Romance Now and Then

I was watching the DVD of Twilight the other night and enjoying every moment of the sexual tension between the characters when I had a sudden revelation. The tension in Twilight is very much reminiscent of romance in the 1800s.

I immediately embarked on a theory. I’d love your feedback on it. The theory is that in this age of rough and ready sex, the sexual tension essential for romance is much harder to come by.

When I say that, I’m thinking of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. To me, part of the essence of their romance is that it can’t be resolved until the very end of the novel. Mr Darcy’s proposal is an explosion of repressed passion, of the attraction that he has forced himself to control because it is inappropriate. Elizabeth’s angry reaction forces it down again, and for the rest of the novel the tension between desire and the forbidden builds up until finally, at the very end, it can be resolved. The same is true of Edward,  whose – inappropriate, though for entirely different reasons — desire is palpable, but because of the difference between them, cannot be fulfilled. Had Bella Swan been able to jump into bed with Edward Cullen immediately, that kind of romantic tension would have been much more difficult to evoke.

Think of how much more charged the atmosphere was in the early 1800s when a young lady could be compromised if she was caught simply kissing a young man. Think of that tension between Edward and  Bella — the smouldering gazes, the unfulfilled desire, and think that this was a daily experience for young ladies and gentlemen at the time.

Add to it the additional uncertainly — which is very alien to us now, and which isn’t there in Twilight – of the innocent young ladies who knew very little of the physical details. No sex education. No ‘let’s sit down and talk about this’ conversation between mother and daughter (certainly not between father and daughter) until the day before her marriage. Which left her wondering and guessing at the meaning of those strange sensations that were overwhelming her.

It’s hard for us now – surrounded everywhere by explicit and suggestive images — to envision the quality of romance in those days, heightened by all these factors.

I’m thinking of Caroline Bingley in The Other Mr Darcy – a very tense, proper young lady if I ever saw one – trying to make sense of her feelings for Robert Darcy after he crosses the line between proper speech into sensual innuendo. What a revelation it is to her that she can possibly be looked at that way!

And then there is Georgiana Darcy in The Darcy Cousins, whose innocence is so complete that her daring, unconventional cousin Clarissa has to coach her in the Art of flirtation.

That adult innocence is almost impossible for us to recreate, because we would have to return to a much simpler world to fully comprehend it. But I think Twilight does a wonderful job returning to a theme that has been lost to us – the theme of desire held in check, controlled and made all more powerful because of it.

So here’s my question: Is romance as we know it now a much watered down version of romance in the 18th century?  I’d love to have your thoughts.

Monica Fairview

Monica Fairview

9 Responses to Romance Now and Then

  1. Joanne

    I think that the older scenario is so much more romantic. You really had to work at it to get anywhere and the men really had to “work” to claim their woman.

  2. Guestauthor

    I enjoyed reading reading your very divergent takes on romance then and now. One thing that *is* great about the *now* is that we can all express our opinions freely without being afraid of being rejected by society and compromised.

  3. Cherie J

    I agree. These days it seems like too many books consist of characters jumping in the sack right away. I prefer a buildup of tension and seeing the relationship between the characters develop. So much more satisfying that way.

  4. Mary Campbell

    Is there really any romance here and now, or are all men out for one thing. Once they get it poof they are gone. They don’t want to stand up to their responsibalities. I got lucky and found a good man to love.

  5. Kathleen

    I think romance in the here and now so much more.. But then again romance of the 1800’s was fraught with the more “come hither” approach to romance.. More tempteous. You really couldn’t have gal before the ring was on the finger so to speak. It made the cat and mouse game alluring.. Where as today, that theroy is out the window. You can have all the sex you want without a ring.. So sometimes I think the ‘Then” maybe more romantic.

  6. Sue A.

    I don’t think of it as watered down, it’s just different in keeping with the times. I think it can be more heightened in today’s age with more freedom and I’m not talking about the physical kind, I’m talking about knowledge, awareness, and more freedom to be open emotionally. The sexes still play games, but they’re not dictated to do so by society. And the roles of men and women are not set in stone anymore.

  7. Lori Leger

    I think that, just like everything else, we’ve gotten desensitized to reading about sex and watching it on television. The commercials on prime time television are so unbelievably suggestive – I really wonder what my grandchildren are going to grow up believing and seeing. I believe if a scene with lots of sexual tension is well written, it can be even more enjoyable than to just ‘jump right on it’ so to speak. Just my opinion.

  8. peg360

    I think romance today is more fast paced than is was then

  9. Valerie

    Interesting post. I’m just flying in and read this. I wonder if the romance of the past isn’t abit too romanticised. I mean, when something is forbidden, man has the habit of going for it anyways, somehow, someway. I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been lots of clandestine affairs going on behind closed doors and in dark places….hehe!!!

    But yes, mostly romance was more repressed….but I don’t think things are watered down today. I think that young folks maybe are too free and are too sated so that real romance and real love can’t really be anticipated like in days gone by. Shame really.

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