09 January 2012

The Heathcliff Syndrome

I have a confession.  I do not like the book Wuthering Heights.  I know, I know…I hear it every time I say that sentence.  WTF?  Aren’t you a romance writer?  You don’t love Heathcliff? No, no I don’t.  While many consider Heathcliff romantic, I found him to be an angry, brutal, hate-filled character. 

And yet there was a time when romance novels epitomized Heathcliff as the role model for the hero.  I grew up reading Harlequin Presents in the 1980’s; my favorite author being Carole Mortimer.  I was swept away by the passionate love displayed between the covers, always told through the eyes of the heroine.  The women struggled to be strong, even the ones who had been beaten down by cruel circumstances, and managed to find passionate love.  I thought I would find one of those handsome, rich, stoic men and live happily ever after.  Back then, in my young girlhood mind, I didn’t see how these heroes between the pages of my favorite romance books, all resembled Heathcliff. 
Harlequins were littered with such dialogue tags like “..he growled at her” or “…he looked at her coldly”.   He was forever driving her up a wall or being unnecessarily cruel to her in an effort to hide his feelings.  There was always something that prevented him from opening up to her, being nice, or admitting his love. 

Now, I do understand Heathcliff’s pain, his embarrassment at being an outcast, and the hate he must have felt at Catherine’s betrayal at picking Edgar Linton for money over his love.  That is tragedy and I get that.  But it’s the bastard he became after he came back to enact his revenge that turned me off of him being a romantic figure. 

I’m very careful in my own books to not encroach my heroes or heroines so far that they are unredeemable, as Heathcliff was.  I love conflict within my characters, for instance, in my novel A Silver Lining, Heather Hart is a woman who has had a shitty life.  And that pain has turned her in a foul-mouth, unlikable character.  But she’s strong enough not to give into the blackness that surrounds her soul so when true love finds her she is redeemable.

What I love about romance is that you can type into Google “The best romance story ever” and you’ll get a bazillion different opinions about what is love and how it’s shared.  Heathcliff will forever linger in minds as romantically tragic, and even thought I may not like him, I appreciate what he did for the genre I write today.  I fell in love with the harsh, angry heroes from my precious Harlequins and they inspired my addiction to romance.  Heathcliff made me want to rescue every single man out there in pain and in anger, so I do my best, one story at a time.

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