The Vicky A’s have certainly read our share of Victorian romance novels. It is interesting to observe that the basic romantic storyline has not changed very much since then. Man and woman meet and sparks fly, but circumstances more or less believable keep them apart for some period of time before they finally either get together or end the relationship permanently. The most wonderful and frustrating thing about Victorian romance is the sheer amount of time the lovers must wait for their denouement and the unbelievable restraint and self-control they show in the presence of the lover they cannot have, for one reason or another. Why are these particular stories, the ones where the protagonists are kept apart unbearably long, the most engaging and dramatic? Why is it that the story of a couple who meet for a weekend, fall instantly in love, and then spend the next 10 years struggling to get together seems so much more romantic than the story of a couple who have a really great first date, see each other regularly for a couple of years, become increasingly intimate, and then get married? Why do we want our lovers torn asunder?
Maybe it is because this scenario is foreign to most of us today. In the age of instant gratification, it is enchanting to consider wanting something so much that it is all you can think about, and having to wait patiently for it for an indefinite amount of time. Isn’t the old saying still true that anything that is worth having is worth waiting for? The virtues of patience and perseverance are deeply ingrained in Western (and particularly American) culture even if those virtues seem to be slipping away as technology progresses, so perhaps there is some part of the soul of the iPad generation that longs for the opportunity to really want something and to have to wait for it – to earn it.
Three episodes into the new BBC miniseries “Parade’s End,” I found myself shouting at the television, “For goodness’s sake, would someone please just give someone a HUG?!” While the romantic tension in the lead characters’ relationships was titillating, I was confused and a bit frustrated – “Why won’t she just kiss him? Why doesn’t he hold her hand? Why won’t SOMEONE SAY THEY LOVE SOMEONE!!!” It seems so strange for someone truly in love to let social mores and fear bind them so tightly. But perhaps the same fears that keep the characters in Victorian times from realizing a loving relationship are those that keep us from doing the same in modernity. In these Victorian and turn-of-the-century stories, the relationship is an emotionally committed one with both parties afraid to follow through with physical consummation because of possible social and personal ramifications. Today, many people freely engage in acts of physical consummation, but it’s the desire for emotional commitment that we are often afraid to admit. A Victorian might face scandal and humiliation in his or her local town or parish, but a modern lover who takes a chance and is rebuffed could face humiliation in front of everyone they’ve ever friended within seconds. Perhaps we are just as tightly bound as they.