“‘The truest love that ever heart / Felt at its kindled core…’”
“…and, alas! never had I loved him so well.”
– Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
It’s been far too long! I’m safely home from my trip abroad, to literary heaven. I saw so many unexpected, significant literary sites – like Oscar Wilde’s grave at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where love letters and red and pink lipstick kisses were left for the author. I even drank a delicious beer named after Oscar Wilde at a quaint pub in the English countryside. And, as I climbed the teensy tiny marble steps up to the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral and gazed at the dark and mutilated (by wind and rain) gargoyles, I remembered why I love literature so much: stories consume and overwhelm me; they make me feel all warm and fuzzy, just like being in that church did, with the soft glow of the candles and the smell of incense surrounding me.
And then, I came home and something else overwhelmed me – or someone else. After not seeing my boyfriend for three weeks, I got back from Europe and I had eyes only for him! I didn’t pick up a single novel or book of poetry for days after my return…and I don’t even feel that guilty! (Trust me, you wouldn’t either if you were me and you were there!) For the first time in my longish, lonely-ish life (it felt long and lonely to me, okay?!), I had a real-life hero to talk to – and, let’s be honest, do tons of other things with – so the words on the page could wait!
We had several blissful reunion days together, until my boyfriend went away to a school mandated camp. (Sidenote: I HATE camps…I hesitate to admit that I may be slightly biased at this point. I’ve gotten frostbite and gone without showering at one too many camps in my elementary school days!) At this point, after being away for three weeks and then spending practically every waking (and okay, sleeping) moment of a weekend together, the “boyfriend withdrawal” was about ten times stronger – four days felt like four lifetimes! I rapidly began to understand how Jane Eyre felt when she fled Mr. Rochester…I was weepy, desolate and pessimistic on the inside! I had no choice but to seek shelter with and comfort from some of my favourite literary characters. Let’s just say that when boyfriend’s away, Mr. Rochester comes out to play!
Having said that, I didn’t rush to re-read Jane Eyre or even to start reading Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell as I had planned. Instead, I picked up a book from my mother’s collection: one that had found its way to our dark, unfinished basement. Some would read into this in a Freudian way and say that we hid this book away out of fear, shame and repression. In reality, my dad just likes to organize things and this concrete and wood decorated subterranean lair is actually the cleanest place in our house. Maybe the dark lighting fits the subject matter though – no, I didn’t pick up Fifty Shades of Grey (though I’ve read that too); I grabbed eagerly at the third installment in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, Entwined with You. And okay, in my mind I grabbed eagerly at Gideon Cross’ abs as well. I am shameless about this confession…my boyfriend was away, so I wanted only one thing from this novel. You can probably guess what I mean.
Gideon and I had a good run when I read the first two books in the series. I became rather obsessed with him…or really with the way I envisioned his smokin’ hot body to be. Let’s just say that as a twenty something girl, I didn’t mind, on occasion, reading about guys who wore a bit less than a three piece suit and a cravat all the time. Erotic literature is an art form I don’t mind – I prefer the actually romantic bits to all the others, but I can appreciate a damaged, brooding, sexy male character as well as the next girl without a Master’s degree in literature. Every reader needs her fair share of fun and trouble every once in awhile!
Until she has her own boyfriend, apparently. I don’t know what happened, but I just could not enjoy Gideon this time around, and I stopped reading Entwined with You before I was even twenty pages in. The truth is, I would be envisioning a scene with Gideon McHottie Cross and then, all of a sudden, my damn boyfriend’s face would pop into my head. It’s not like I felt like I was cheating on him or anything (that would be ridiculous…fictional characters aren’t real after all, or so people have told me!) – it’s more like I preferred him to Gideon, I longed for him instead of Mr. Perfect, Mr. Ideal Literary Creation. For the first time ever, a literary hero had lost his luster because of a real man I knew! (Shocking, I know!)
So, a romance novel was ruined for me because my own love life was (and still is!) too perfect. (Juicy detail: My boyfriend actually resembles Gideon in many ways I’m quite proud of…all the good ways! And he will probably be very embarrassed that I wrote that!) This is pretty alarming, yes, but I’m wondering if it’s a natural part of a reader’s development. I would guess that every female reader is guilty of idolizing a particular male character (for me it’s – surprise, surprise – Mr. Rochester), but we all must eventually find a real-life mate (unless we’re Jane Austen wannabes, of course). And it’s hard, it almost hurts (and not in a pleasurable sort of way, to clarify), to accept that this man will not be exactly like his literary competition. It’s even worse, however, it’s even weirder and more jarring, to realize that we sometimes love the real man better. Characters are, after all, confined to the page – they can’t leap out of the world of the novel and hold a girl at night. (Believe me, I’ve wished for this too many times to count!) No, a real man isn’t going to say what Mr. Rochester or Gideon Cross says or do what Mr. Rochester or Gideon Cross does exactly…but he can say and do things that are very similar and he’ll never be predictable because he can’t be re-read.
My only worry at this point, at this lovely, peaceful, happy point in my life, is that saying Hello to real love means saying Goodbye to Mr. Rochester and to his other literary brethren. Will literature now always pale in comparison to what I’ve known and experienced myself? Will I always choose snuggling up to my boyfriend over reading about a girl like Gideon’s Eva snuggling up to hers? Will the spark I felt from a good romance come back to me if the book is right?
It’s time to pick up a new one and find out!
Girl with a Green Heart