Is happily ever after a romance imperative?

Authors: Mathews, P.

Conference: The PC/ACA Conference

Dates: 31 March-3 April 2010


This paper attempts to draw direct links between romance literature and film where presently there exists often conflicting definitions of genre and form. The hope is to open investigation into the form and engender further debate.

Arguably the Romance genre is stigmatised undeservedly because of the imperative for a happy ending. It is easy for critics to cast aspersions over a genre if one of the primary plot points, the ending and with it an emotional conceit to instil or illicit joy or familiarity in its audience is sacrosanct. It could be argued that emotional investment in a narrative is tempered when the ending is a foregone conclusion either way, positive or negative. Does a genre need to prescribe specific endings to a potentially infinite amount of stories? What does a genre hope to gain by being incalcitrant? With genres constantly in flux and their patterns, conventions and tropes sensitive to their own cultural and contemporary milieu, is it not conceivable that romances can span the depth and breadth of our capacity to experience and express notions of love in whatever form and to whatever end? Central to this argument are two theorist’s definitions of the romance genre, those of Pamela Regis and Phil Parker. The eight elements of the romance novel according to Pamela Regis, as you all know are; Society defined, ‘the meeting, the barrier, The attraction, the declaration, the point of ritual death, the recognition and the betrothal. (Regis, 2003, p. 30-37) Regis asserts that ‘These elements are essential.’ (Regis, 2003, p.30) Screenwriting theorist Phil Parker states that ‘Characters must embark on a love story from a position of loneliness or isolation.” “love stories must explore the pursuit of love from the perspective of two central characters, both of equal weight within the narrative.” And that finally “all the secondary and tertiary stories and characters need to orbit around the idea of love and the pursuit of love.” (Parker, 1999, p….) In contrast to Regis Parker doesn’t stipulate in his basic genre definition how the romance must end. Parker goes on to suggest there are three versions of the romance form; the dramatic romance, the romantic comedy and the tragic romance. Interestingly he sites the film Brief encounter (1945) as a dramatic example which has a distinctly tragic end with the heroine returning to the monotony of domestic life, and Annie Hall (1977) as an example of the romantic comedy which again ends in separation for the central couple. Parker argues with respect to Dramatic and Romantic comedies that ‘This is not about tragic endings. Some of the most memorable dramatic romances and romantic comedies end in tragedy, but this is not implicit in the characters’ relationships with love. They arise from the circumstances surrounding the romance. While in the tragic romance it arises from the nature of the characters themselves.’ (Parker, 1999, p.33) Here the suggestion is that as long as the value of love as potentially transformational is upheld, the ending whether tragic or not is arguably irrelevant in determining any form of distinction within romances.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Phil Mathews

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