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03 February 2009

Declarations, Resolutions, & Other Heart-Stopping Moments

With Valentine's Day only ten days off, this seemed a good time to write a blog I've been thinking about for some time. Favorite romantic scenes--first declarations of love, resolutions of seemingly insurmountable conflicts, and other heart stopping moments. Here are a few of my favorites, scenes that bring an ache to my throat and put a smile on my face, many of them scenes I've reread so many times I know them by heart.

In no particular order:

1. "Oh, Damerel, must you be foxed just as this moment? How odious you are , my dear friend!"

The extended sequence at the end of Georgette Heyer's Venetia in which Venetia and Damerel work out their differences has it all--conflict, humor, passion, and poignancy. Damerel is a world-weary rake and Venetia is a sheltered, unmarried woman, yet they're so uniquely themselves that they pop off the page, and so obviously soul mates that you can't but feel a catch in your throat as they battle through to their happy ending.

2. "I've just won a wager with myself."

The scene in Freedom & Necessity by Steven Brust & Emma Bull in which Susan and James confess their feelings (and do rather more than confess them) may be my favorite literary love scene. It's character-driven, emotionally fraught, erotically frank, and yet still filled with mystery. The final scene between the couple in the book is also lovely, and then there's that fabulous last letter James writes to Susan, not to mention all the moments in between.

3. "Monseigneur, I would so much rather be the last woman than the first."

These Old Shades is a comfort read for me, but it isn't my favorite Georgette Heyer. It isn't even in my top three. And yet I've reread the last scene between Avon and Léonie countless times. It's beautifully written and structured, with a wonderful economy of gesture and emotion that speaks volumes. There's very little inner monologue, and yet the emotional shifts are crystal clear.

4. "Now forget your responsibility to everyone else for once in your life and give me a straight answer. Do you want me to stay?"

The final scene in The Armies of Daylight, the third book in Barbara Hambly's Darwath trilogy, may be the most satisfying lovers-getting-together-against-the-odds scene I've ever read, largely because the odds seem so very high and the happy ending so very much not guaranteed. There's also something about this scene that to me is very much parallel to the Léonie/Avon scene, though the words are very different as are the characters. Yet both stories involve heroes who are considerably older than the heroines and who men capable of shaping the world round them (one a wizard, the other a wealthy, powerful duke). Both men are convinced they'll only bring unhappiness to the woman they love and are trying to do the noble thing and give her up (as is Damerel in scene 1. Doing the right thing can be very sexy). The heroines, Léonie and Gil, are very different women. Yet both are trying to convince the man they love that they
know what they want and would much rather face the future with him, hand in hand. Like the scene from These Old Shades, this one has beautifully delineated emotional shifts.

5. "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?"

I got to do the church scene between Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in acting class in high school. My fellow sophomore Benedick and I barely scratched the surface of what the scene has to offer. But we had a lot of fun, and I still know most of the lines by heart. And every time I see the play, I find new things in this incredibly rich scene, which is funny, touching, romantic, and fraught with dark emotion.

6. "Placetne, domina?"
"Placet."

I think I studied Latin college partly so I could understand the dialogue between Peter and Harriet in the final scene of Dorothy Sayers's Gaudy Night. That this scene manages not to be trite or anticlimactic or trite after three books of angst and adventure, countless marriage
proposals, and several brushes with death is no small feat. You can really believe in the balance these two characters have fought their way to, yet there's still enough tension to keep the reading anxiously turning the pages. Harriet's done a great deal of thinking in the pages before, but here, as in some of the other scenes I've mentioned, there's very little inner monologue. And yet every word and detail is weighted with subtext, down to the traffic lights blinking Yes; No; Wait.

7. Too late, too late, too late. It had happened.

My mom and I used to call this the "Gigi" moment--where the hero suddenly realizes, with the force of a thunderclap, that he's madly in love with the heroine who's been right there under his nose for years and years or pages and pages. The moment when Francis Crawford of Lymond comes to this realization, in The Ringed Castle, book five of the Lymond Chronicles is all the more powerful for the world "love" never being used.


8. "I prefer you as you are--tainted and tarnished."

The scene where Mary casts caution and calculation aside and crawls into bed with the wounded Lord Vaughn in Lauren's The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is just lovely. A truly romantic confession of feeling on both sides, made all the stronger by the fact that you know just what it costs these two people to let their guard down and make themselves vulnerable. Both maintain their wonderfully acerbic sides, which makes their confession of their feelings (couched or allude to in character-appropriate terms) all the more powerful.


9. "A bath and some inoculations are called for, Holmes."

I think the "dock scene" from Laurie King's A Monstrous Regiment of Women may be my favorite proposal scene. Intensely romantic in large part because so much about it is is quite the opposite. Holmes and Russell are filthy and soaking wet and in the midst of an argument
about his having gone after the villain without her. There's a wonderful juxtaposition of acerbic dialogue and passionate breaking free of restraint. As with Gaudy Night and the Darwath Chronicles, and the Lymond Chronicles, it has extra power from being the culmination of
more than one book of longing. It sends chills up my spine every time I read it (play on words intended, to those familiar with the scene).

10. "Well," he said, with a transitory gleam of himself, "you're my corner and I've come to hide."

Peter and Harriet are the only couple to appear twice on this list. Much as I love the last scene of Gaudy Night, I think I may be even more fond of the final scene between them in Busman's Honeymoon. It grapples with a question I'm fond of addressing in my own writing, "what happens after happily ever after?" And it balances the scales by letting Peter need Harriet.

Ten very different scenes. And yet, as I revisited them to write this post, I realized that the very differences in scenes and characters are something the scenes have in common. Each is unique to the characters involved, in the setting and circumstances in which the scene occurs (a sitting room in the French countryside, a rocky hollow in an alternate universe the London docks, an Oxford street) to the circumstances to the words and gestures the characters find to express their feelings. There's also a wonderful tension to all of them, a sense of the fragility of emotions and the bonds between two people and the risk of letting down one's guard. None of them seem quite certain in advance and yet once the characters find their way to each other, you absolutely believe in the possibility of their happiness.

Now it's your turn. What are some of your favorite heart-stopping moments?

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22 Comments:

Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Oh, Tracy, I love this post! What makes it so brilliant is that you can feel the pull in all those cases-- between fear and inclination, or inclination and circumstance-- like a physical muscular strain.

One of my favorites is M.M. Kaye's "Trade Wind". Rory Frost and Hero Hollis are seemingly a mismatched pair-- he's a slave trader, she's an abolitionist-- but there's something that pulls them together. Neither is demonstrative and neither is willing to admit any weakness, so their resolution is particularly hard won.

The hero declares his intentions in this guarded way:
"Shall we take [a pile of cursed gold] or leave it? We haven't got much time in which to decide?"

"We?" said Hero.

"Who else? You didn't think I'd leave you behind, did you?"

Later in the same scene, they have a very Beatrice and Benedick moment:

"Rory said slowly, murmuring the words against her ear so that they seemed like an echo of her own thoughts, 'You are not in the least the sort of woman I could ever have imagined myself marrying. You are everything I didn't like and thought I couldn't endure. But somehow you've got into my blood and I can't get you out again-- and I don't even want to.'

He took her chin in his hand and tilted her face up and kissed her. And knew that this was the end of a life he had loved and the beginning of a new one that was going to be very different, and probably very difficult: because he did not believe that people changed over-much in essentials, and Hero was unlikely to turn into a different person; and neither was he."

Sigh.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

While I'm hogging all the comment space, I wanted to add that I'm so glad you included "Busman's Honeymoon". I think it's the first book I read that really took the time to deal with what happened after that initial, hard won resolution. It's the same thing I love about your Charles and Melanie books, watching the struggle of two people struggling to find a way to fit together on an ongoing basis, achieving small victories and dealing with the occasional reversal.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Oh, Lauren, what a lovely scene! Have to read "Trade Winds!" And I love the way you put this "you can feel the pull in all those cases-- between fear and inclination, or inclination and circumstance-- like a physical muscular strain." It's that tension--the fact that even if you've read the book before and *know* there will be a happy ending you're still a bit worried and you know the characters can't quite believe it themselves--that makes it particularly sweet when they do get together.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I think "Busman's Honeymoon" was the first book I read that deals with "after happily-ever-after" too, Lauren. I love the fact that Peter and Harriet have a good, strong relationship and yet are still dealing with the ever day realities of being a couple, still facing challenges, still finding their relationship can deepen and grow.

The last scene in "Busman's Honeymoon" was my inspiration for the last scene in "Beneath a Silent Moon," which was my starting place for the book. I knew I wanted to get Charles and Mélanie to that scene, and I worked backwards :-).

9:00 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?

Almost all monosyllables; almost all dark murmuring O sounds -- and then the opening, unfolding into that long, bright, gorgeous strange...

It stops my heart now, as completely as it did when I first read it in my late teens.

Thanks for the reminder, Tracy.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I hate not being at home with access to my books . . . VENETIA is also one of my all time favs. I just love it. I also really love Heyer's SYLVESTER (the hero's realization as seen from his mother's POV), DEVIL’s CUB is just about perfection for me (I love the bit where the hero, all hot under the collar, has to rein himself in because it’s his father he’s about to throw down with) and the wonderfully humorous ending of FREDERICA (that whole book is a hoot IMO).

A few other books that have romantic bits that just SPEAK to me are ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (to this day I have a thing for Gilbert), THE BLUE SWORD (the romance is really subtle, but it’s lovely all the same), THE SNOW QUEEN (a very complicated love there), and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (because she never does seem tamed to me, she seems to be partaking in a delightful game of fooling the world that both lovers clearly grasp and understand).

The book I seem to find myself rereading and sighing over right now is Pam’s latest, THE EDGE OF IMPROPRIETY. It just gets the whole dynamic so right.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

What a great post, Tracy! I'm so glad you included that love scene from "Much Ado About Nothing." That admission I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange? always takes my breath away. And it did when I played the role, every time we got to that moment. It's a moment that is so well crafted; it manages to be totally earned and yet steals up on the lovers unawares.

I agree with Kalen about the love scenes in "The Taming of the Shrew" as well. The wooing scene has always been one of my favorites to play (though I have to say I usually disagree with just about everyone else's interpretation of it when I see other actors onstage -- too much Punch and Judy and no comprehension that this is a battle of wits and hormones from Kate's entrance, when neither of them expects to see a heart-stoppingly sexy person in the other and then has to keep up their own mask (persona), while trying to pull the other's mask off (figuratively speaking!). Best non-me :) interpretation I ever saw was the production with Raul Julia and Meryl Streep in the late 70s at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. When Petruchio says "take this of me, Kate, of my consolation," he then grabbed her and bent her backwards into a passionate, breathtaking kiss that stopped the show -- and Kate's heart (and that of everyone in the audience!) and from there she had to play the rest of the scene, trying to one-up him, after she'd just been given the kiss of a lifetime by the man who she's already sworn to herself, before she entered the room, would be her adversary.

I still think it's the most romantic moment I've ever seen on a stage.

And of course I love the end of the show -- agreeing with Kalen again, that she hasn't capitulated in the slightest; the 2 of them, Kate and Petruchio, are having a grand joke on everyone. He's also just made a bet, and by then, the pair are so in tune that you know she's just going to win it for him -- and rub her obnoxious kid sister's face in it!

10:50 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So glad you love the "Much Ado," line too, Pam and Amanda! (And Amanda, I'd love to see you at Beatrice!). There's such wonderful passionate sincerity in the wording, coming on top of the comedy of the scenes where Beatrice and Benedick are deceived. It shows the depth of Benedick's feelings and there's a lot more going on than the Prince's and Claudio's jokes.

Kalen, I loved the "Anne of Green Gables" books too--I read the first at seven and read them through my preteen years. And "Sylvester" and "Frederica" are particular favorites too. You're right, it's very clever in "Sylvester" that his "I'm in love" realization comes through his mother's pov.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

So glad you're reading EDGE and enjoying it right now, Kalen. That makes my day.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Amanda, you and I as ONE in how we see that play. What's wrong with everyone else? LOL!

Pam, I'm actually re-reading it for the third time now. *grin* I just adore it. It might be my favorite book of yours (and you KNOW I love all the others, so that's saying something). I think it might the sexy professor angle . . .

12:38 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

You know, Kalen, just when I get really lonely in Romancelandia, readers and writers falling into swoons over the latest thing with big pecs and not much in the way of gray matter, you save my day by reminding me of the abiding appeal of those sexy professors.

Thanks again.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Intelligence is such a wonderfully sexy quality. I think one of the things I love about all the scenes I've mentioned is that they're all between intellectually dazzling characters, which makes for great dialogue (Lauren's Lord Vaughn quotes Shakespeare at the drop of a hat).

Pam, I haven't read "The Edge of Improrpiety" yet, but Kalen's comments make me even more eager to do so.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I tend to go for the gorgeously romantic (opera singer, remember?) One scene I never grow tired of is the scene in Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm where Maddy is supposed to read her statement to the Quakers denouncing her marriage to Christian (the Duke of Jervaulx.) He interrupts the service and his tortured speech, still so affected by his stroke is just one of the most magnificent declarations of love I have ever read. If you haven't read it, you don't know what you've missed. Not many people could take a man who has suffered a stroke and make him a hero.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous J said...

Most of my most revisited scenes are from Elizabeth Peter's Night Train to Memphis. At the very end of the previous book the hero finally admitted that he loves Vicky, the narrator, and then disappears. It takes an entire book of some of the most challenging misunderstandings (including criminals, crazy people intent on revenge, his mother among other things) Vicky finally tells John that she loves him, as she is about to try to distract the bad guys so he'll have a chance to escape, and he turns out to be less unconscious than she thought. They end up going together to face what's out in the night waiting for them. It's a scene that I have marked in my copy of the books so I can find it quickly if I need to.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Louisa, Laura Kinsale writes amazing, lyrical, emotional love scenes. The final scene in "Seize the Fire" is another of my favorites.

J, I love the Amelia Peabody books (and have some favorite scenes, including several between Ramses and Nefret), but I've never read the Vicky Bliss books. Must seek them out after your description. I do think sometimes declarations of feeling gain extra power in a series, when there's lots of history between the couple.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Oh, thanks for this great post. I love the Gaudy Night Latin--it's a book that has a breathtaking amount of sexual tension in it. Now I must rush off to read it again.

I'm also wondering how that Benedict/Beartrice declaration would have sounded in Shakespearean English--I think the vowels would have been quite different. Amanda, as our resident theater expert, can you elucidate?

9:47 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

in Shakespearean English--I think the vowels would have been quite different...

Yes, since I posted, I began to wonder just how they really did pronounce that rich and (to me echt-Shakespearean) strange

Amanda?

10:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Totally agree about the sexual tension in "Gaudy Night," Janet. That scene on the riverbank may have the most sexual tension of any scene I've ever read. Because of all that build up, the last scene can be quite simple (at least on the surface) and subtle. I think the Latin is brilliant--so in character and suited to the book. And anyway the question and answer could have been phrased in English would have sounded trite.

As I writer, I love it when I can find a way for the characters to say things like "I love you" and "will you marry me?" in ways that are unique to their character.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I just realized I misquoted (which always seems to happen when I assume I know something so well I don't bother to look it up; the original edition has a misquote from "Midsummer Night's Dream" that mortified me; one of the delights of the reprint was being able to fix it).

Peter calls Harriet "domina" several times, but in the last scene of "Gaudy Night," he actually says "Placetne, magistra?"

My apologies to Peter, Harriet, Sayers, and all of you!

8:33 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

And that was supposed to read "the original edition of Beneath a Silent Moon"--so horrified at my error with the Latin quote I was typing too fast!

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Rene said...

I'm so glad you included That Scene from Freedom & Necessity! I love that book, truly, madly, deepy. Susan and James are one of my favorite literary couples -- as are Kitty and Dick, actually.

Another line from that scene (paraphrased, alas, as the book is in the same room as the sleeping baby), after Susan declines to marry James:

J: May I ask you again, every year on this date?
S: Yes, although the answer won't change.
J: It's just that I can't bear the thought of waking up without you.
S: Oh. Well, that's an entirely different question.

Apologies for mangling an amazing scene. What a great book.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Eigon said...

Thanks for reminding me how wonderful Gaudy Night is - I must re-read it now, but in the meantime I'll have to make do with the Edward Petherbridge TV version on video.

1:18 PM  

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