After finishing the trilogy London Celebrities by Lucy Parker, I picked up another by her, namely The Austen Playbook. This one announces in the title that it is An Opposites Attract Romance. I decided to ruminate on the category.
First image to come to mind: Danny and Sandy from Grease. Danny is the bad boy leader of the T-Birds greaser gang at Rydell High. Sandy is the good girl from Australia. Okay, I didn’t stretch my imagination for the title image. Next to come to mind: the Yin-Yang symbol. Scarlett and Rhett. Katherine and Petruccio from Taming of the Shrew.
Opposites Attract: How Does It Work?
Apparently, today I can think only in clichés. I am unable to suppress the phrase “You complete me.”
A flighty free spirit attracts and is attracted to a feet-on-the-ground planner. Each has qualities lacking in the other. Together they make a whole. Like a healthy body with a strong skeleton to keep upright and muscles limber enough to move easily through the world. (Hey, I just got out of a yoga class.)
In The Austen Playbook Freddie and Griff are the duo. Freddie is a talented actress and a free spirit. She is sunshine and warmth. Griff is a serious-minded theater critic and filmmaker. He is acerbic and icy.
Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy is a delightful play on this light/dark dynamic. Larger-than-life Sophy comes to stay at the house of her serious cousin, Charles. She turns the household upside down with her energy. She even throws into confusion the relationship between Charles and his stodgy fiancée, Eugenia. (No one in the household likes Eugenia except Charles). Guess what happens.
Opposites Attract: The Family Romance
Freud identified the male-oriented family romance. It is a child’s fantasy that his real parents are of a higher social order. Abandoned for whatever reason, he is raised by someone else. But he must eventually take his rightful place in the world.
You don’t have to think beyond Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. For my part, I’ve always liked the historical novel Saramouche by Raphael Sabatini, published in 1921.
The story takes place during the French Revolution. The hero is a young lawyer who becomes Scaramouche, a stock character in the commedia dell’arte. He also becomes a revolutionary who eventually discovers that his father is ….
Why spoil the story? But, if you’re thinking of a Darth Vader parallel, you’re probably right.
The Gothic family romance inverts the model. Instead of the parents occupying a place the hero aspires to occupy, they are threatening and monstrous. And must be eliminated.
Whether the parents are admired or despised, it is the hero’s job to replace them.
As for abandoned babies in literature, the first one may well be Moses. Exodus 2: 1-10. He ended up having a big job to do.
Opposites Attract: The Romance Novel
Parents have a role to play in the modern female-oriented romance novel as well. But romances are comedies. Dire events like the French Revolution or a rebellion against the Galactic Empire play no role. (Although in many a Regency Romance, the French Revolution is in the background. And Gone With the Wind plays out against the Civil War.)
The role of the mother now comes into play. Either she has died long enough ago for no tragedy to attend to her passing. Or she is an irresponsible comic character.
Jane Austen set the parameters. In Emma, Emma’s mother died when she was young. While Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother in Pride and Prejudice, is a famous ditz.
Post-Austen we see the possibilities for the hero. In The Grand Sophy, Charles has to be the serious one in the family because his father has a mountain of gambling debts.
Similarly, in The Austen Playbook, Griff is the only one keeping his family financially afloat. His parents are spendthrift artisans with no concept of money. His brother pursues one scheme after the other. And for Freddie’s part, her mother died when she was a toddler. She confronts a multi-faceted conflict with her father. One part of which concerns his mother.
So, in the female-oriented romance, family dynamics abound. But they are inflected differently than in the male-oriented romance.
Opposites Attract: In the End?
Yin-Yang, Scarlett-Rhett. Katherine-Petruccio. Light-dark. Male-female. North-South. Lionness-Lion Tamer.
Either the opposites balance each other out. Or they don’t. Yin and Yang will turn around one another for eternity. Scarlett and Rhett don’t work it out. But Katherine and Petruccio do. So will Freddie and Griff. And I’ll never get tired of reading about such pairs.
But what about Sandy and Danny? In the end, Sandy transforms into a bad-ass, leather-clad greaser.
For an Opposites Attract story spanning a century, try my time-slip romance The Emerald Hour.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen