Monday, February 1, 2010

“Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.” - Percy Bysshe Shelley

If I could go back in history, what period would I choose and why… Oy! There are so many interesting time periods. The height of the Roman Empire would be interesting, as would the Renaissance. Although the fashions back then weren’t great, except for the toga. I could totally rock a toga.

Oh, and let’s not forget the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the 1960s. Dodging musket rounds, cannon fire, and drafts aside, I think it would be cool to hang out with the likes of Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon—I’m noticing a lot of ‘J’ names here. Coincidence? Hmm…

As cool as it would be to hang with those guys, I have to shy away from picking any of those eras. No, my historic period of choice would be the late 1700s and into the 1800s, Europe, and the Romantic Movement. (Not that movement, Shane. Get your mind out of the gutter.) I’d happily, if not gracefully, don bloomers, a corset, and a bustle to spend a week with the likes of Lord Byron, the Shelleys, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats. These guys knew how to party. They saw no boundaries between poetry, prose, art, nature, and themselves.

The Romantics (with a big ‘R’ as opposed to little to distinguish it from the kissy-face romance genre that wouldn’t appear until later) were all about individualism, emotion versus reason, valuing the sense over intellect. They were the original Rebels Without a Cause, although they did have a “cause” in that they opposed the rigid mindset of the Enlightenment and the runaway industrialization of that cities such as London covered in a thick layer of black soot from the coal-burning smokestacks. Romantics vaulted folk art and ancient customs to noble status, reveled in the mysterious, the exotic, the occult, and explored human nature. Read Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein if you doubt this. The entire novel was inspired by her experiences as a young mother wed to a philandering husband and ghost stories spun around a late-night fire that resulted in vivid and horrifying dreams…which then led to the novel and Mary overshadowing her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. (FYI, the Shelleys’ marriage and lives make modern soap operas pale in comparison.)

Modern authors—including myself and my fellow Criminal Minds here—owe a great deal to the Romantics, whether we know it or not. Lord Byron gave us the appropriately named Byronic hero: an often gifted but misunderstood loner following his (or her) own code of ethics rather than the tired and restrictive mores of contemporary society. Examples of this type of character include Spider-Man, X-Men (especially Wolverine), the Incredible Hulk, Batman, Angel (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Lestat (created by Anne Rice), and even Edward Cullen of Twilight fame. (Yes, mutants, vampires, and werewolves make great Byronic heroes as evidenced by the rapid rise and continued success of the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres.) There are other Byronic heroes who aren’t superhuman who have had profound influences on modern culture such as Rambo, Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer. (I’m noticing a lot of ‘J’ names again. I think we’re moving into the realm of conspiracy now.)

We only have to look at the recent success of James Cameron’s Avatar to see the latest example of how influential the Romantics have been. Aside from the Pandorans looking like giant Smurfs, Avatar is a Romantic (big ‘R’) film. It deals with the exotic (an alien world). The hero, Jake Sully, is a deeply flawed individual and a near perfect Byronic hero. He doesn’t fit in with the scientists with whom he’s assigned to work and because of his physical limitations (confined to a wheelchair) he’s no longer accepted by his fellow Marines. He does find acceptance among the native “primitive” Pandorans, though he has to fight for that acceptance. The connection between the Pandorans and their world runs deep and is mysterious to the visiting/invading humans. Emotion overrides much of the film’s plot (which I admit is more or less a rehashing of Dances with Wolves…in space) so our senses then override our intellect and reason, and then our imaginations are set free to accept that giant Smurfs live on another planet and ride six-legged horses and non-fire breathing dragons.

If big blue aliens don’t interest you, try a story set in San Francisco in the 1940s and featuring a female private investigator. Preferably one located in the city’s Chinatown district. One like very own Kelli Stanley’s latest noir crime novel, City of Dragons—on sale TOMORROW!

And that’s why I would don my bloomers, squeeze into a corset, and bust-out the bustle to spend a little time with the Romantics. I have a pretty big “thank you” card to deliver.

9 comments:

VR Barkowski said...

Terrific post, Jeannie. I haven't a drop of romance in my soul, but I worship the Romantics. Byron once said, "There is no instinct like that of the heart." I've come to believe this is the soul of fiction.

Isn't it Sophie L. who says every book is a romance? I scoffed, but perhaps she's right.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hee hee! I did indeed say that every book is a romance. Only now I have to amend that, thanks to J's excellent comment here, and say that there's "kissy-face" romance and the other sorts. well probably a variety of other sorts. Thanks J!

Michael Wiley said...

Great post, Jeannie -- and I'll join you in the Romantic Period: it's the one that I teach as part of my day job. But I'm not going to put on bloomers -- I'm going as a sans culotte.

Shane Gericke said...

YOU'RE wearing bloomers and a corset and I'M the one with my mind in the gutter. Ha! My mind is as pure as the driven snow ...

Lovely post. Romance IS an important part of most, if not all, of our books, even if the object is only a stone or a sword.

Sans culotte, Michael? Doesn't that mean nekked?

Shane Gericke said...

What was the rigid mindset of the Enlightenment, BTW? Was it the emphasis on fact over superstition? I can't recall now from reading about the Romantics way back when.

While wearing my bustle ...

Shane Gericke said...

Aw, VR, not a teensy-tiny drop of romance?

Joshua Corin said...

Ah, the romance. Two semester ago I taught a class on the romance. Capital R, lower-case kissy-face r - it's all the same really. From Sir Gawain to Nora Roberts (with stops along the way at Lord Byron's manse and Mr. Poe's bar stool), it's all about an adoration for the sublime and a rejection of reason.

In other words: love.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I just reread Frankenstein. I love how she treats the character of the monster, which is completely different from all the cinema adaptations I've seen so far.

And Romantic art! Caspar David Friedrich was incredible, wasn't he?

I wouldn't do a corset, but some of those dresses looked pretty cool.

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post, Jeannie my love!! :)

And thank you for the shout out about City of Dragons!!

I've always considered myself a Romantic ... after all, noir is a quintessentially Romantic genre. :)

I loved Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's gentle spoof on the Gothic romance ...

xoxo

Kelli