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13 February 2008

Heart-Melting Moments

In the discussion following Amanda's wonderful posts last week about Mary Robinson, the talk segued into historical films, and including "That Hamilton Woman" with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Both Amanda and I mentioned having vivid memories of a scene in which Nelson (Olivier) and Emma Hamilton (Leigh) are sitting together (as I recall in a a tavern/inn) and she's interpreting his expressions. He says Do you know what this one is? As Amanda, put it, "she says, tentatively, Nelson allowing himself to be ... just a LITTLE bit ... happy." And he says, Nelson in love. Sigh.

A heart-melting moment. Which made me think of other heart-melting moments on film and in novels. It occurred to me that that would be a fun blog topic the day before Valentine's Day. But because this is a History Hoydens post, I'm sticking to heart-melting moments in films and books with historical settings (so the books are either historical fiction or books that were actually written in an historical era). And I'm going to talk a bit about the historical context of the scenes. Because most of the scenes that occurred to me aren't grand, sweeping love scenes. They're smaller moments, often, I think, made all the more powerful because the lovers have found ways to express strong emotion in the midst of the social constraints of the era. For instance, in the scene described above, Nelson is a married war hero, Emma is an ambassador's wife, and they are in a public setting. The fact that they find a way to declare their feelings in an understated way to me makes the scene more powerful than if they were alone in a moon-drenched garden.

Here are a few heart-melting moments that immediately sprang to mind (I'm sure I'll think of a bunch more the minute I post this):

Atonement. Both the movie and the book, but different moments from each. The moment that stopped my heart in the book is when Cecilia runs after Robbie and embraces him before the police take him away. I knew a bit about the plot before I read the book, so I knew Robbie was going to be arrested, but I didn't know how Cecilia would react. The fact that she trusts him implicitly, without ever once stopping to question, against the pressures of family, tradition, and social class (not to mention the evidence of her own sister) is incredibly powerful. The more so because Cecilia comes from a world in which family, duty, tradition, and social class carry so much weight. It's a wonderful moment in the film too, but if I had to pick just one heart-melting moment from the movie, my vote would go to the scene where Robbie and Cecilia meet in the café during the war. Cecilia grips his hand and says "Come back to me"--a wonderfully layered phrase given all the many ways she could lose him. I saw the movie with actor and writer friends, and we all commented afterwards on the power of that scene.

Freedom & Necessity. Towards the end of this fabulous, Victorian-set epistolary novel, the hero, James, writes a letter to the heroine Susan. It isn't the least bit flowery, but I think it's one of the two most romantic letters I've ever read in a novel. It's a wonderful expression of raw, naked emotion from a character who doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, and yet it rings true to the era. I have either too much or not enough to say to you for the inch of candle I have left in my candlestick. You are as dear to me as anything ever seen in this world. When this is done, perhaps you will give me the time and opportunity to show you how much that is.

Persuasion.
Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne is the other most romantic letter I've ever read in a novel. A great reminder of the historical importance of letters and letter writing. Letters can be such a wonderful way of capturing emotions that the characters would perhaps not speak aloud. (I find I'm using letters more and more in my own books--I have a whole section of letters between characters on my website and done the "extras" for my two recent reprints in the form of letters). Letters can be difficult to translate to film, but I think the letter scene also works beautifully in the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion as well.

Locked Rooms. This moment, early on in Laurie King's latest Russell/Holmes mystery, took me by surprise. Russell is having nightmares about her family's death as she and Holmes sail to San Francisco (where she grew up and was living when her family died). Holmes finds her dangerously near the ship rail and pulls her back. Shortly after, he says something along the lines of (unfortunately I can't find my copy of the book, so I'm quoting from memory), that he doesn't think seeing the sun rise in the west would cause his heart to stop. Russell starts to reply, and Holmes adds, The sight of my wife going over the rail of a ship might have done the trick however. It's a powerful statement of emotion, couched with a restraint that is very much characteristic of Holmes (the books may be set in the twenties, but Holmes, as Russell often reminds the reader, is very much a Victorian gentleman). Even the fact that he refers to her as "my wife" (words he had difficulty saying a few books earlier in the series) is significant.

Shakespeare in Love. One of my favorite choices for Valentine's Day viewing. I could pick a dozen different moments (I love you beyond poetry, Write me well, the wonderful (though not precisely heart-melting) moment when Viola says Now I know there are some things better than a play. Even one of yours, and Will frowns as though he's not sure he likes the idea that making love with him is better than one of his plays). But the moment that seems right for this post is when Will and Viola embrace at the end of the performance of Romeo and Juliet while the other actors take their bow and the audience rises to its feet in a stunned standing ovation. The thrill of creative achievement, the bittersweet knowledge of parting. It always make me teary-eyed.

Venetia. One of my favorite Georgette Heyers, and to me the most romantic of her books. Toward the end of the novel, when Venetia has finally convinced Damerel that marrying him is not the worst fate that could befall her, her uncle points out that while Damerel may mean to reform, he may find it difficult to give up his rakish habits. Venetia replies that she doesn't think she would ever know.

"You'd know about my orgies! objected Damerel.
"Yes, but I shouldn't care abut them, once in a while. After all, it would be quite unreasonable to wish you to change all your habits, and I can always retire to bed, can't I?"
"Oh, won't you preside over them?" he said, much disappointed.
"Yes, love, if you wish me to," she replied, smiling at him. "Should I enjoy them?"
He stretched out his hand, and when she laid her own in it, held it very tightly. "You shall have a splendid orgy, my dear delight, and you will enjoy it very much indeed!"

It's a lovely moment, funny, sexy, touching, and it shows precisely why these two people belong together, even if society may raise its brows at the match.

Gaudy Night. The last scene of the book. The only scene I've chosen that actually falls in the "major, definitive, declaration/love scene" category, and even it is expressed in outwardly restrained terms, with the characters speaking Latin, no less. Oddly enough, until I sat down to write this post, I hadn't really considered that it was probably a daunting task for Sayers to write that scene. Readers had waited three books and several years for Peter and Harriet to get together. After that much build up, there's a great risk of the scene seeming flat or overdone or out of character. But it succeeds brilliantly--true the to story and the Oxford setting and to Peter and Harriet as characters.

Now it's your turn. What moments in historical books and films do you find particularly heart-melting?

Happy Valentine's Day!




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17 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Tracy. Wonderful post and I concur on all your selections. But I would also include the scene in Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense & Sensibility when Colonel Brandon asks Elinor to give him some task to do while Marianne is sick, and also the scene where Elinor learns that Edward is free and she's able for the first time to give way to her emotions.

The scene in the film version of Last of The Mohicans in the cave when Daniel Day-Lewis tells Madeline Stowe as Cora that he will find her again, no matter what.

The film version of Age of Innocence, again when Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer touches Michelle Pfeiffer's wrist in the only bare spot that is visible.

And of course, Merle Oberon as Cathy in Wuthering Heights talking about her love for Heathcliff despite their class differences when she declares "I am Heathcliff." Not to mention the scene where he carries her to the window just before she dies.

In fiction, there is a scene at the end of Judith McNaught's Whitney My Love, where the hero finally confesses his love for Whitney. And any Lavryle Spencer historical, particularly in Years when Teddy proposes to Linnea using the chalkboard where she's been teaching him to write.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great scenes, Elizabeth! That scene from "The Age of Innocence" is a great example of a scene that's so framed by the rigid constraint of the era in which it is set. In addition to the moment when Colonel Brandon begs Elinor to give him something to go, I'd add the moment at the end when Edward says "My heart is--and always has been--yours" and Elinor starts laughing and crying.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Great post, Tracy! I haven't seen several of the films you mention (though I agree about that moment in "Persuasion." I also have never read Heyer (shock! horror! anathema!)

The scene in Emma Thompson's adaptation of S&S where she breaks down when she learns it's Edward's brother who has married, is indeed a golden moment, and my heart always catches in my throat when I watch the movie.

Ditto to the other scenes mentioned by EKM.

There's also a heartmelting (because it's so heartbreaking) moment in the Olivier/Garson "Pride and Prejudice" where Darcy assures Lizzy that he will not trouble her again with his importunations, and she echoes his words (I'm probably paraphrasing" "That moment is most definitely ... over." And she goes to the window seat and looks out the window with such rue and regret.



Happy Valentine's Day to all!!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, I love that scene in the Olivier/Garson P&P too! It's "That chapter is definitely...closed." And then on his way out he says something like "This is perhaps the last time we shall meet. God bless you, Elizabeth." (which is actually taken from Darcy's letter in the novel). And then after he leaves she goes to the window and echoes his words. Much as I love the A&E "Pride and Prejudice" and the recent movie, in some ways the Garson/Olivier version remains my favorite, and in my head Olivier will always be Darcy.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The scene in Emma Thompson's S&S where Alan Rickman/Col Brandon hears Marianne playing piano and his face softens. If I'd been 11 at the time I first saw the movie it would have been my gold standard for visibly falling in love. Maybe it is anyway.

Also Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. "What'ya rebelling against, Johnny?" "What'ya got?" I was eleven for that one.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That's enough great scene from "Sense and Sensibility," Pam! (So far I think it's the movie with the most scenes mentioned). You're right, it's a wonderful illustration of visibly falling in love (and superb acting form Alan Rickman). I confess I've never seen "The Wild Ones"!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Ooh, I have another one Tracy. The final scene in the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, when John Thornton kisses Margaret Hale, and then they take the train together, snuggling. Sigh!

1:22 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Thanks for remembering the exact quote from the Olivier/Garson P&P. It's so touching, and the mutual regret so palpable in that scene.

2:22 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Wow, what a great list of movies! Some fabulous scenes. I happen to like the 2005 P&P film for when Darcy tells Lizzie she has "bewitched him body and soul and I love...love .. love you." Big sigh! And then when Lizzie takes his hand and kisses it and says "Your hands are cold." That says so much more than the mere words.

Then in Mary Balogh's SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS when Wulfric begs Christine to come to the house party at Easter so that he can show her he is human, he is a man she could love. There is something so incredibly romantic about a man willing to lay himself open to a woman to prove he is worth of her love, especially a man like Wulfric Bedwyn.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Elizabeth, that moment from "North and South" is definitely heart-melting. Has anyone read the book? It's on my tbr list (along with a great many other books, including a number by my fellow Hoydens).

Amanda, I think I practically know the script of the Garson/Olivier P&P by heart--I've loved the movie since I was a kid (it started my fascination with all things Regency, even if the costumes are wrong) and I watch it frequently. The regret and longing in that scene are definitely palpable.

Doglady, I love that scene in the Knightley/McFadyen P&P too. Though I actually think for me the scene Amanda described from the Garson/Olivier version has even more emotional power. Perhaps because it occurs at a time when the characters think they have lost each other. Have to ponder that--it's so fun to compare different versions of the same story. I love a lot of Mary Balogh books, but I haven't read "Slightly Dangerous" yet. The scene you describe sounds lovely!

11:33 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Oh -- I have two more! They count as a "period" pieces because they're from 1938 and 1940, respectively! :)

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn; a cinematic comedic match made in heaven (okay, only in Hollywood). Both from Philip Barry comedies ... In HOLIDAY (1938), Hepburn plays Linda, the eccentric younger sister of the materialistic woman Grant is engaged to. When she falls in love with him instead and her family can't understand why she would want to stick by his side, even if (or especially because) Johnny has no interest in joining his future father-in-law's bank, Linda staunchy defends him with "And if Johnny wants to sell PEANUTS -- BY GOD I'll LOVE those peanuts!"

And from 1940, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, Hepburn plays spoiled heiress Tracy Lord (Barry wrote the play for her at the time she was nicknamed "box office poison") who is about to embark on an ill-advised second marriage (her somewhat alcoholic ex, C.K. Dexter Haven, played by Grant, is still in love with her, and she with him). But enter Mike Macauley, a journalist with a heart of gold and integrity of steel, played by gosh-darn-aw-shucks Jimmy Stewart, and Tracy is tempted to go slumming. After way too much champagne (spending too much time with Miss Pommery '26, as she puts it, and I'm probably paraphrasing), she and Mike go for a moonlit swim and the cold water and champagne hit her at the same time like a much-needed wake-up call to join the ranks of the passionate. Mike is caught by Tracy's ex-husband and future husband, carrying the loopy and half-asleep Tracy onto the patio, and his actions are called into question by his 2 rivals.

Tracy manages to open her eyes and takes in the situation as much as she's able to comprehend it in her inebriated state (which isn't much). She's also just fallen in love with Mike. Hepburn turns to Grant and trills "Hullo, Dex," then takes in her intended, George Kittredge and in a stuffy voice that mocks his pomposity, murmurs, "Hullo, George," then dreamily tilts her face toward Jimmy Stewart, in whose arms she still reposes, and purrs, "Hullo, Mike."

7:14 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Well, if we're going to include movies from the 1940's, then I have to also plump for "Now Voyager" the scene on the ship where Paul Henried as Jerry lights the cigarettes for him and Bette Davis as Charlotte and the final line of the film when she tells him why reach for the moon when they have the stars!

And there's also the scene in GWTW, when Ashley finally admits that he loves Scarlett, but tells her that they would never have suited each other.

And my favorite musical, She Loves Me, when Amalia sings about how Georg brought her ice cream. I still remember watching the PBS version with Gemma Craven and Robin Ellis one New Year's Eve.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What wonderful examples to start Valentine's Day with! Amanda, "The Philadelphia Story" is one of my favorite movies, and I love "Holiday" too. I also love the New Year's Eve moment where they almost kiss in "Holiday" and the scene between Tracy and Dexter the morning after the scene you describe (the morning of her wedding) as well as the earlier scene between Tracy and Dexter in the car where he tells her she looks beautiful.

Elizabeth, I've seen a clip of that scene from "Now Voyager" (and it's a wonderful scene) so many times, but I still haven't seen the whole movie. The Ashley/Scarlet scene in GWTW is very powerful, though it doesn't tug at my heart strings the way some of others mentioned do (and now of course I'm trying to figure out why, which is a big part of the fun of looking at scenes like this; maybe because I don't particularly want those two characters to get together?). "She Loves Me" is so wonderful! I play the CD a lot, particularly around the holidays. "Ice Cream" is brilliant. And Georg's song "She Loves Me" so wonderfully captures the joy of falling in love. "Dear Friend" (I think that's the title? the one Amalia sings alone in the café) is heartbreaking. I so wish I'd taped the PBS broadcast. Does anyone know if it's on DVD?

10:03 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Tracy, I don't think it was ever even released on VHS! That's one I think we should all email PBS to see about releasing on DVD. Or at least to repeat so that I can DVR it. I have the original cast album of She Loves Me with Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey but I would love to be able to see the PBS version again. I'm not even sure its at the Paley Museum (what used to be the Museum of Broadcasting).

10:49 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I don't think "She Loves Me" was ever released on VHS either--I've looked for it a bunch through the years. My parents and I watched it one year over the holidays and then kept looking for it to be reshown so we could record it. I have the original cast recording too--I love to put it on for tree-trimming, though come to think of it, it's also great Valentine's Day music!

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Susan/DC said...

Of course I'm late, as per usual, but for me one of the most romantic scenes is from the British TV version of "Ivanhoe" from a few years ago. Ciaran Hinds is a marvelous, powerful Brian de Bois Guilbert. At the very end, as he fights Ivanhoe for Rebecca's life, he turns to Ivanhoe and says "I would not die for my king but I'll die for her." Not exactly the traditional romantic declaration, but it nonetheless elicited a huge sigh from me and does so every time I watch the DVD.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks so much for posting, Susan! That was definitely a heart-melting moment. Usually watching versions of "Ivanhoe," I want Rebecca to end up with Ivanhoe, but in that one I found myself wanting her to end up with Brian. I think what makes a lot of these moments heart-melting is that they aren't traditional declarations, as you say. Characters are confessing their feelings, but often against their better judgment, despite the strictures of the day, not in comfortable circumstances, and that somehow makes the moments all the more powerful.

8:10 PM  

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