many authors can't seem to convey without being melodramatic. Heathcliff goes beyond melodramatic--he becomes downright psychotic. The next time anyone tells me that Heathcliff is an amazing, brooding character, I'm probably going to smack them.

Romeo and Juliet

Yes, I know that this is Shakespeare and therefore it's unconscionable for me to complain about this play. Romeo and Juliet, however, is to blame for much of the crap-tastic romance that we find in novels throughout history. Here is the classic boy-meets-girl-and-falls-madly-in-love-with-her-even-though-he's-just-met-her story. I hate stories like that. Don't get me wrong. I'm a romantic guy. I just don't believe that you can love someone at first sight. Love takes time, it needs to develop. You can like someone at first sight, you can lust for someone at first sight, but love is a gradual process. It takes trust and knowledge of the other person and a whole slue of other things that can't be gained during the first 2.5 seconds of meeting someone. This is why the story of Juliet and her Romeo really bothers me. Not only do they throw everything away for each other, they die for each other...and they don't even know each other's favorite color for crying out loud. This play has spawned countless other tales of star-crossed lovers as well as an infinite number of stories in which people just sort of fall in love and are each other's everything even though they know nothing about each other.

The Winners

Pride and Prejudice

There are some who will disagree with me on this, but I think Pride and Prejudice is not only one of the most romantic novels of all time, it's also one of the best romantic novels of all time. Jane Austen really knows how to build relationships and express emotion. When her characters are angry, they're believable. When they're sad, they're believable. When they're in love, they're very believable. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet doesn't happen overnight. They don't just fall into each other's arms two seconds after being introduced and declare their undying love for one another. Instead, it takes an entire novel for them to finally get over their own personal flaws and discover that they are truly meant for one another. That, my friends, is a good use of sentimentality.

The Importance of Being Earnest

I'm including this on the list of winners because Oscar Wilde is so good at satirizing sentimentality. There are no sacred cows in this play--love, hate, propriety, friendship; everything is skewered by Wilde's sharp-tongued words. Here we have four ridiculous characters who are all self-absorbed and shallow. The women think they love the same man, Earnest (who doesn't even exist), just because his name is Earnest. The men want to marry the women because, well, they're hot. The play is funny and it really plays with emotion in a unique way. Emotions are something to be ridiculed. They are not to be admired but, rather, they are to be discouraged (at least, if Lady Bracknell has anything to say about it). The Importance of Being Earnest is a great play to read if you're getting sick of all of the mindless, superfluous romance out there.

Great Expectations

I read this book for the first time when I was in high school and it really touched me in ways that other books hadn't before. Pip, despite being kind of whiny, is a wonderful character, as are the others that populate the world of Great Expectations. There's a lot of emotion running through this novel--love, anger, fear, hatred, sorrow, betrayal, revenge. Dickens weaves them throughout the story with a deftness unsurpassed by other writers. One of the greatest things about this book, however, is that Pip never really gets what he wants. His love of Estella is unrequited and his pining for her is so poignant that I couldn't help but feel for him.

There is a time and a place for sentimentality. It all comes down to whether or not the author is skilled at expressing emotion and whether or not they're just trying to rush the love story to get to whatever the payoff is at the end. One last example of this is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier--the novel versus the film. The novel is about the journey, not the destination. Inman's travels through the South on his way home from the Civil War are far more important to the story than his actually getting home. It's one of the reasons why Frazier used allusions to The Odyssey. The film, however, makes the journey less important, which I think is a travesty. Rather than showing how Inman changes on the road to Cold Mountain, the film picks and chooses his encounters and throws them around haphazardly because, in the end, it's all about the sex scene between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law that comes at the end of the film. The destination is now more important than the journey. Frazier's novel uses emotion and romance in a subtle way; Minghella's film throws it all in your face and expects you to be happy with it. I, for one, was not.



  1. I like your winners and losers. :) It's the 'love at first sight', by definition, requires more than one look.

  2. Mel: Or at least a really long book covering several years. :)

  3. I love the way you had so many different examples! And I couldn't agree more with the Romeo and Juliet thing. You know how at the beginning Romeo is totally into someone else? Rosalind or Rosamond or whatever her name is. Sometimes it makes me wonder if Shakespeare really intended the play to be romantic, or if he was writing a sort of satire on young love. I remember being so disappointed when I actually read the play in ninth grade, because I'd held it up as this ideal of romance, and when I read it all I could think was, "That was pretty stupid. Why did they kill themselves?" If I could ask Shakespeare anything, it would be if he really thought he was being romantic. Anyway, my Romeo and Juliet rant is over. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  4. L.L.: I think her name was Rosalind. You could have something there about it being a satire. It just always seemed so...unrealistic to me. Regardless of whether or not Shakespeare intended it to be a satire, Romeo and Juliet has led to centuries of bad romances. There are so many plays that he wrote that are better than R&J (King Lear, Midsummer Night's Dream, Merchant of Venice, etc.) and it's almost painful to see that most people only read this play.

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. I love that you used "craptastic" to describe Romeo and Juliet. That alone made my day. Really interesting list. What do you think of The Age of Innocence? I remember hating this one back in high school (probably because I thought it was sentimental). However, when I recently read it again, I found it charming.

    Thanks for giving this question such a thorough response. -Miss GoP

  6. Your winners rock! Those are pretty much some of my all time favorite books. New follower.

  7. Miss Good on Paper: "Craptastic" is one of my favorite words. I think it conveys a message unlike any other made up word. :)

    I've never read The Age of Innocence. In fact, I've never heard of it. I'll have to put it on my TBR list.

    Thanks for the follow!

    BookBelle: They're some of my all-time favorites as well. A girl I used to know in high school was just as obsessed with Great Expectations as I was and we used to have hours long conversations about it. I'd forgotten about them until today.

    Thanks for following! I've enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it a few weeks ago. I'm just a really bad commenter. LOL

  8. I do really like Romeo and Juliet but as a love story it falls pretty short

  9. I took a broader approach to this week's question...while I need to feel emotionally connected to a character to love a book, I deeply resent feeling that I've been emotionally manipulated by an author.

  10. lucybirdbooks: Agreed. I can appreciate the poetry of the play, but the characters never resonated with me.

    When I was in high school we had to do a project regarding Romeo and Juliet. While other students were making dioramas of the Globe Theater or putting together Romeo and Juliet board games, I was rewriting the second act of the play. I allowed Juliet to live and Romeo to find her in time and Paris to find them and die and Prince Escalus to cart Romeo off to prison because he had come back after being told to leave. Then I had him executed and made Juliet watch. My teacher loved it. :)

    As the Crowe Flies and Reads: I don't mind if an author tugs at my heartstrings a little, but I don't appreciate being told how to feel about a character or a situation.

  11. I agree that it's in the skill of a writer, if done well you don't realise your strings are being tugged, if poorly you see every trick the writers attempting.

  12. I like the format of your post. I think that with P&P, the love story works because it is not sentimental. The motivations of the characters are real (istic).

    Check out my hop here.

  13. What a great essay! Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Here is my response: Readerbuzz: The Queen Died and the King Died.