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17 February 2010

Heart Tug Moments – Angst, Rejection, and Repudiation


I like to do a romantic moments blog around Valentine’s Day. This year I thought I’d focus on moments where a happy ending for the couple in question seems an impossibility. Sometimes they are the ending to a story. Sometimes they are the bleak moment before a triumphant ending. Either way, they can be intensely romantic, despite or perhaps because of the edge of sorrow.

My examples are mostly historical and come from novels, films, and a Broadway musical.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer. Damerel sending Venetia away for her own good. I feel a heart tug every time I read about him throwing her up into the saddle for the last time. Much as I want to shake Damerel, there’s something that always gets me about a guy trying to be noble.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. Cecilia running after Robbie and embracing him before the police take him away. The fact that she stands by him against the seeming evidence, against her family, against the pressures of class prejudice stunned me the first time I read the book and stunned me the film version as well.

The Silicon Mage by Barbara Hambly. Antryg saying farewell to Joanna before sending her off to her own world, both of them fully expecting him to die. There’s a lovely restraint to the scene which makes the words all the more powerful.

The Empire Strikes Back by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas. Princess Leia saying farewell to Han Solo before he’s frozen in carbonite (“I love you.”/”I know.”). I was talking about this scene to a friend over dinner on Valentine’s Day. The moment my thirteen-year-old self fell in love with Han Solo/Harrison Ford. I still remember sitting with my parents in a restaurant afterwards and saying “It’s so unfair we have to wait so long to find out what happens next.”

“Send in the Clowns”, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler. Desirée’s song captures the poignancy of the moment when love seems lost, wry irony with a wealth of pain underneath.

Casablanca by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Rick putting Ilsa on the plane. I can’t think of another scene that is at once so poignant and so satisfyingly right.

Shakespeare in Love by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Will and Viola saying goodbye. I find this scene much more painful than the end of Casablanca. And yet there’s the power of the fact that you can already see Will beginning to think about writing again and you see Viola’s will to go on.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig. Robert sending Charlotte away for her own good. Like the scene in Venetia, this one brings a lump to my throat. But unlike Damerel, who simply thinks he’s too tainted to make Venetia happy, Robert is caught in a dangerous web he really can’t tell Charlotte about. Fortunately for both of them, the intrepid Charlotte unravels things on her own.

Any examples of your own to add? What makes this type of scene work or not work for you? Writers, do you find these scenes harder or easier to write than happy love scenes?

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12 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Apparently your "thing" is s hero sending his beloved away for her own good, and I'll admit that it often works for me too. But more satisfying for me is the moment when the heroine takes control back (as in Venetia, when she figures out what's going on and returns to Damerel; I love the bit where she chides him for being drunk at that particular moment).

I have a thing for the angsty moment when the hero realizes he loves her, but doesn’t think he can have her. Two of my favorites are Sylvester when he confesses to his mother that he thinks he’s ruined everything, and Persuasion, when Wentworth leaves Ann the note. Oh, how I love that note!

7:52 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Wonderful post, Tracy! When I was writing TOO GREAT A LADY, my heart stopped at the goodbye scene between Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton. It's Merton, late in the evening of Friday, September 13. He's superstitious and all too aware of the date; he has even had premonitions that he will not return this time; (he had his coffin taken out of storage, so to speak, when he was wrapping up his plans in London prior to his departure for Portsmouth and the inevitable encounter with the combined fleet at Trafalgar. He holds Emma in his arms and after reaching the door, turns back and returns to her embrace one last time.

It broke my heart as I wrote it.

Not only that ... it's all based on actual events. Even the second hug.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Yeah, I noticed that when I typed up the scenes, Kalen (that in a lot of them the hero is sending the heroine away for what he thinks is her own good). I like the moment when the heroine takes control back too. I'm pretty sure I used the scene where Venetia returns to Damerel in another of my romantic moments blogs--it's definitely a favorite. The scene where Damerel sends her away would be very unsatisfying if it were the end of the story. On the other hand, find the end of "Casablanca" entirely satisfying. And the scene in "Shakespeare in Love," where he isn't sending her away so much as she's going, because she knows there aren't other options and if she stayed she'd get him in trouble, seems sad but inevitable.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Leslie, that scene is fabulous, and it's so amazing that it's real. It seems like something that was blocked by a director with brilliant staging instincts :-).

9:55 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Leslie, you wrote that scene so beautifully! It makes me tear up each time I read it and it is made all the more poignant by the fact that it really happened just that way.

And Wentworth's note, Kalen. BIG SIGH !!

The Venetia scene works for me too, but then again it is one of my all time favorite Heyer books.

There is a scene near the end of Rexanne Bechnel's Dangerous to Love where the hero and heroine decide to separate because the entire marriage was just a mistake. They have just lost a child and she simply can't bear to be with him anymore. She wants to be with a loving family and he just seems incapable of providing that. My heart aches for them in that scene, but more for him because you see a man who knows his last tiny chance of love and happiness has just faded away like dust, quietly, like death.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tracy,
What about Dunnett's Checkmate? It's way too long since I reread it, but I think it's the scene in the library where Lymond compares himself to a hunchback in the gutter.
Philippa says "Do you think that I care?"
He replies "You must forgive the hunchback, who does."
Lymond is so good at making noble self-sacrifices.
Venetia is one of my favourite Heyers, too.
And I had a massive crush on Harrison Ford as Han Solo - I lost count of the number of times I saw Empire Strikes Back when it first came out. I was at college and had Thursday afternoons free. Instead of studying in the library, I would bunk off to see it - nearly every week!
Lesley

5:14 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Lousia, Venetia is one my all-time favorite Heyer books too! I have so many favorite scenes from it.

The Rexanne Becnel "Dangerous to Love" scene sounds very powerful.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

"Checkmate" is a great example, Lesley. There's both the scene in Lymond's bedroom where he first admits to Philippa that he loves her but insists it can't go anywhere and then the later scene in the palace library that ends with him having an attack of blindness. I admit to wanting to shake Lymond several times during "Checkmate" (as I do Damerel), but they're powerful scenes.

I had a massive crush on Harrison Ford as Han Solo too. I saw Empire several times and my mom and I stood in line to see "Return of the Jedi" the day it opened. I saw it bunch of times that summer.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

A real-life hearttug moment, from Antonia Fraser's recent memoir of her life with Harold Pinter, via recent TLS review:

"... he asks her, during that final ambulance ride to his death, 'What are your plans -- generally?'"

11:01 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Oh, wow, Pam, I haven't read Antonia Fraser's memoir yet. That is indeed a heart tug moment. I was so sad when Harold Pinter died. I had professors in college who knew him, so he always seemed like a very real person, if that makes any sense.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

He never did before -- well, he did for the unfortunate vituperativeness of his politics. But he does now, especially for those of us capable of falling in love with a man for his ear for language.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I find his plays fascinating, particularly "Betrayal."

12:28 AM  

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