by Libby Sternberg
Disgraceful, offensive, insulting to women…No, I’m not talking about Anthony Weiner’s latest sexual peccadilloes. I’m referring to Cokie Roberts’s comments about same. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe program this past week, the ABC News political commentator had this to say: “(his) tweets… were so pornographic, and, by the way, so bad. They were like some Harlequin novel.”
I know Harlequin novels, Ms. Roberts. And Anthony Weiner’s tweets are no Harlequin novel.
Well, let me edit that—I’ve not actually read Mr. Weiner’s tweets, but if they reflect his actions of assuming false identities to talk pornographically or expose himself to women, they are no Harlequin novel. I should know. I’ve been published by Harlequin and I’m familiar with a lot of their books.
Harlequin publishes a wide range of what is called in the book business “women’s fiction,” stories that deal with family, love, children—tales where the target audience is women looking for a good, satisfying read.
In the romance end of this spectrum, books range from sweet “inspirationals” that contain absolutely no sex or cursing (but do contain Christian faith references) to steamy tomes where sexual attraction pulls hero and heroine together, and the authors are fearless in describing it. Romance authors are talented women who know how to tell a story well, are in touch with women’s concerns, and who work hard to convey the enduring strength of requited –and monogamous—love.
And therein lies the reason for the distinction between Weiner’s tweets and romance authors’ expertise: Weiner is no hero.
Already disgraced by similar actions that in 2011 led to his resignation as a congressman, Weiner now faced the public with his wife Huma Abedin beside him, attempting to convey to the world that he’s reformed and forgiven. A real hero wouldn’t do that to his wife, and romance authors write real heroes.
In romance novels, the formula is simple: hero and heroine meet, fall for each other, can’t be together for some reason, decide they love each other, have a “black moment” where all seems lost, and then a reconciliation and HEA (happily ever after).
Before you laugh into your Dom Perignon Rose 2002, let me point out that this formula might be familiar to those who think of themselves as lovers of Great Lit-rah-chure.
It’s the plot of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for one. And hundreds of other well-respected novels.
Jane Eyre’s template, in fact, offers a useful analytical tool for determining the difference between a Wiener story and a true romance tale, where heroes might be flawed and tortured but redemption and transformation don’t come cheap.
Rochester literally endures a cathartic fire (in which he attempts but fails to save his mad wife) before his redemption is complete, and his Jane returns to him.
Jane herself is the archetype for today’s romance heroines—independent, feisty, strong. They might forgive their Rochester heroes, their alpha-males gone astray, but they respect themselves too much to be degraded by anyone. And in the end, it is that quality that makes them most appealing to the heroes of these tales.
In fact, Bronte’s heroine had no moral scolds to answer to—her immediate family was either dead or estranged—but she demurred when Edward Rochester tempted her to be his mistress after the “black moment” when it’s revealed he already has a wife, albeit a mad one hidden in the attic. Jane refuses, despite compelling arguments from the pitiable Rochester, now tormented by the thought of losing his one true love. Here is how Bronte writes Jane’s inner struggle:
“…soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?
Still indomitable was the reply—“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. ….”
The heroines in romance novels are all heiresses to that legacy. No hero would dare ask such a heroine to be his prop in a press conference where he’s admitting to continuing the downward spiral that got him into trouble in the first place.
So, no, Ms. Roberts, Mr. Weiner’s “writing” is no romance novel. Far from it. In a real romance novel, he’d be the lecherous villain the hero and heroine together fight off.