Characters Live Forever… In My Mind

 Book Bridget Jones DiaryI've often said that I prefer realism over accuracy in much of my reading. I don't care if the duke drives a Porsche to Almack's, but I do care if the dialogue is wooden and the characters are unrealistic once he gets there. But I've been thinking about how much reality I want, especially after seeing fan reaction to the news that in the next installment in the Bridget Jones series, Jones is a widow with two sons, and Mark Darcy is dead.

 The online reaction was the subject of some media coverage, and of course a wry Buzzfeed list, and if you're looking for advanced attention before a book release, that ought to satisfy even the most demanding of publicists.

Killing off the hero doesn't go over well if romance fans make up the bulk of a readership, I'm thinking. I totally understand how these readers feel. I won't read the next Jones book (I don't think I read the sequel, either) and I'll maintain a private fanfic in my brain wherein they are happy and everlasting. (In my private fanfic in my brain, Anita Blake is still a poorly-dressed religiously and morally conflicted necromancer, and Stephanie Plum picked a dude a long, long time ago.)

My own feelings of disappointment and outrage at the Jones books' direction, I think, is a bit more than unhappiness at the author deciding to pull a Karin Slaughter and kill off the hero. Certainly that's a good rule to follow if one is writing romance: don't kill off the hero or heroine. Obviously, that's part of the expectation romance readers have of the books they read and the authors who write them: there will be a courtship, and a happy ending.

The fan reaction to Jones' widowhood (and this is not to say that widows shouldn't get a chance at another romance – far from it) reminded me of my own feelings about Kate Noble's last book, Let It Be Me.

This is a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book, please note that I'm talking about the very beginning and the very end of the story in this section.

In my review, I mention that:

One final word that I will white out as it is a bit of a spoiler: the beginning and ending are framed with an elderly Bridget telling the story of her life after her husband has died. If you're like me, and you like to imagine the characters young, happy, and unchanged after the story ends, the final epilogue and the story of their lives after the ending might seem bittersweet and painful. It's realistic, and it was lovely to see how Oliver and Bridget's lives changed and grew, but knowing the full scope of their ending was also sad for me. I do realize how ridiculous it is for me to go on about how I prefer characters who are realistic, but the written evidence of them being like real humans and, you know, dying, gives me the sads. I own this ridiculousness, and still felt the need to warn you.

I don't like it when romance heroes and heroines die. Ever. Simple as that. And this is complete goofypants of me, because I also go on about how I like realism.In fact, I often demand realism… but not so much realism that the characters are mortal. It's like I bestow the mantle of paranormal powers on all the characters in a book: everyone is immortal. Historicals aren't really the past, because that means everyone's dead.

Maybe it's a parallel universe in continuous existence, maybe accessible through a door in my bathroom, but they surely are not ever dead in my imagination.

Like I said, I fully own how ridiculous this is. But it's true – I don't like to think about the characters aging or dying. I read a recent Laurens historical where all the Bar Cynster characters show up in the backdrop of one major scene, and holy shit, Devil had grey hair! I was not prepared for silver fox Devil (though I presume he was still totally smoking, of course) and while I was curious about how everyone was getting on – I do like my visiting historicals, after all, where there's little risk because everyone is a prior hero or heroine and they all make appearances – the huge jump in time bringing those characters closer to their own possible mortal ending made me nervous.

I don't mind if they grow up – especially when a talented author like Loretta Chase takes the children from an early book and they become the hero and heroine of a later historical. But then, the aging process stops in my brain.

Really, I truly get how goofy this is. I know many of you have rolled your eyes so hard, your optical muscles earned 3000 points on Fitocracy in 4 minutes flat.

I own my silliness. Nevertheless, in romance land for me, everyone's immortal. I feel really hypocritical saying, “I want real characters like real people…except they are IMMORTAL. In my MIND.” But I say it anyway.

I don't like to see them age. I don't like to know they're going to die, even if logically the historical figures are all long dead. For me, the happy ever after includes permanence: I imagine the characters as they are in the book and don't age them. Happily ever after for the hero and heroine in romance doesn't include saying goodbye.

Am I alone in this? The reaction of the Bridget Jones readers seems to indicate I'm not, but I'm curious. What are your expectations of character immortality? Do they age in your mind?

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Random Musings

About SB Sarah

My name is Sarah. I like to go outside.

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  1. 1
    Sveta says:

    Probably me, but I guess I enjoy the passage of time and well, happy endings are never guaranteed in life. A friend of a friend knew a guy for eight years, they got married, lived happily for a year and a half, then this year she got a divorce from him. Me, on the other hand, I suffered from one heartbreak and another. The man I loved returned back to South Korea and I hadn’t seen him since and it has been, well, almost four years. I identify better with heartbreak and loss rather than a happy ending that will really make my eyes roll. As a kid I was infected by Disney cartoons, and in future I was let down by them very hard. As I tell to those I know, in personal experience these are things I trust; my blood family, a pet and inanimate objects.

    By the way, I hated the first Bridget Jones book and for me it was a real good way of falling asleep (not kidding.) I would read the first few pages,and I’d be tired and sleepy, so no way am I reading the third book or the second book. Releasing the third book after so long is like Spice Girls trying to regain fame these last few years and failing.

  2. 2
    Faellie says:

    The only difference between a happy love story and a sad love story is the point at which the story-telling ends.

    (Possibly some odd exceptions to that rule.)

    I read and liked the newspaper columns on which the first Bridget Jones was based but didn’t bother reading any of the books or seeing the films, so for me Mr Darcy will live forever as a wet-shirted Colin Firth.

  3. 3
    Marina says:

    I read the first book and liked it a lot. I saw the first film and loved it (ony of the extremely rare times I prefered the film to the book). I read the second book and was disappointed; Bridget crossed the line between “quirky” and “stupidly, pointlessly irrational” and it spoiled the happy feeling the first film left me with. So, I haven’t bothered with the second film.

    To be fair, I don’t think Fielding set out to write romance; in fact, she hasn’t set out to write a book at all, as this all thing started out as a newspaper column. That’s a very different medium; the writer cannot really allow the character to reach anything but transient resolution.

  4. 4
    KatieF says:

    Sarah, I’m totally with you. I want realistic stories and characters who never age or die. Really, is that too much to ask? If you do revisit the characters in later years, make it like in the soap operas where the children have aged enough that they’re ready for sexytimes but the adults haven’t aged a bit.

  5. 5

    I forced myself to read BJD back in the day. (Everyone else was reading it and it seemed like I was supposed to enjoy it too.) I hated the unhealthy lifestyle, navel gazing, bad choices and excruciatingly embarrassing situations. (The movie was a better experience for me, but I only saw it that once.) I was happy to get to the end and see her get her Darcy.

    I never read the sequel. More excruciatingly embarrassing situations? No thanks! But when the news came that Fielding had killed off Bridget’s Darcy, I felt stabbed in the back. Betrayed. I whined on Twitter with the rest of my friends, tried to put it out of my mind…and wondered why it was Bridget who had to be the widow in the story? Why not one of her friends, whose deceased husband I’d never had the chance to meet and love? I’d be more likely to read about Shaz (can’t remember names of other friends) coping with widowhood, with Bridget being the annoying friend with the perfect/imperfect life. Seriously. As it is, Fielding has lost me as an audience for any future books or movies. Too much betrayal.

  6. 6

    (Re the realism vee accuracy? Or just historical accuracy? I will many times enjoy frothy light wallpaper historicals knowing exactly what it is that I’m getting, but I will say that when I do come across a well researched, historically accurate romance/mystery/whatever, the effect of it on me is profound. Kind of like walking into a centuries-old cathedral full of great works of art…tall ceilings, stained-glass windows, uncomfortable pews, a hushed atmosphere, and the weight of history around you. Angels sing. Or perhaps boys’ choirs.)

  7. 7
    Ashlea says:

    I think of characters in a sort of elastic middle age.  Sometimes they have precocious young children and sometimes they have grandchildren. But they never get sick or infirm or run out of money.

    I liked Bridget Jones, didn’t particularly like the sequel, was eh on both movies, but am so, so pissed about the widowhood decision.  I’m a firm believer that characters live happily ever after.

  8. 8

    OK, I can come out of the closet now and say that I am not going to read it.  My mouth was gaping at the fact that Mr. Darcy DIES—- I cannot deal with Bridget not getting a long and happily ever after.

    SO, yes – I am with you.

  9. 9

    I’m going to have to take the opposite tack—I’m actually more inclined to read the book now that I know Darcy died. People die, love stories end, and people live without each other. That doesn’t make the love any less valid it just changes it.

    Personally I thought the second book was clunky because Helen Fielding was trying too hard to fit it into the “romance mold” and I’m hoping by breaking away from predefined category rules maybe she’ll find the sparkle that made Bridget so popular in the beginning.

  10. 10
    Kavya says:

    I am so with you on this! I don’t think you’re goofy or ridiculous at all!
    It’s not about ‘aging’ really, I do like epilogues where it’s ten years later and they’re still happily married with a bunch of kids. Even if there isn’t an epilogue, if I’m really attached to the characters I will imagine their future kids etc. But the point is they live a long and happy life together.
    I love it when the kids grow up and have their own books. I don’t even mind if the kid’s parents (former hottie and babe) are old and have grey hair – this actually thrills me, because it means they got their ‘happy ever after’ and got to be together for so many years.
    I never read the Bridget Jones books, but I am outraged on behalf of the fans! I can barely forgive non-romance writers when they kill off important characters, but when it happens in a romance novel, I put the author on my own personal blacklist. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life!

  11. 11
    kkw says:

    I saw an ad on the underground for the latest Bridget Jones book and was mildly curious. Mostly I was curious because what was the point? We already knew she lived happily ever after. I figured I’d get around to it eventually. But knowing he dies totally makes me more interested in reading it.
    To be fair, that’s not really a romance novel, and I might be more bothered if the hero of one romance was killed off in a sequel, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a super interesting idea.
    And I hate the checking in with previous couples in a series. Hate it. Makes me despise he couple in question as scene stealing attention hogs, and wish they would die already.

  12. 12
    Heather S says:

    I’m just going to say that I tried to read the first book and I just… couldn’t. Maybe I just can’t appreciate British humor, but I found the book incredibly boring. I enjoyed the movies much more. “The Jane Austen Book Club” was another book-to-film that I found to be incredibly dull – I had to FORCE myself to read through to the end – but when I saw the movie, I loved it. I’ve seen it so many times… it’s really my go-to “chick flick”.

  13. 13
    Hannah says:

    Here’s my take on Helen Fielding’s decison.  First, this is assuming she’s trying to write a romance novel, which of course she’s not (more like women’s fiction with romantic elements). Anyhow, to write an interesting romance featuring a married couple there has to be a major conflict between them.  It wouldn’t seem natural for me for Bridget and Mark to have any significant conflicts after they were married. So I’m more interested in reading the new novel than I would be had Mark Darcy still been in the picture.

  14. 14
    Ros says:

    It’s not romance.

    Most of the outrage I’ve seen has been from people who’ve seen the movies (or at least, preferred the movies) not read the books. The books are very clearly not genre romance. They’re British-style chick lit, and, as one previous commenter noted, they were originally written and conceived as a diary-style newspaper column. The movies were, I think, more or less formed into a romance format and I can see why, if that’s what you think of re. Bridget Jones, you’d be disappointed.

    But basically I think it’s a genre classification error. If you read Bridget Jones as romance I think you’d be disappointed from the first book, and obviously upset at the news of Darcy’s death. I just don’t think the books are or were intended to be read that way. They’re primarily about Bridget and what she represents to the reader, not about the romance.

  15. 15
    Ros says:

    Oh also, in my mind, characters totally die.  In fact, I once wrote fanfic where Heyer’s Duke of Avon died leaving an inconsolable Leonie and a devastated Dominic, with only Mary to sort him out.

  16. 16
    Jessica says:

    I think this third Bridget Jones book is pointless. Not only is Mark Darcy dead, but she’s thinking about getting involved with someone else. Maybe that’s realistic for life, but I have a feeling it’s not what most readers want. I know it’s supposed to be “chick lit” more than romance, but it just seems like a terrible idea for a sequel. I have to imagine that most of the original fans of the book won’t be reading it because of the plot.

    As far as romance novels, I don’t mind a little aging, when the characters now need glasses or have crow’s feet or gray hair, but I don’t like seeing that they’ve suffered after their happily ever after. They should have fairy tale lives together. I read a book once where I really liked the story, but then in the epilogue it showed them old with a child starting to court/be courted, and it revealed that they’d had a child that died. I don’t want to read that. I don’t want to have a warm and fuzzy feeling from the story and then read about child death. I don’t mind the characters having to overcome adversity in the story, but I prefer to believe that nothing bad ever happens to them again after they get together.

  17. 17
    Sarah S says:

    Margaret Atwood has a great piece about this in her book “Good Bones and Simple Murders.” It’s called “Happy Endings.”

    “You’ll have have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or justmotivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.

    The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
    John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.

    So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.”

    http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rebeccal/lit/238f11/pdfs/HappyEndings_Atwood.pdf

  18. 18
    Sharon says:

    I grok. Outlander is one of my favorite books. I quit reading book 2 a couple chapters in because I didn’t want to exit Claire and Jamie happyland.

    I don’t seem to have the same hangup with non-romance. Perhaps not as much emotional investment.

  19. 19
    SisterSadie says:

    I don’t pin characters as immortal, unless that’s in their code from the beginning. I dislike the idea of immortality. How boring! To live this life every day for eternity, to me, would be maddening. I enjoy the passage of time and the changes that go along with it. In life, things change daily and sometimes that can mean that a relationship either fractures on the fault line or grows stronger with the repair job. I’ve been with my husband for over eleven years, and I can’t imagine either him or me being the same people we were when we first got together, or when we got married. I expect the same change and growth of fictional characters.

    I love when a story is told from the perspective of the elderly, it gives a good look at how things came together, and how they ultimately fall apart, either by design, accident, or death. The elderly have a perspective on everything that the young can’t.

  20. 20
    Janet says:

    Exactly. I suffer a little with every new grey hair. The epilog to Not Quite A Husband – sweet as can be – with 2 elderly people shuffling along holding hands, was still sad (for me). This is fiction, where all the men are over 6’, with wide shoulders, and have a burning interest in why the love of his life thinks the way she does, and adores that quirky little frown, and will put all of his considerable resources into making her dreams come true. I don’t want or expect accurate real life, just enough to be believable.

  21. 21

    Oh, no!  Mark Darcy died???  Definitely not reading that one.  Never. Ever.  Apparently Helen Fielding is weary of crying all the way to the bank.  Susan Isaacs killed of the heroine years ago in Almost Paradise.  And I had to read the whole book before I found out.  There like wasn’t the internet then.  Susan Isaacs has written some amazing books.  Still, I have never forgiven her for betraying my trust in that way.  As a reader, when a book comes off as romance, there’s an implicit contract that includes “H and h do not die.”  Sorry. There just is.

  22. 22
    jimthered says:

    In the novel to the fairy-tale/romance THE 10TH KINGDOM, there was this gem for readers and their expectations: “And if they have not died, then they are alive still.”  I think we like to think of the characters in romances as the author leaves them: Usually as blissful newlyweds, blissful new parents, or married people who have found their bliss in being with each other.  (Did I mention the bliss?)  We don’t like to think of the ravages of time (such as the beautiful protagonists getting more weight, less hair, worse eyesight and hearing, etc.) but as forever perfect (to us) characters.  (Incidentally, I think is largely the appeal of ROMEO AND JULIET: For R&J, it’s all honeymoon, quick heartbreak, then done.  They start and end as kids.)

    Incidentally, does anyone have a problem with the fact that Mark Darcy was killed off in-between books?  Instead of getting a good death scene (maybe very dramatic, maybe a tearful goodbye) or Bridget’s dealing with her loss, it happened in the literary equivalent of off camera.  That’s usually what happens to a character who’s unimportant (they’re gone, but we don’t really care why), not to one of the two main characters.  Maybe Fielding got sick of him?

  23. 23
    Mina Lobo says:

    @Ashlea: I really dig your idea of “…a sort of elastic middle age.” I think that’s how I prefer to view my fave heroines/heroes as well, particularly as that’s where I’m at myself, age-wise. In fact, I find I’m less and less interested in reading about the newly nubile.

    @Ros: The Duke of Avon must never die! Nevaaaaaaaaaaaah!!! :-) (J/K.) (But seriously, the very thought’s like a knife in my gut.) (Even though he really is waaaaaaaaay older than Leonie and it’s to be expected. I was afraid he’d have shed this mortal coil in The Devil’s Cub.) The Earl of Rule is my other Heyer hero that lives on for-evah in mah heart. La-la-love him.

    Look, I turn to fiction to escape the utter shit that reality can serve up on a damnably regular basis. Whether romance or other, give me a happy ending and the longevity with (in?) which to enjoy it, damn it. When I want to troll through a darkness that leaves me sleepless with my gut in knots, I’ll watch the news or read some Palahniuk, OK?

  24. 24
    Jennifer in GA says:

    I loved both of the books, enjoyed the first movie, hated the second movie (nothing like the book!).

    But I probably won’t be reading the third book. For me, Mark Darcy was just as an important character as Bridget, and there’s just no way the story can be as good without him.  (Incidentally, I tried reading some of Fielding’s other books and they were just baad.)

  25. 25
    Ros says:

    Oh, I adored that epilogue in NQAH. Just perfect.

  26. 26
    Ros says:

    @Mina Lobo Um, you have read An Infamous Army, right?

  27. 27
    Lynnd says:

    As a commenter mentioned above, I think that far too often books with romantic elements (such as Bridget Jones, Outlander etc.) are classified by many readers as romances, when they clearly are not meant by the author as such.  Ms. Gaboldon has repeatedly said that the Outlander books are not a romance (they are the story of Jamie and Claire’s lives – which I suspect means that one or both of them will die at some point before the end).

    I think that sometimes it bothers me more in an ongoing series where there is some kind of ongoing war (paranormals for example) where none of the heroes or heorines gets seriously permanently injured or dies.  I admire authors like Rowling and Guy Gavriel Kay who are unafraid to kill off beloved characters in order to tell a much deeper story.

    Even in a genre romance I don’t think that I would have a problem if an author told a sequel story about a child of the original hero or heroine where we learn that one of the original couple had died and the author then includes a subplot of the survivor finding a new love (or even writes a whole novel about that).  I guess as I’m getting older, I do see couples who have been together for years find a new love and companionship after one of them has died and it’s often very sweet and romantic and there can also be a great deal of conflict as children have to adjust to new circumstances.

  28. 28
    SB Sarah says:

    @Ashlea: “I think of characters in a sort of elastic middle age.  Sometimes they have precocious young children and sometimes they have grandchildren. But they never get sick or infirm or run out of money.”

    YES. I love this so much – our minds think alike.

    @Ros: ” I once wrote fanfic where Heyer’s Duke of Avon died leaving an inconsolable Leonie and a devastated Dominic, with only Mary to sort him out.”

    If you need me, guys, I’ll be in my corner with my blanket over my head. *whimper* *whibble*

  29. 29
    laj says:

    I am very excited to read the latest Bridget Jones. Fielding is a gutsy gal to knock off Mark Darcy. Myself….I always prefered the wicked Daniel Cleaver.
    Can you imagine:
    Loretta Chase knocking off Dain or J.D. Robb murdering Roarke!!!! Or what about Mary Balogh killing off Wilfric the Duke of Bedwyn. A new HQ line centering around former romance heroines/heroes who have lost their beloved spouses and found love once more in the autumn of their lives. LOL.
    The possibilities are “horribly ” endless.

  30. 30
    Appomattoxco says:

    I never saw BJD as a romance and didn’t much like it as chicklit or whatever it was. 

    I’m just as silly. If you want to call it that. My love of romance started years ago and got me through the death of my mother and my own illness.  I know in real life everybody dies most people know this too well.

    That doesn’t mean I won’t read a book where a hero dies. I loved Time Travelers Wife for example.  However, when I buy a book I’m buying a ticket out of my own life for a short time. If it’s a romance, the train should stop at HEA not some long dark tunnel.

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