Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Romance and Jobs (Again)

Contrary to some silly Jane Austen-tributes, being a landowner
(like Darcy) was a job. Hence, the grandfather's shame in
Little Lord Fauntleroy for not improving his tenants' cottages.
There are a number of well-written paperback romances out there ("paperback romances" being my term for what used-to-be called "Harlequins"--though they are now published by many different companies--in which the plot focuses on male/female protagonists).

What amazes me in my reading of M/M romances is not only how many of them are also well-written but how many of them are philosophically dense as well.

I'm not saying they rival Dostoevsky, but hey, I never got through Crime & Punishment anyway. Frankly, I like my stories stream-lined with strong characters, a seamless plot, and no "shoe shopping"  tangents. Tell me a story! Keep me entertained! And give me a little meat.

Good M/M romances deliver a surprising amount of meat.

I've determined that part of the reason comes down to something I've mentioned with manga: it helps if characters have jobs.

In historical paperback romances, the female leads sometimes have jobs (more on this later) but rather too often their (understandable and comprehensible) goal is to (1) get married; (2) not get married; (3) figure out who to live with if they don't get married; (4) avoid getting married, etc.

I'm being a tad sardonic; the truth is, these were real and valid issues for woman of the past, especially Jane Austen's time period, and novels that deal with those issues are doing justice to real concerns.

Still, there's something to say for books where everybody has to have an outside job/career, whether as a landowner (see above) or an accountant or a novelist or a sailor or an attorney or a professor or a bookseller or a bureaucrat--to name a few male characters' jobs from novels by Cat Sebastian, KJ Charles, Alex Beecroft, Joanna Chambers, and Charlie Cochrane. By necessity, the characters' jobs bring other forces, problems, and realities into play.

This may explain why so many women enjoy writing historical M/M.

It explains too why the paperback-romances-with-jobs often are the best within that sub-genre. Nobody did "the occupation of getting married" better than Jane Austen. Still, it's nice to read something like Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn where the heroine's job as a gossip rag columnist arouses both concern and jealousy in her suitor's breast. He is worried about her reputation if the truth comes out (a lady, she writes under a pseudonym); as a fellow writer, he is also jealous of her success, no matter how hidden from the world. His jealousy surprises and alarms him--and causes him to rethink his own long-term goals.

Marriage and the relationship is one concern. Other issues--what constitutes a life? how does one measure success? what kind of work is worth doing? what does it mean to do something 'well'? whose needs and desires should a person's purpose in life satisfy? when does a job becomes a kind of slavery? what is the line between private achievement and outside obligation?--lend the characters' depth.

To put it simply: because they are interested in something else, the characters become interesting.