MPW

Choosing a Fictional Character Over a Real Person

In Reading on July 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yesterday I read an article in which the author talked about how she believed Fifty Shades was making its readers feel undervalued and disappointed in the real life guys surrounding them and their own personal love life. I found it a very interesting article, and I began to think. I realized after I thought about it for a while that I actually have a habit I do with each novel that features a love story. I get excited when I read the back cover, I find myself smiling at the book when the male hero does something exceptionally cute or romantic, I get a bit teary eyed at the big climax (the literary climax!), and then I feel sad when I finish the novel. I feel sad for that very reason– it’s finished. I found this pin on Pinterest a while ago from someecards.com and it made me laugh out loud with how true it is–

SO many fictional characters fit this description. Sigh.

I didn’t create this e-card, but really. I’ve caught myself saying that to myself or to my friends about certain characters. Just to name a few– Mr Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Edward Cullen, Jamie Fraser, Miles Dorrington, Harry Valentine, Robbie Turner, and Ned Nickerson. The first book I read with the aforementioned men was Pride and Prejudice, in 8th grade. I was such an awkward person (in both personality and looks), so much so that the most popular girl in our grade said to me in Sharing Time at the end of the year that she was astonished at how pretty I’d become since 5th grade. Gee…..thanks? So in 8th grade I wasn’t really thinking about boys in real life. I knew no one was crushing on me, and if I was crushing on somebody there was no absolute possible way EVER that he would crush on me back. Books were where I turned to discover and imagine other people’s more fortunate lives in the love department. Pride and Prejudice gave me that small glimmer of hope that maybe I could have a British gentleman fall in love with me, despite being too macabre, too moody, too jealous, too tall.

But is this a good thing? Here’s another e-card that made me both laugh and sober immediately–

Argh! Just the other day I had not one but two conversations with two close friends on how extremely selective we are where guys are concerned. It also just so happens that Mr Darcy is one of our personal heroes. And the thought has crossed my mind that I am SO selective over guys (I won’t even let guys dance with me at school…although, considering their idea of “dancing” is grinding, I’m really hoping many of you would not disagree with my decision) because of the fictional characters that I’ve read. I yearn for a guy who can tell me that I must allow him to tell me how much he admires and loves me. For the man who will secretly write me a love letter in which he says that I pierce his soul. I joked to my friends (but inside, I think I’m completely serious) that if I could find a guy who would just quote Coldplay lyrics at me (but mean them) is my perfect man. But nobody says these things. Men would probably think they’d be losing their masculinity if they began quoting Jane Austen. If they screamed that they couldn’t live their life without their soul, people would judge. Hardcore. I could easily say “whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” The problem is… I’m not sure he exists in real life. I really don’t. And yes, you could say I’m jaded, that I’ve read too much into these novels. I’m barely out of my teenage years and I haven’t really lived. And yes,

sometimes I do think of conversations with people based on a conversation in a book. And then I’m obviously disappointed when it never plays out.

But how wrong is it to hope that my life can turn out like Elizabeth Bennet’s, or Anne Elliot’s? I’ve been struggling with this question. Feel free to insert input, readers. When I feel lonely or sad I do the same exact thing—I tear through all of Julia Quinn’s novels in less than a week. But I don’t feel happy when I finish. I don’t feel sad, either. I feel a mixture that I could almost liken to hope. I keep my expectations low in life. I tell my parents that it means I’ll never be disappointed, and they respond that it means I’ll never accomplish anything great. But I am starting to think that if I keep on dismissing the thoughts of living the Darcy’s life in favor for being the spinster I tell my parents I’m turning out to be, it’s doing me more harm than good.

I made a short list of the pros and cons of reading and getting all emotional and passionate over love stories (I like making lists, if you couldn’t tell from my other posts…). This is what I’ve come up with:

Pros:

  • Hope—hope isn’t always defined as a bad thing. How would Gandhi have accomplished all that he did? Martin Luther King, Jr? Teachers? Now, some people surely have been disillusioned by their hope (Hitler, anyone?) but I’m not planning on starting a revolution and killing every man who thinks Darcy is stupid…ahem.
  • Happiness—living vicariously through characters’ lives does lift spirits. “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry is my favorite short story (go read it if you haven’t. It’s so romantic). I always feel so happy after I’ve read it, and yes, I don’t go mope that I’ll never find a love like that, unless I’m in one of my moods. Stories normally are supposed to provoke a response, of course. But generally it’s reflected in the moods of the characters. Claire loves Jamie, therefore, I love Jamie too.
  • Variety—seeing the different types of people out there; different types of love, different types of personalities, different types of income levels/appearances/flaws. If Wentworth still loves Anne after 8 years despite her perceived lack of constancy, then maybe we can still be loved despite that awful habit we can’t kick! (although, if it has anything to do with taxidermy-ing  your dead cats, well…all the best of luck to you.)

Cons:

  • Unrealistic expectations—Why, surely my future love will compose a lullaby for me on his instrument of choice! But, I think it’s up to us to determine if we will let ourselves get carried away with a fictionalized story. Sure, I’d love someone to tell me that “when the day shall come, that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” But will I only search for guys who are guaranteed to say that to me? No. Because I know that’s a false expectation.
  • Unhappiness with relationships now—Guys most likely hated Edward Cullen from 2005-2008, and I frankly don’t blame them. The amount of bumper stickers, tweets, Facebook statuses, and conversations over a flippin’ vampire was a bit ridiculous (although, yes, I may have convinced 9 people in my high school to read them, and yes, one may have been my Latin teacher. No regrets!). I have a friend who admitted reading Fifty Shades made her current relationship feel a little inadequate. But I really don’t believe she intends on breaking up with her boyfriend, or make him act like Christian Grey (oh dear God). The feelings will pass.
  • Idealization of what you have to be like—More than once it’s crossed my mind between 8th grade and now that I should voice my witty opinions I normally keep to myself aloud, because that’s how Elizabeth Bennet caught Mr Darcy. I do realize now, however, that I’m not like fully like her. I’m quieter, shyer, more inclined to judge privately. If I start acting exactly like her, I may attract the guy who’s not the one for me.

As you can see, these lists are pretty divided. But I believe that in the end I can justify those cons and turn them into pros. Yes, Pride and Prejudice will always be my favorite novel and quite possibly my favorite love story. Yes, I would count myself the luckiest girl alive if I could find a real-life man like Mr Darcy. But if an average dressed guy approaches me in the coffee shop and doesn’t seem serial killer-eque, I won’t push him away. After all, what did Austen teach us about prejudices anyway?

I still have my standards. Confuse “your” with “you’re” one more time and you go down in my estimation. You don’t share my faith or my political affiliation? I’d get too upset at you for it to work. But if you don’t like dressing up in Regency England garb and watching Downton Abbey with me, I won’t dismiss you just yet. I’ll take after Elizabeth Bennet and Captain Wentworth and give you a chance.

And yes, the 2 friends of mine who think we have such high expectations base it off of fictional characters, and yes, my other friends who don’t read don’t share this belief. But I also have a friend who grabs at the TV when Ryan Gosling and the Notebook is on, and she’s a voracious reader who happens to be quite single going into her senior year. She’s happy, though. She fully believes the right guy is out there, and that she’ll find him. And guess what—he’s real.

So, I suppose all I can do–all we can do, really– is to hope that

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  1. May I also add another noteworthy literary character? John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”. Starts out as a pretty tough guy but gradually mellows due to the influence of a good woman. *swoon* But I guess the true secret to loving someone in real life is seeing them as they are, good and bad, and caring about them anyway. 🙂

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