Literary Romance versus the mushy kind. . .

The term “literary romance,” as used to describe Clotho’s Loom, may not mean what many people expect. For those looking for a melodramatic or sentimental love story, you will likely be disappointed.  In its older meaning, Romance can have very little to do with the subject of love (though the protagonists of CL are married, so the book certainly does not avoid the subject).  For example, both these images may be considered Romantic:


“Romance” is a mode or style of storytelling that’s readily contrasted against “Realism,” the dominant style of fiction for the past 150 years (since our Civil War). To invoke old movies again, think Star Wars versus 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both are about space travel and technology. But where the first features incredibly fast onscreen movement, aerobatics, and hairsbreadth escapes, the second offers a vision of spaceflight that accords with our documentary footage of actual, delicate spaceships, including accurate physics, and makes even dizzying speeds look agonizingly slow (the selective lack of sound contributes to this effect.)

We Americans love Romantic storytelling in general, but also consider it “escapist” and not reflective of the real wold of the 19th and 20th Centuries (in which—literally–millions of people die in wars, and even heroes lose their faith.) Thus, works embracing Realism emerged, to appeal to the so-called adult aesthetic values within us: what is true is beautiful.

In the first photo, of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C., the photographer captured the image so as to emphasize certain effects and downplay others. By day, it’s just an architecturally interesting government building—perhaps similar to the offices of Domino and Wright in my second chapter. However, the time of night, angle, and lighting here certainly contribute to the impression that it may be special, even haunted—very compelling, no?

The second–really an illustration—is at minimum a highly manipulated version of a photograph. The extreme level of foreshortening and lack of color, for example, suggests the power and single-minded morality that define the character. Even the name (the only color here is bloody,) is allegorical: “Dirty” Harry is unrestrained in his pursuit of whatever gets into his gunsights—the “rules” are as fragile as glass, to him.

Hawthorne called Romance “atmospherical,” yet “truer than true” because it concerns itself, not with details as much as universal truths of human nature. It does require, however, that readers/viewers “willingly suspend their disbelief” in some things that are exaggerated: a person surviving a trip over Niagara Falls, for example. It is possible, just not probable—hence, a realist wouldn’t write it, but a Romantic would, provided it showed something ultimately true: perhaps the protagonist had been told by kidnappers that, if he refused to jump, they’d shoot his daughter. And the fundamental truth is, most of us would do anything to protect our daughters, including sacrifice our own lives.

Some well-known examples of Romantic films are Easy Rider, Jaws, The Matrix, A Fistful of Dollars, Amelie, and The Adjustment Bureau. These stories make use of allegory, foreshadowing, overt symbolism, hyperbole. Usually, the good guys and the bad guys are not hard to tell apart. In realism, the moral positions are not as simple.

Finally, a task that some (nutty) storytellers set themselves is to merge the two modes, so that realism (think The Day of the Jackal, Das Boot) and Romance become a hybrid of fantastic events with a “realistic”: feel. The Silence of the Lambs and JFK are specimens of such a combination that work.        –Shawn

top photo by amanda-esque


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